FASEA’s Code of Ethics commences 1 January 2020 and is underpinned by five (5) values – this is a guide to Honesty.
No one wants to do deal with a dishonest person, so your clients want to see evidence that you consistently conduct yourself in an honest manner. Can I count on you to be totally transparent, frank and fair in your dealings with me?
Our definition of honestly is that it is a key facet of moral character. It embodies virtuous attributes such as integrity, transparency, and truthfulness and involves being trustworthy, fair, and sincere.
From FASEA’s perspective:
“Acting to demonstrate, realise and promote the value of honesty requires that you conduct yourself with integrity in all your professional dealings with your clients and with all others that you engage within the professional setting. It requires transparency, frankness, and fairness to each of your clients even where this may cause your personal detriment. Being honest means more than just technically telling the truth, it may require you not to withhold information from your client that your client would want to know.”
You will note the reference to fairness which is another value underpinning the code and it is also interrelated with trustworthiness.
An adviser may need to have difficult conversations with clients about the reality of achieving their goals and the implications of their financial decisions. Generally, there are fewer data points to be found in a professional setting for clients to form a view about their adviser’s honesty. So, the perception of honesty becomes very important when developing interpersonal relationships with clients and communication is key.
Some Practical Suggestions
Start a checklist
Here are some suggestions about what questions to include on your checklist.
- Did I provide my client with a clear and simple explanation of my proposed advice service before they formally engaged with me?
- Did my client understand and agree with the proposed advice service?
- Before they formally engaged with me, did I provide my client with a clear and simple explanation of all the fees, charges and other benefits I would receive?
- Did the client understand all the fees, charges and other benefits I would receive and freely provided their consent before the engagement commenced?
- Did the client understand what information would be kept by me, including privacy and confidentiality arrangements?
- Did the client decline to take up my recommendations due to concerns they had about a personal advantage I would receive?
- Did I disclose any actual or potential conflicts of interest to my client during the advice process?
- Did I act honestly, efficiently and fairly when recommending all advice and products to my client?
- Did I provide the required attention, skills and time to the client throughout the advice process?
- Do I believe my recommendations will put the client in a better financial position?
- Do I believe that I acted in my client’s best interests at all times?
- Did I take reasonable steps to meet all of my commitments to the client?
- Do I believe I was open, honest and frank in all my dealings with my client?
- Did I treat my client in a respectful and professional manner at all times?
Here are a few practical actions you could consider.
- Be honest and truthful with your clients, even it may seem uncomfortable to you. Honesty requires some personal vulnerability, and most of us have a hard time with that. If you can’t help your client with something, it’s best to be honest from the outset. If you can’t deliver something by a client-driven deadline, make sure you communicate that before the deadline passes. Sometimes you need to set expectations about what’s possible then work hard to exceed those expectations.
- Don’t make promises you know you can’t keep. Some people are great at making outrageous claims and promises, but few of them will last very long in an emerging profession like financial advice where the level of scrutiny will only intensify. Making promises you can’t keep will hurt you, your practice and licensee. Social media is a two-edged sword and clients are more inclined these days to tell all their friends about their disappointments.
- Don’t take any shortcuts. Advisers with integrity already know there are no short-cuts. Building a successful client portfolio takes time and a lot of hard work.
- Raise the bar in the industry. Operating with integrity doesn’t just lift you up, it raises the bar for the whole industry as well (something that’s needed right now). Other practices can’t compete with you if they don’t operate with the same high level of integrity.
Disclaimer This article was issued in December 2019 and is point in time content based on the Financial Planners and Advisers Code of Ethics 2019 Legislative Determination, the accompanying Explanatory Statement and Guidance, together with proprietary research. It does not constitute legal advice. We encourgae you to seek your own professional advice on how the FASEA Code of Ethics may apply to you. Suggestions in this article are not exhaustive and are not intended to be binding on the author or related entities. Further guidance may be released by FASEA and may change the suggestions within this point in time article.