Trust is the foundation of my profession.
I first came across the Banking and Finance Oath a couple of years ago. While I have always thought I have been ethical and made decisions that were not only right but also not destructive to others - a number of things have happened throughout my career that have made me realise there are some situations that are not always as easy as they seem.
About five years ago I undertook a two-day ethics course through St James Ethics Centre. It was enlightening. The course took me on a journey that challenged my decision making - not for the black and white decisions, but rather for those decisions that we all face on a regular basis that are grey.
These are the decisions you think could go either way, but the unintended consequences may be quite different depending on the ultimate decision you choose to make.
There were around 12 people in the class at the Ethics Centre, and during the session we were given the opportunity to look at some of these ‘grey’ case studies. The fact that different people had different opinions about the decisions they would make, given the circumstances, demonstrated that this kind of decision-making is not always easy. It is not black and white.
The second turning point for me was when I joined the FPA four years ago. As an emerging profession, there are a multitude of ethical situations we in the industry face, as we see the best and the worst of what financial planning can do.
While the vast majority of financial planners do an amazing job for their clients, there have been a number of recent (highly publicised) ‘advice failure’ events that have been devastating for the clients involved. The reasons for these events range from deliberate fraud through to a lack of knowledge. In each case, the breaking of trust has been crippling to those who have been affected.
It is therefore critical when your profession is based on a foundation of trust that you do everything to enshrine that trust, protect it and promote it. This idea of protecting trust helped lead the FPA to advance its vision to "stand with Australians for a better financial future”. The critical word here is "with". It means advisers need to be the advocates for their clients, by sitting on their side of the desk with them and not with any other party. That means that you put the clients’ interest ahead of all others. That is the heart of acting in the clients’ best interest.
If this was easy we wouldn't need to have discussions about ethics. It is not easy, so we do need to have these discussions. I encourage all my colleges to join the BFO to create, debate and to learn.
Mark Rantall - CEO Financial Planning Association