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In your final days, will you regret having worked too hard? Bronnie Ware, the Australian palliative care nurse we wrote about in Part 1 of this series, says many people have that and several other common regrets at the end of their lives, which she discusses in her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying; A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.”

Ware’s thoughts so inspired us that we began to wonder what regrets unethical advisors might have. After discussing the top five in our last column, we listed four strategies for building a “no-regrets” career in financial services, while reducing your errors-and-omissions risk.

This month, we’d like to expand upon each strategy and then provide tips for executing them.

First, develop a written code of ethics. Is this necessary when so many advisor associations promulgate their own codes? Yes! Writing your own clarifies what YOU stand for and makes you accountable TO YOURSELF. This will help you became an advisor without peer when it comes to assuring ethical business practices.

Second, promote an ethical office culture. The goal is to make ethics part of your firm’s normal behavior. That means ethical conduct will occur even when you (or Compliance) aren’t around to watch.

Third, hire honest employees. Ethics codes are powerless against people who are inherently unethical. This happens when parents fail to lead by positive example. For this reason, make a strong effort to weed out candidates for whom ethical conduct doesn’t come naturally.

Fourth, do business transparently. This means your clients should know who you are, where you’ve been, what you stand for, how you operate, and what exactly they’ve bought. This knowledge is a powerful regret killer, both for your clients and for you.

How to execute these strategies? Here are a few pointers to guide you.

  • In developing a personal code of ethics, think expansively. Consider every phase of the customer relationship and the values you want to express at each point. Then define the behaviors that will be required to convey those values. Now, for each behavior, define a standard. Finally, capture these thoughts (values/behaviors/standards) in writing and print out a polished document.
  • To promote an ethical culture, share your written code with your team and model ethical behavior every day. Then, reward exemplary conduct and expose undesirable conduct wherever and whenever they occur. If someone violates a code provision, make sure the consequences fit the crime.
  • To surround yourself with honest people, develop a detailed profile of the desired attitudes, skills, and ethical values you’re looking for. Then during the hiring process, don’t settle for anything less than your ideal candidate. Most importantly, listen to your “gut.” If a candidate feels wrong, terminate the process immediately. Also, administer an honesty assessment early on. Three well-respected instruments are the Personnel Selection Inventory (PSI), the Reid Report Risk Assessment, and the Veracity Analysis Questionnaire (VAQ).
  • To do business transparently, make sure to comply with all mandated disclosures. But go well beyond them by explaining your background in depth, your new-business and post-sale procedures, and what drives you to serve your clients.

These tips can only scratch the surface of a tremendously deep topic. So we hereby make this challenge: Consider what a “no-regrets” career means to you personally and to your firm’s errors-and-omissions exposure. Take steps now to prevent the behavior that spawns regrets and lawsuits. And try to remediate past mistakes that will sadden and potentially cost you big money later. Because as Bronnie Ware knows so well, it’s hard to make amends when your time has run out.

For information on ethical sales practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center. For more information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk financial advisors, visit E&OforLess.com.

 

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