All good things begin with you. In our profession, the first move is yours. You have to make the call. You have to introduce yourself. Ethics also begin with you, and the MDRT Code of Ethics gives us a framework to live an ethical life.
We also share our ethics with others. Most advisors start bringing on staff midway through their career, and soon become responsible for not only their personal code of ethics, but also the ethical actions of staff members. We become the role model for other advisors and professional staff in the office. The domino impact of our behavior is reflected and modeled by our staff.
Client confidentiality is a big part of running an ethical practice. The third tenet of the MDRT Code of Ethics states: “Hold in strictest confidence, and consider as privileged, all business and personal information pertaining to your clients’ affairs.” This also includes ensuring your staff maintains client confidentiality.
Vanessa Y. Bucklin, MBA, CLU, lives in a small town (population: 2,500), where confidentiality can become tricky. “Everyone knows everyone," said the five-year MDRT member from Conrad, Montana. "I can remember one instance when my staff and I went to a local restaurant and, while at dinner, one of my newer staff members made a comment in public that one of the other individuals in the restaurant was our ‘good customer.’”
Monday morning during her staff meeting, Bucklin reminded her team that confidentiality includes the general public knowing that someone is their client.
“Although we were not discussing their personal finances, we needed to maintain discretion,” she said. “On a quarterly basis, we talk about client confidentiality and what that may include. Because we are in a small town and our relationships are deep and developed over our entire lives in this community, there appears to be a finer line between relationship and professionalism. I think it is a challenge for us to keep check of maintaining our relationships for clients — as they are both clients and friends — and keeping that professionalism.”
Bucklin’s staff now recognizes that even making the statement “she is our good client” can jeopardize their commitment to confidentiality. “We never want to exchange a client relationship into gossip,” she said. “This is a domino effect and breeds more negative energy.”
Ethics for leaders
As leader of a team of more than 200 financial advisors, Nilo Matunog has the challenge and opportunity to mentor, influence and inspire people to become ethical professionals. In the beginning of his career in the financial services profession, he had to search for role models he could emulate and establish the benchmark with which he would measure himself.
“I did not start strong nor perfectly. I had my own share of learning experiences that enriched my practice and the way I relate with clients and fellow professionals,” said the five-year MDRT member from Talisay City, Philippines. “When I started building my team, I decided I needed a set of operating behaviors and values to guide the way we do business.
When I started building my team, I needed a set of operating behaviors and values to guide the way we do business.
— Nilo Matunog
“The MDRT Code of Ethics is the best set of guidelines to follow. We pass it on to everyone in the team through consistent and monitored training and mentoring, best practice sharing and group study,” Matunog said. “The leaders in our team have also responded and followed the model by cascading the attitudes and behaviors we need to cultivate. It must transcend from being an aspiration and an achievement to a way of life.”
What I wish I could tell my younger self
By Bryon A. Holz, CLU, ChFC
- Short cuts are seldom worth it in the long run.
- Admit to your mistakes; learn from them and deal with the consequences.
- Surround yourself with good, ethical professionals. Avoid those who don’t share your values.
- When faced with a difficult decision: Pause, reflect, seek wise counsel, and imagine both the short- and long-term consequences.
- Watch and listen to your clients. You can’t listen when you’re talking; it’s difficult to observe when you’re focused on yourself.
- Always put the client first, and remember that all parties should benefit from any transaction for it to be a good one.
- Your compensation may seem low at first, but in time will catch up and be worthy of your patience and dedication to excellence.
- Do the right thing and rewards will follow; maintaining highly ethical conduct will eventually bring you great success.
- Though you may be young, others are watching; you are an example to others. Be a good one, not a bad one.
- Stay in the light; avoid operating in the shadows or gray areas.
- There are two ways to ensure your house is the nicest in the neighborhood: by knocking all of the others down, or by building and improving upon your own.
- What you do as a professional has a huge impact on not only your clients and their families, but on society as a whole. Remember this and conduct your business in a manner that will ensure you can continue doing it for a long time. We need you!
- Ensure confidentiality in client matters. Don’t brag about your clients; let them brag about you.
Bryon Holz is a 22-year MDRT member from Brandon, Florida.