The various actions being taken to address advisor use of financial designations with seniors are bringing the issues of aging and ethics to the forefront. This is especially so since, now more than ever, financial professionals are trying to reach the same older clients who are at the center of the concern.
In the 20-plus years the two of us have been working with insurance companies and agents, designations have always been an issue. One concern has been whether any designation actually adds to the salesperson’s professionalism. More importantly, what are the ethics surrounding why specific designations are obtained, and how many are actually needed? Do salespeople hide behind their designations?
Crossing the ethics line with a senior can be risky, because this cohort does not ask as many questions nor are they as verbally aggressive as many baby boomers are. Their reticence to speak up does not necessarily mean that they are not aware.
In evaluating designations, advisors need to ask a number of questions, such as:
o How many years have I been in this business?
o Am I confident about what I know?
o When considering a new designation, is the ease of obtaining it what attracts me?
o Is it the affordability vs. time devoted to learning that attracts me?
o Is it the reputation of the entity behind the designation that attracts me?
o Is it the learning I will get from obtaining it that attracts me?
o Is the impression the designation will make on potential clients important to me?
Weigh all of these points before choosing a designation program. They will help in selecting the right one.
Look for rigor, too. By way of example, one of us–Ellen–had to go through an exhaustive approval process in order to be able to write a course to be used for a Bachelor’s degree program in financial gerontology. Approvals were required from school officials, the Board of Education and the State of New York, and the inquiry included every article she wrote, articles written about her, speeches she gave, her training, coaching, publishing, etc. Scrutiny should be expected by candidates for highly regarded financial designations, too. If there is no scrutiny, this is a red flag.