Back in April, “Dateline NBC” aired a segment called “Tricks of the Trade,” which exposed questionable sales practices that some agents and advisors have employed to sell equity indexed annuities and other products to seniors.
Correspondent Chris Hansen revealed the true meaning of the metaphor “even a few bad apples will quickly ruin the whole barrel.” Decay can quickly spread to the good ones; in this case, injuring the reputation of tens of thousands of professionals who are honest, engage in detailed due diligence and who are ethical in every regard, in every transaction.
The report spawned a fierce debate among members and associations in the industry, including criticism from respected colleagues such as Tucker Advisory Group, AnnuityAdvantage.com, and the National Association of Fixed Annuities.
With all due respect to those whose angst was evident — you don’t get it. From the perspective of an educator, here are some thoughts that may challenge the assertion that the industry was treated unfairly. It wasn’t.
The hour-long segment showcased various advisors engaging in questionable sales practices, further perpetuating the unethical stereotype associated with insurance agents. Insurance salespersons rank fourth from the bottom and are considered less ethical than lawyers, congressman and chiropractors, according to a 2006 Gallup poll. Segments like the one “Dateline NBC” aired fuel those who would say that this reputation is well deserved. Causing concern was the fact that advisors are not always forthcoming about fees and commissions.
Some argue that “Dateline” provided unbalanced, sensational, “tabloid” journalism. That misses the point.
The media is doing its job if it highlights an advisor who is dodging questions about fees and commissions. Reporters protect the public interest if they expose even one person who inaccurately tells an audience that the FDIC is on the brink of failure as an institution. In that way, networks help elevate ethical advisors by exposing scams.
I found it amusing that one of the trade organizations raced to criticize NBC. Instead they should have sent a bouquet of roses since that same group presents a meaningful award each year to the most ethical companies in America. I would have used their press release to encourage nominations saluting great companies that protect consumers.
Business ethics cannot be optional. “Do unto others” should be required by every client you work with every day.