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Life Health > Annuities

Ethics update: Time to take an oath

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Would you sell an 85-year-old widow an annuity with a long surrender period? You wouldn’t, but some advisors still do, despite the widespread adoption of annuity suitability regulations. Would you set up a scheme to attract new investors with unrealistic rates of return and then pay them off with new-client money? You wouldn’t because you know Ponzi schemes are fraudulent and illegal. But every year, advisors get arrested for such scams.

Would you persuade your clients to repeatedly buy and replace financial products just to generate a new commission? You wouldn’t, because you know your state’s insurance code and FINRA prohibits churning. But that doesn’t stop other advisors from unethically padding their wallets.

Why do advisors keep “going rogue” by hurting their clients, their companies and themselves? The answer is complex. In part, they never really learned right from wrong. They also never learned how to say “no” to the consumption economy. Their thirst for more and more tempts them to bend rules and break laws. Finally, they’re able to fly under the industry’s regulatory compliance radar, which only affects advisors who are already predisposed to acting ethically. Those lacking ethical values simply ignore the rules and “follow the money.”

Is there a solution? Yes, and it was created 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece. It’s called the Hippocratic Oath. Physicians have taken this oath for ages, promising, among other things, to “do no harm” to their patients. Even today, the Hippocratic Oath has immense power. Like the Golden Rule, it is simple to understand, inspiring to contemplate and effective in the real world. No wonder the oath inspired a group of Harvard MBAs to design a similar code for business leaders. Launched a year ago in the shadow of the global financial crisis, the so-called MBA Oath has attracted 3,300 signers from 300 MBA schools across the globe. The goal: get MBA graduates to commit to “responsible value creation,” while ultimately transforming business management into a true profession.

Should our industry launch a similar campaign? Absolutely. But let’s start small.

Consider these four steps:

  1. Think about all the ways you can possibly hurt a client. Then commit yourself to doing the opposite.
  2. Strive to put yourself on the same side of the table with your clients. Avoid situations where doing what helps you hurts them.
  3. Ponder the values your parents taught you. Don’t do anything that violates those values.
  4. Write a Hippocratic Oath for yourself. Use the the MBA Oath as a guide.


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