Want to fly high in financial services? Then jettison old thinking. First, success isn’t about the money. It’s about the value you deliver to clients. Second, it’s not about enjoying the trappings of success. It’s about making a real difference in the lives of people. Third, and most important, your business is not about YOU.

Once you shift your attitudes, you’re ready to revisit your business practices. Here’s your preflight checklist.

  1. Always protect and promote your client’s best interests, even if it can mean making less money in the short term (but more in the long). The sooner you begin putting your clients’ welfare first, the sooner you’ll fly high with the best.
  2. Honestly explain your education and business background, including licenses and designations. Flogging sham designations and claiming to write a book you had no hand in producing are like wing icing. . . dangerous to your longevity! If you really want to lift your business, earn a credible designation and write your own book instead.
  3. Always disclose the important features of your products or services, including potential risks that may affect future performance or value. Full disclosure is the new normal for 2010 and beyond. You’ll never go wrong overeducating clients about your methods and products.
  4. Be totally up front about the realistic returns or future values a client can expect. Hyping results is not only an unethical business practice, it’s illegal. Don’t fly there!
  5. Thoroughly probe a client’s current and future needs in order to make suitable recommendations. Only low flying advisors recommend products they want to sell, not products their clients need to buy.
  6. Respect client confidentiality even under third-party pressure to disclose information. Strong advisor/client relationships are based on trust. Breaking confidentiality is a heat-seeking missile that will blow up your relationships.
  7. Only use advertising and presentation materials that are completely accurate and legally compliant. Flying with false insignias will put you on regulatory radar screens.
  8. Always refer clients to an outside advisor for expertise that is beyond your training and current license. Flying on a wing and a prayer is a doomed fight. Better to bring on a more qualified co-pilot than crash your practice into a cliff.
  9. Stay up to date on all industry practices, including emerging trends, new government regulations, and the latest product innovations. In today’s turbulent world, taking wing without a current flight manual is like flying blind. There’s a reason pilots are required to have great vision.
  10. Finally, adopt the long view. Don’t just try to fly high; fly long. If you make the right decisions that really help your clients, your flight time will be long, enjoyable, and profitable. And you’ll quickly become known as a top-flight ethical advisor.

Harry J. Lew is communications and content director for the National Ethics Bureau.