Recently, fi360 CEO Blaine Aikin wrote a column for InvestmentNews about the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct. Aikin focused on the opening line of accountants’ code, which precedes obligations to each other as professionals and to their clients. That first line reads: “As professionals, certified public accountants perform an essential role in society.”
According to Aikin, that stated goal “helps explain why accountants have the highest rating among financial occupations in terms of the public’s perceptions of trustworthiness. […] By accentuating the word ‘professional’ and reminding practitioners that their conduct affects more than themselves, their clients and their profession, the bar is set high for what is expected of those who agree to abide by the code.”
Aikin’s thoughts made me curious about how other professionals saw themselves in the larger context of society. Through the miracle of the Internet, I was able to get a pretty clear picture of the role that doctors and lawyers are expected to play. I would have said “quickly found,” but it seems that when professionals muse about something of importance, they tend to muse a lot.
Following a nice treatise on why the Hippocratic Oath, written over 2,000 years ago, has become outdated (go figure), I found a more modern nine-point Principles of Medical Ethics by the American Medical Association. As you might imagine, lawyers’ rules for professional conduct are a bit more extensive: Just the preamble to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct contains 13 points.
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Still, both standards contain plenty of fodder for Aikin’s “higher bar,” and provide a stark contrast to the standards in the financial advisory profession: the CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and the FPA’s Standard of Care. It’s no coincidence that the omissions from the advisory industry’s standards are also lacking from the current discussions in Washington about advisor reregulation and expanding the fiduciary duty: an underlying sense that professional financial advice is essential to a modern society. It’s also not surprising. If advisors don’t see themselves this way, it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will either.
It seems that other major professions do see themselves as not only providing valuable services, but contributing a great good to society. Of the nine points in the American Medical Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics, three of them address a physician’s larger role:
- A physician shall continue to study, apply and advance scientific knowledge; maintain a commitment to medical education; and make relevant information available to patients, colleagues and the public.
- A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.
- A physician shall support access to medical care for all people.
Adherence to these principles is a commitment not only to put their patients’ interests ahead of their own, but the interests of society, as well.