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What a journey it’s been. Over the past months, we’ve discussed how advisors kill their reputations by becoming sales narcissists or black hat tricksters or succumb to greed, disorganization or technophobia. In this last column of the “Reputation Death” series, I’d like to talk about the most serious reputation risk of all—being a king or queen of pain.

Consider this medical analogy. To eliminate a toothache, your dentist recommends having a tooth pulled. You expect some pain, if not during the procedure, then after. But you accept this discomfort because it’s part of the healing process.

In financial services, however, pain tolerance is much lower. For example, let’s say a client needs safe retirement income. He hires an advisor to assess his needs and devise a plan. To achieve his objective, he’ll need to meet with the advisor a few times, do a bit of research and review recommendations. The whole process will take some effort. But it won’t be painful…if the advisor does his job right.

But let’s assume the client hires a royal pain—an advisor who fundamentally shirks or deliberately violates his core duties. Such an advisor will dole out all manner of pain by:

• Failing to conduct the promised needs assessment

• Failing to execute the agreed-upon investment or insurance plan

• Buying a product without client authorization

• Charging a fee that was never disclosed in the sale process

• Brushing off a client’s legitimate concerns or questions

• Not keeping the client informed about market volatility or other problems

• Not taking accountability for mistakes

• Going “missing in action” after adverse market events

When a client realizes the advisor is inept—or is harming his interests on purpose— he will feel pain. Then dismay. Then disgust. Soon after, the client will do the inevitable—topple the advisor from his or her throne.

Have you ever hurt a client deliberately? Then you need to think hard about why you’re in this business. Ask yourself these questions:

• Do I sincerely want to help people or am I just out to help myself?

• Am I willing to be a true professional or a professional in name only?

• Do I want to build trust with clients or just take advantage of them?

• Am I committed to “doing the work” or just taking the easy way out?

• Finally, do I want to enhance the quality of my clients’ lives—or just grant them more pain?

“Do I want to build trust with clients or just take advantage of them?”

Steven R. McCarty is Chairman of the National Ethics association (www.ethics.net). Responses and questions can be sent to feedback@seniormarketadvisor.com.