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Regret nothing: Five lessons from rogue advisors part 1

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When you’re on your deathbed, will you regret having spent so much time at the office? Probably not, say health care workers who counsel patients in their final days. In fact, one such worker, Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, collected her patients’ disappointments on her blog, eventually publishing a book on the topic called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying; A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.” and recently published a blog discussing her work and how it relates to advisors.

According to Ware, the top five regrets in ascending order are:

5. “I wish I had let myself be happier.”

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

These are powerful insights—and a learning opportunity for the rest of us. So much so that I’d like to pose a related question: “What are the top five regrets of (you guessed it) unethical advisors?”

This question flows from my hope that even rogue advisors have consciences and might look back with sadness on their dubious business practices. Furthermore, ethical advisors who understand and learn from those regrets will be better able to resist temptation as their own careers play out.

Here’s my take on the top five regrets unethical advisors feel when they leave the industry:

1) “I wish I had spent more time getting to know my clients’ needs, rather than selling products that served my needs.” This is an issue because advisors who pursue their own agendas rather than those of their clients lose sight of the noble purpose of our industry: To help people achieve their cherished dreams through wise leveraging of financial resources. Advisors who tap into that purpose go to work every day truly energized.

2) “I wish I hadn’t misrepresented my products in order to close sales.” Advisors who lie about product features and benefits will make sales, but come to regret their predatory techniques.  At the end of their careers, they will feel sadness because they’ll never know if they could have succeeded by applying legitmate knowledge and skills rather than by lying.

3) “I wish I’d been more transparent about my track record and business practices.” Unethical advisors often tout sham expertise and dubious credentials, while making promises in the sales process they have no intention of keeping. Looking back, these advisors will regret that their clients never knew the real human being behind their scammer’s mask.

4) “I wish I hadn’t replaced and/or churned so much business.”These advisors will eventually realize they never added sustainable value to the industry and worse, made their clients poorer and less able to enjoy a safe and secure retirement.

5) “I wished I’d done more due diligence on my FMO, broker-dealer, or other business partners.”Such advisors often fall prey to deceptive partners hawking fraudulent schemes. In hindsight, they’ll wish they’d been more skeptical of those bearing too-good-to-be-true offers.

In short, the best way to avoid end-of-career regrets is to simply do business the old-fashioned way:

• Develop a written code of ethics

• Promote an ethical office culture

• Hire honest employees

• Do business tranparently

For specific guidance on these points, watch for Part 2 in this series next month.