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Being a Financial Advisor: It's Your Choice

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Being a financial advisor is an exciting and potentially lucrative career. Among its many advantages, it offers the allure of prestige in helping clients reach their financial goals and being seen as an investment professional.

But do we really understand what the word “professional” fully means?

In his latest book, “Enough,” Jack Bogle outlines one definition. To paraphrase, a professional:

1. Places the interests of clients in particular and the welfare of society in general above its own.

2. Has a specialized body of knowledge and a specialized code of conduct that sets out professional skills, practices, and performances unique to the profession. Taken together, these develop the capacity to render judgments with integrity under conditions of ethical uncertainty.

3. Defines an organized approach to learning from experience, both individually and collectively.

4. Participates in a professional community that monitors and oversees the behavior and competencies of its members.

It’s a useful definition, but it’s not abstract definitions that further your career; rather, it’s the sum of all the concrete choices that you make every day. So, with the four components of Bogle’s definition in mind, let’s consider what it takes to be a true advice professional.

Consider why you are making certain choices.

Like many of us, I was initially attracted to investment management because I found the subject matter fascinating and the career prospects attractive. Those are good and proper motivations.

They fall short, however, of what is necessary to be a professional. A professional seeks not to maximize his or her own lifetime income. Rather, when their interests conflict with their clients, they will resolve in favor of the client — always putting investors’ needs above their own.

Fortunately, the potential for conflict is less significant in the long run than it is in the short run, because placing the interests of your clients ahead of your own produces its own reward in the form of a sustainable career. But the hierarchy of interests would not change if that were not the case.

Commit to a path of lifelong learning.

Professionals are also competent. They bear the responsibility of submitting themselves to examination and continued professional development within an ethical frame.

A professional designation, such as the CFA charter, demonstrates this competency and offers, in the words of Benjamin Graham, “prestige, the improved ability to get a job, and the chance at higher pay.”

But its purpose is really to assure clients they can place their trust in their investment professionals because they hold themselves to the highest standards of ethics. Or, in Graham’s words, a designation inspires “a more professional attitude toward one’s work and a keener interest in maintaining and advancing the standards of one’s calling.”

Appreciate what can only be learned from lived experience.

Though academic learning is necessary, it is not sufficient. The real world is more complex and dynamic than textbooks can convey.

The ability to build effective relationships founded on trust, communicate persuasively and sensitively, and exhibit poise are hallmarks of a true professional. These are learned and honed through experience, observation and mentorship.

Be engaged in both your local and professional community.

Professionals are more than individuals. They are by definition, part of a profession, which is a community of like-minded experts.

This community is a network that helps develop job prospects, prospective clients and a healthy career. It is also the nexus for lifelong learning and the assembly of peers to keep us honest and work through challenging issues with intellect and integrity.

A profession represents a higher calling and requires people driven by purpose rather than profit.

In the investment management profession, our purpose is to help clients realize their financial goals and in the process, facilitate the flow of capital to its most productive use so that it creates jobs, builds bridges, spurs innovation and ensures prosperity for the ultimate benefit of society. It’s not a path for every man or woman.

It’s your choice. As you consider this choice, think about whether you are truly prepared for the rights and responsibilities of being a true professional.


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