Friday, March 04, 2011

The Value of Integrity - The Advisors Perspective

We have met the enemy and he is us.
(The character Pogo by Walt Kelly)

In preparing for a session on ethics at an upcoming certification program for private wealth advisors, I reviewed the results from a recent Edelman survey (Trust Barometer). The results reflect answers to questions posed to affluent adults across the globe. I note that

In answer to the question, How much do you trust business to do what is right?, from 2010 to 2011, the US dropped 8 percentage points. I found particularly disturbing the following comparisons:
  1. Germany and France had increases of 12 percentage points for the year and were higher in 2011 in their trust of business than people in the US.
  2. Brazil, India, Italy, and China had strongly positive scores. Japan and Germany relatively neutral.
  3. The scale in the US is within 5 percentage points of the score in Russia.

People in China and Brazil strongly trust their government to do what is right with scores of 88% and 85% respectively. Government score in the US is a meager 40% and virtually the same as that in Russia at 39%.

In a broad measure of trust in business, government, NGOs, and media, between 2008 and 2011 the US relative ranking dropped from 4th place to 10th.

Our industry (financial advisors) seems, unfortunately, to be part of the problem. In an article last year in the CFA Magazine (The Challenge of Ethical Leadership), Jim Ware describes nine sample ethical violations to audiences from his talks. Virtually all of the attendees agree that the actions are properly classified as ethical violations yet an astounding two-thirds of the attendees openly agree that these violations occur routinely within their firms.

Relationships require trust, which seems to be in shorter supply than ever. To the degree that each of us assumes personal responsibility for taking action to improve our personal integrity and hold our professional colleagues to a high standard in this regard, I believe we can ultimately make a difference.

My suggestion is to

  1. Take a Personal Moral Competence Survey. See Moral Intelligence by Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel for questions and suggestions.
  2. Talk about it. Research by Dan Ariely on cheating suggests that periodic reminders of expressions of moral codes, or values makes it less likely that people will play loose with the rules. Review the professional codes that guide your practice and host periodic discussions of ethical case studies that present difficult choices for ethical behavior.
  3. Solicit client feedback aimed at enhancing your ethical awareness. Simply asking for feedback and remaining open to hearing about where and how to improve tends to strengthen trust.

How long since you took time to reflect on your values? I bet your clients will note and appreciate the subtle strengthening of your character over time when you do.


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