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Make a Difference With Stories, Not Debates

While our organizations work to elevate the profession, maybe we can take the time that we spend arguing and instead tell our stories.

Carl Richards, 01/31/2012

I recently published an article about my own financial mistakes. The story led to some public criticism about my missteps and my decision to talk about them in public. It caused me to reflect on what it means to be engaged in the craft of advice and what we can do to serve the public better.

One of the things that surprises me the most about our industry is how quickly we seem to engage in very public debates about the “right” way to deliver advice, charge for our services, and even how we should be regulated. These debates quickly take on a moral tone, with one side laying claim to some sort of high ground, saying that the other is somehow morally wrong. Often these debates are done so publicly that they do far more damage than the issue that started the debate, and it’s all in the name of “protecting the profession.” The ongoing debates about the fiduciary standard, fee-only and fee-based, and in what type of firm someone works are a few of the examples that come to mind.

The thing we have to realize is that no one really cares!

Outside the industry, these debates make us look like we are more interested in attacking each other than we are in helping the public. I discussed this issue with the editor of a respected industry publication. He commented that as an outside observer these discussions reminded him of a really bad 1980s band that would play with their backs toward the audience, mumbling the lyrics in a way that was indecipherable to anybody but themselves. Navel-gazers, he called them. In a separate exchange, a well-known personal-finance journalist noted that all this debate is fine and good. But in the meantime, he still doesn’t know how to respond to complaints from people close to him about how they can’t find anyone interested in helping them make smart decisions about money.

I’m glad that organizations like the CFP Board, Financial Planning Association, and other groups are working hard to set measurable professional standards. It seems to me, however, that the rest of us are spending too much time arguing publicly about things that people outside the industry don’t care about and frankly don’t even understand.

If you are an advisor who puts your client first you belong to a secret society. People need you. People want you.

The problem is that they either don’t believe that you exist or they have no idea where to find you. So, while our organizations work to elevate the profession, maybe we can take the time that we spend arguing and instead tell our stories. Every time someone has an honest, competent experience with a financial professional, he or she is going to tell someone else, and word will spread. Given the public’s perception of our industry, having a meaningful relationship with a financial advisor is remarkable (meaning, worth remarking about). So, let’s give people more of those experiences. Let’s make the secret society not so secret!

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The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.
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