Five-star ethics: A simple plan for outshining your competitors

By Steven McCarty

The National Ethics Association


In recent years, I’ve written many articles columns about ethics in financial services. My goal: to raise awareness about the importance of doing business ethically, transparently and with the client’s best interests at heart. However, I recognize the limits of this strategy. You will only do what’s right if you’re convinced it’s right for you.

To this end, I’d like you to engage with this article in real time. Your assignment: to draft what I call a 5-Star Ethics Policy. This simple document may spell the difference between success or failure in your business, and it will surely help you outsell your competitors.

How to start? By asking yourself, “What wouldn't I do to make a buck?” In other words, identify actions you believe to be unethical in the following areas:
  • Prospect solicitation (lead generation, approach, etc.)

  • Solution design/illustration

  • Product presentation

  • Transparency and required disclosures

  • Client communication

  • Customer service

  • Staff management (if any)

  • Operational procedures
If you’re not sure, ask yourself what would truly mortify your parents, spouse or children if they saw it on the news. You might consider items like:
  • I got caught lying about my business model or compensation.

  • I sold junk insurance just to line my own pocket.

  • I abandoned my clients after the sale.

  • I use lead generation companies that break the law.
Now take 15-20 minutes right now to generate your own list of unethical actions. We’ll wait here until you’re finished. (Pause)

Welcome back! Now convert each negative action into a positive statement. For example:
  • I will always be 100 percent transparent about the business I’m in and what I sell.

  • I will always sell high-value products that meet client needs.

  • I will always make myself available for post-sale service.

  • I will always affiliate with other professionals who take their ethics as seriously as I do.
Next, winnow the list down to the most powerful statements. These will be the ones that are most motivating to you and that represent the values you hold most dear. Now wordsmith each statement so it’s powerful and concise. The final list comprises your new Five-Star Ethics Policy.

So, what should you do with this shiny new policy? Here are some possibilities:
  • Post it on your website.

  • Include it on your social media business profiles.

  • Write an article/blog about it for your client newsletter.

  • Tweet about it.

  • Print and frame it for your office.

  • Give a copy to staff.
The best part of this exercise? You now have an ethics policy that is way more motivating, sustainable and relevant to your business than anything your compliance officer might develop. So five gold stars are in order.