The financial services industry can be like a fraternity party to a recovering alcoholic. We are surrounded by temptation on a daily basis. And, without a strong moral compass, the temptation to cross the line into unethical behavior can be very inviting.
Let's look at an example: You just wrapped up a sizable case with a rather difficult client in the next town. When you return to your office, you realize that your client missed one signature on a "minor" disclosure form. You did explain all the features of the contract and showed the client where to sign, but it was just a simple mistake. He missed the signature and you failed to catch it.
It's a 50 mile round trip to have the form signed in person. By making the trip, you will miss the new business cut-off for the week which means your commission will be delayed by at least a week and to top off the situation, your mortgage payment is due. No one would ever know if, with the help of the nearest window, you traced his signature onto the form.
You know this is unethical (not to mention illegal) but the temptation is huge. Who would ever know? You.
Think of ethics as a fragile relationship with yourself. Each time you make a hard moral decision, you strengthen your ethical character. Bending the rules or turning a blind eye on the unethical behavior of others tends to damage your relationship with yourself. Your moral compass becomes stronger with use.
While the above example may be extreme, we are faced with ethical choices every day that may be much more subtle.
- Is your choice of product solely based on commission?
- Do you recommend replacement of a product because it's in your best interest?
- Do you lie to yourself by blaming others for your shortcomings?
The best test of your moral and ethical character is how you act and which decisions you make when nobody else is around.
While the easy (and often unethical) course may prove to be profitable in the short term, it is always doomed to failure. In almost 30 years in this business, I have met some of the most successful people in our industry. Every last one of them has had a strong moral compass.
My advice is to think like a recovering alcoholic - one day at a time. There is no gray area. Live your life knowing that the smallest slip (or sip) could start a downward spiral that will eventually destroy your career.