The word “fiduciary” makes my skin scrawl.Not because I think there is something wrong with holding advisOrs, advisErs, planners and RIAs to a “fiduciary standard.”But because it’s become just another word in the titular struggle to define what high-integrity financial professionals do for a living.
In 2 words or less.Think about it like business cards or LinkedIn bios.Over the years, the same group of financial professionals has held titles like…Account Executive.Registered Representative.Investment Counselor.Financial Advisor.Financial Planner.Wealth Manager.VP, SVP, EVP.Managing Director.And I could go on.Now…Everyone wants to wiggle the word “fiduciary” into the equation.Is fiduciary any better than the rest?No bleeping way.Want proof???Here are 2 headlines that showed up in my newsfeed this morning…“Wells Fargo Names First Chief Fiduciary Officer”And…“RIAs No Longer Allowed to Use Word ‘Fiduciary’ in Disclosures”I probably shouldn’t say this, but where was the CFO before the stagecoach slid into the proverbial ditch.Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning the intention of this effort.Or the integrity of the many wonderful advisors I know at WFA.
BUT PLEASE…“Chief Fiduciary Officer”It’s a PR cocktail with a marketing twist on the side.Even a bartender knows better.And now…After all the gnashing of teeth in DC and among regulators near and far…even RIAs are NOT permitted to use the word fiduciary in their disclosures.Related: How Does Market Risk Impact Your Practice?Why???And I quote:“…surveys of investors have found clients don’t understand the term, and in some cases feel the word “fiduciary” has a negative connotation…that lowers trust more than enhances it.”Wow!!! Lowers trust.And clients don’t understand what fiduciary means.Why not?We’ve tried to bend a word that was primarily reserved for law books into a catchphrase to capture the attention of potential clients.Into a term of -self-importanceWhat do clients say they understand?And this is part of the new RIA disclosure requirement…“When we act as your investment adviser, we have to act in your best interest and not put our interest ahead of yours.”Wild thing. You make my heart sing.Everything comes down to “best interest.Always has.Always will.So…what does this mean if you’re a financial professional handling the planning and investment needs of your clients?Stop for a second and think about the way you answer the question…“What do you do for a living?”If you spit back 2-word titles crafted by compliance-types disguised as marketers.Or if, heaven forbid, you throw out the “f” word.
STOP.Do not pass go.Craft a one sentence belief statement that clearly states: 1.) Who you serve 2.) How you help them 3.) And what that will mean to themYou may not get it exactly right the first time. And it may feel uncomfortable at first.But that’s really how you should roll when you’re truly a fiduciary.So your current and future clients clearly understand what you do.And the confidence you ultimately gain will be measured in..Happier clients.A steady flow of new business.And a business you’ll be proud of.Win-win-win.
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