Steven R. McCarty
Self-improvement is the mantra of modernity. People want to look better, feel better, have greater resources and be
happier. They want to become the best
version of themselves as quickly and with as
little effort as possible.
The pursuit of physical fitness is a case in
point. People visit personal trainers wanting
to build stamina, sculpt more attractive arms
or legs, lose weight or gain strength. Validating those goals, trainers also remind their
clients of the importance of working on their
core — the muscles around their trunk and
pelvis. Why? Because the stronger and more
flexible those muscles are, the more effective
and efficient other areas of the body will be.
Why discuss core muscles in a business ethics column? Because as I’ve observed this industry during my 10 years as a columnist, I’ve
seen how easy it is for advisors to get distracted
from the core values and ethical practices
that produce long-term success. They focus
on seeing more prospects, closing more sales,
cross-selling more products, racking up more
conference credits, graduating to a nicer office,
buying a more luxurious home, etc. There’s
nothing wrong with wanting those things. But
remember, they are results, not root causes.
The core exercise of ensuring you’re in this
business for the right reasons — and of treating your clients the right way — are infinitely
Because when all is said and done, success
in this industry isn’t about executing sales
and marketing tactics. It’s about something
more strategic and more fundamental: how
much you care about the people you serve,
how committed you are to their welfare and
how effectively you build trust so clients feel
safe to make the decisions required to attain
In short, the best practices in our industry
— the entities, not the actions — will always
be the most ethical firms. But this doesn’t
just happen by itself. It results from focus,
commitment, execution, and refinement over
many years. For example, in my view, an advisor
creates a “best practice” by:
• Knowing his core values; in other words,
knowing what he stands for.
• Committing those values to writing and
living by them each day.
• Devising an ethics code and sharing it
• Knowing the difference between ethics
• Adopting ethical solicitation, suitability and
customer service practices.
• Recruiting, training and rewarding an
• Successfully dealing with temptations
that arise from within (conflicts of interest,
the four classic temptations, and
• Successfully addressing detractors that arise
from without (dishonest prospects/clients,
people who try to “own” you).
• Staying ethically sharp by learning from mistakes and committing to self-improvement.
• Giving back by making a difference in the
community and industry.
• Developing an exit strategy that treats all
Just as exercising the body’s core makes
one more fit, these core ethical practices will
make your business stronger and give you
more stamina to deal with the stresses of
running it. They will make you more flexible to
react to changing business conditions and the
market volatility that comes with being a financial advisor. And they will make your tactical marketing and sales more productive, just
as strong core muscles enable one’s shoulders
or legs to excel at tennis or mountain biking.
I feel so strongly about how ethical business
practices cut to the core of business success
that I will be discussing it in-depth in the
months ahead. I hope you’re up for the
exercise of becoming the best practice you
can possibly be. RA
Why best practices put ethics first
What are your ethics
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