by Tony Vidler
When Accountants struggle to create a universally good reputation for their industry then we are going to have a real battle doing so. If they only get rated as “High” or “Very High” in professional ethics and honesty by half the population then what chance that an Insurance Broker will rank higher in the public mind? Or a Financial Planner…or Mortgage Broker?
Call me cynical perhaps, but it does strike me that these “consumer magazines” which exist by selling subscriptions to fearful consumers seem to do rather well in the publicity stakes when they find, yet again, that a segment of the advice industry should be approached warily (if not be distrusted from the start) by consumers. Bad news gets all the ink, right?
It seems a reasonably logical conclusion (for me anyway) that the more often a media publication can create distrust and alarm in an area of industry, and simultaneously position itself as the trusted source of information, the better it must be for their own circulation and subscription figures. Bottom line: it is good for their business to trash other businesses.
However….these rags are not the only ones finding that there is a level of distrust in professional services. As an aside I might well argue that the private mystery shoppers employed by private enterprise contribute heavily to creating much of the distrust with the constant focus on the aberrations and exceptions, but we would also have to accept that there have been far too many instances in professional services of the industry not performing to the standards expected of professionals.
This chart is from a couple of years ago, but it does highlight the issue well:
It is unlikely that any individual professional is going to change this public perception. What is likely is that each individual professional can change that public image one client at a time, and is actually doing so. I make it a point of asking friends and members of the public what they think of financial advisers (being an area of professional services that gets hammered even more than lawyers do), and a recurring response is:
“financial advisers are rogues – except for mine. I got lucky…..”
The actual wording is usually more diplomatic than that, but this is the sentiment usually.
At an individual practitioner level this does present an opportunity though. When it comes to managing our own professional image – and I do mean each professional individually – perhaps the single greatest opportunity to rebuild some trust and credibility is to tackle the consumers fears head on. Let’s talk about “the elephant in the room”, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.
The big issues that create the distrust are things like perceived or real conflicts; methods of payment; protection of client information and privacy; training and education standards; codes of conduct and consumer complaint redress…..all the things that the regulators and consumer groups focus upon.
Why not take each of those issues and address them right up front?
I am not talking about “disclosure” here – that is nowhere near “right up front”. Disclosure happens when a consumer has already taken a bit of a risk and made a decision to at least have a chat about engaging you….we need to hit these issues well before that point if we want our marketing to be successful.
We need to put our position on these topics out into the public domain where consumers who have NOT decided to engage with the profession can find them. Take transparency from being an academic concept and put it into the centre of your marketing.
Regardless of what your position is in any of the areas which concern consumers, you have an opportunity to break down barriers and distrust by being open and transparent about the big questions before consumers are making decisions about which professional to choose.
Talk about the elephant, or rather the entire herd of elephants, in the room. it is a fabulous marketing opportunity for every individual professional. By tackling head on the issues raised by the rags you have an opportunity to create a position of trust and professional credibility for yourself.
You may also find this post useful: