Building Your Reputation: Talk About The Elephants In The Room
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Building Your Reputation: Talk About The Elephants In The Room

July 17, 2023

by Tony Vidler  CFP logo   CLU logo  ChFC logo

When Accountants struggle to be highly trusted then financial advisers are going to have a real battle doing so.  If the Accountants only get rated as “Highly trusted”  in professional ethics and honesty by less than 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 and consumer groups which frequently survey their readers and members to determine which professions are to be trusted, and who 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 is not to be trusted 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….they are not the only ones finding that there is a level of distrust in professional services.  The mainstream media also contribute to creating much of the distrust with the constant focus on the aberrations and bad ‘uns, although the industry does have to accept that there have been far too many instances of individuals in the industry not performing to the standards expected of professionals so a  bit of the criticism and negative headlines are deserved.  That is unfair on the vast majority of financial advisers who are professional and ethical and go about their work daily improving the lives of their clients of course. But that’s life, right?  It’s just not always fair.

This chart is from a couple of years ago, but it does highlight the issue well:

Financial planners highly trusted by 17%… brokjers highly trusted by just 7%….not even bankers are highly trusted any more, and there was a time when that was one of THE most trusted roles in society.

When the level of trust in an entire profession is that low it is unlikely that theprofessional is going to change this public perception by a large margin quickly.  What is possible is that each individual professional can change that public image one client at a time though.  I’d suggest that we are already doing so actually.

I make a point of asking people what they think of financial advisers 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.  So at an individual, personal experience level, the general response of those who have an adviser is positive, yet their perception of the industry remains pretty negative.

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 build some trust and credibility is to tackle the consumers concerns about the industry 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 try making decisions about which individual 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 I believe.  By tackling head on the issues raised by the critics you have an opportunity to create a position of trust and professional credibility for yourself in an area where there is an otherwise high level of distrust.

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