When I joined the financial services industry in the late eighties, the compliance world was a very different place. Regulation was in its infancy and a disclosure document was basically a business card and the fact-find, a blank piece of paper.
Client-adviser meetings were still being held in the pub, cafe, hotel or occasionally in a field. Living in Yorkshire, many clients were part of the local farming community, who literally called a spade a spade (or in some cases, a shovel). This community often referred to advisers as the ‘shiny shoe brigade’, a slightly derogatory term suggesting that the adviser had never in their life got their hands dirty. I often wonder whether these meetings were staged so that the adviser left with muddy shoes.
In any event, if you used jargon, waffled or insisted on small talk, you could be sure that the meeting would be short and you would soon be sent packing empty handed. These clients demanded simple, plain and honest talk. Additionally, as is still the case today, trust definitely had to be earned and your word was your bond. An agreement would always be sealed with a (very firm) handshake. Deal done.
Yes, the client would receive written confirmation of the deal, but this went largely unread as the adviser’s word and handshake formed an unbreakable pact and thus the paperwork, in the client’s view at the time, was irrelevant. If the adviser failed to deliver or went back on their word, they may as well have kissed goodbye to ever working in that community again as they would be totally ostracised. Such was the importance placed on the adviser’s word.
Good, honest trust
Clearly, things are very different today and there is a lot to be said for the protections that come with regulation and the move to good client outcomes and accountability. We have all heard the stories of unscrupulous or unprofessional advisers over the years and protecting clients against bad practice has got to be paramount.
However, I believe that this should not mean that we let go of all the principles of the past. Trust and honesty are important and we should remember to hold onto them as the world of regulation and compliance develops and adapts to the fast-changing world of financial advice.
My advice therefore to someone new to the industry is that no amount of regulation or lack of it in some cases, should prevent them from forging strong client bonds, based on good, honest trust. In other words, living “my word is my bond” every single day simply because it is the right thing to do.
Interested in learning more about the role of a Compliance department in a professional services firm? Check out this blog post to find out more.