Building Trust by Illustrating Ethics: Advising Today

By Teresa Dougherty

Building Trust by Illustrating Ethics: Advising TodayLately, I’ve been hearing a great deal about ethics. As the ethics chair for a chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) —the largest professional organization serving the country’s public relations community — I turn on the TV, open my laptop or face my Facebook, and questions or concerns about “doing the right thing” seem to dominate public discourse.

And, while PRSA members abide by a Member Code of Ethics, which includes core values such as honesty, loyalty, expertise and transparency, the communications profession hardly corners the market on ethical practice and its impact on decision-making. Many professions have guiding principles to help their associates conduct business with integrity. In fact, being a professional is characterized by conforming to a standard of ethics.

Financial professionals are no exception. So, how can advisors illustrate that integrity underscores the relationships they build and services they provide as they focus on growing their practices?


It starts with communication. From your website to your content marketing to your blogs, LinkedIn profile and seminar presentations — your marketing and communications must be substantive, authentic, honest and consistent. Your communications should match who you are and what you stand for, i.e., your brand.  And, it’s not only what you say — for example, disclosing your fee structure upfront is a must as people make decisions based on transparency — it’s how you look (words and graphics) and how you sound (tone and voice).  Painting a picture of your expertise and the values you hold will help ensure a strong ethical foundation from which to cultivate your relationships.


Warren Buffet once wrote in a memo to managers at Berkshire Hathaway, “We can’t be perfect but we can try to be…We can afford to lose money…But we can’t afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.”  Mr. Buffet was referring to the value of your reputation, which is based on your expertise and your promise to meet and exceed your clients’ expectations. Your professional character is foundational.  Not only is reputation worth protecting among existing clients, it’s worth promoting to referrals and sharing with networks to grow your business.


At the center of ethics is conviction or trust, perhaps the most sought after component of any long-term advisor relationship. Even as the financial services industry recovers from the Great Recession, it is still rebuilding consumer trust. That’s where you come in.  Today’s increasingly skeptical clients require more engagement and understanding of their financial situations and more assurance from their “trusted advisor” that when the next downturn looms, they will be protected. Take this opportunity to strengthen your communication (on and offline) with your clients and involve them with decisions about their financial future. Include your client’s children or parents in these discussions. Realize that such engagement establishes the path forward to building trust.

In a more connected and selective society, clients expect more from service providers. As such, ramping up your game doesn’t mean you sacrifice integrity for success.  On the contrary, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “the time is always right to do what is right.” Take the time to communicate your values around ethics and integrity and when you do, you gain your client’s trust.

By Teresa Dougherty, strategic communications consultant,

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