Feb 23 2022 / Round the Table Magazine
Refocus on ethics
By MDRT Bylaws and Ethics Committee
The ways MDRT members conduct business have changed substantially around the world during the last two years. In our quest to provide client service during office building closures, social distancing and individual personal concerns for safety, many of us have changed the way we interact with clients — even with our staff members. Much of what we do is now done virtually, and our client expectations have also adjusted to the world around them.
As the changes around us slow a bit, now is the time to take a closer look at the way we operate to ensure we’re still acting responsibly and ethically on behalf of our clients. Our committee weighed in on what it takes to lead an ethical practice in today’s world.
How do virtual client meetings impact ethics?
As stay-at-home mandates circled the globe in early 2020, Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms became a lifeline for us to reach out to clients and continue conducting business. Two years later, this technology has permeated many areas of our day-to-day work. For some advisors and clients, virtual meetings continue to be a necessary safety precaution — at least periodically, while the pandemic surges in various locations. For other advisors, clients’ acceptance of these platforms has enabled more efficient meetings, with many preferring to meet virtually for some or all client reviews.
As our new environment continues to evolve, it is important to consider the risks associated with virtual meetings. Are we taking necessary steps to securely transmit confidential information? Now is the time to reassess and address cybersecurity with our clients. If we use electronic insurance applications, how are these protected? What is the possible impact on the client of an inadvertent disclosure of privileged or confidential information? Given this information, consider each client’s circumstances and discuss concerns and preferences with them.
How do we protect our client’s confidentiality?
We have a responsibility to use new technology carefully to secure our clients’ personal and financial information. By keeping our communication on official platforms, such as encrypted company email systems, we can avoid a breach of this sensitive data. Storage of this information should be carefully thought out too. We must ensure we store only necessary client documents. When we conduct a virtual client meeting on a platform like Zoom, we must be very aware of what information our clients can view. If we toggle from one screen or tab to another, information we have open could be visible, such as names on files. To avoid this, keep all other files and folder browsers closed during virtual meetings to avoid accidental exposure. As an added precaution, consider using less-revealing folder names — for example, labeling client folders with initials rather than a full name.
How do we consider ethics when working virtually with our staff?
Our staff teams follow our lead with client confidentiality and security issues in a virtual environment. We must update them with the changing guidelines for how to operate, and ensure they are aware of the extra considerations when interacting with clients virtually. This is a good time to update written business processes to include online interactions and extra precautions.
How do we maintain our professionalism on social media?
With our day-to-day business lives increasingly taking place online, we must take extra precautions to ensure that anything we post is not shared with anyone beyond our intended audience. We should also take precautionary measures to remove any sensitive material from potentially living in cyberspace. Many advisors around the world have some presence on social media networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or WhatsApp. We are subjected to strict regulations surrounding our social media activities and must include a disclaimer that our content is not advice, but rather general information. It is our responsibility to be aware of any restrictions and operate in
a compliant manner online.
How do we ensure we meet our client’s needs?
In early 2020, as personal health and safety felt threatened, we saw an increase of prospects looking for life insurance and estate planning. The general consumer had a demand for our products and services at a level we may not have seen before. When we find ourselves in situations like this, it is imperative that we follow our advice protocols.
First, if the prospect has sought us out, we should still follow the same steps as if we were approaching them. Research the individual and their business, and reference any articles or posts you find about them. This prepares you for the first meeting.
Our high standards for our fact-finding process should not change when the prospect comes to us. We should seek to thoroughly understand their needs and ask them questions about themselves, their family and their business. An interested person is an interesting person. It’s easy to engage in a meaningful conversation if we ask, then listen thoughtfully. The amount of time spent and the quality of our meetings with them should not vary. Focusing on each step — from fact-finding to advice presentation and closing — will give us the confidence we have met their needs.
When should you say no to a prospect?
When a prospect’s request causes you to feel uncomfortable, pause to reflect on the ethics of the situation. Don’t ignore your intuition — take time to research the request and determine whether honoring it would go against applicable laws or regulations.
An example of a prospect’s request is rebating, the practice of an advisor paying the client partial commissions. This request can be common when the prospect is from a culture that is used to negotiating every transaction, but it is illegal in many locales and could put our licenses at risk. When confronted with a request for rebating, we can explain that the service an ethical advisor provides them is worth more than what a competing advisor might promise in a rebate. To easily navigate these situations, we can proactively outline how we are paid and the services we provide in an engagement letter, given to each client at the start of the relationship.
If a prospect’s request persists, it’s best to refuse to work with the individual and move on to other prospects.
Abiding by MDRT’s Code of Ethics ensures that we promise to deliver the best possible advice. Reference the example set by our fellow members in the success stories shared in this magazine and online at mdrt.org to maintain a successful, ethical practice.
MDRT Code of Ethics
Members of the Million Dollar Round Table should be ever mindful that complete compliance with and observance of the Code of Ethics of the Million Dollar Round Table shall serve to promote the highest quality standards of membership. These standards will be beneficial to the public and the insurance and financial services profession. Therefore, members shall:
- Always place the best interests of their clients above their own direct or indirect interests.
- Maintain the highest standards of professional competence by seeking to maintain and improve professional knowledge, skills and competence.
- Hold in strictest confidence, and consider as privileged, all business and personal information pertaining to their clients’ affairs.
- Make full and adequate disclosure of all facts necessary to enable clients to make informed decisions.
- Maintain personal conduct which will reflect favorably on the insurance and financial services profession and the Million Dollar Round Table.
- Determine that any replacement of an insurance or financial product must be beneficial for the client.
- Abide by and conform to all provisions of the laws and regulations in the jurisdictions in which they do business.