Writing a Code of Ethics does not make a person or company ethical. Observing their behavior in good times and bad is what will indicate the morality that drives them and the ethics that they follow. Nevertheless, we offer this Code not as a proof to you, but a reminder to ourselves as to where our commitments lie (and because the government makes us). A lot of this will sound like a repeat of our Mission Statement. This is intentional as they should be intertwined.
That said, our Code of Ethics could be a simple, but profound verse. It is found in Luke chapter 6, verse 31:
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. NKJV
Kinda hard to beat that one. So, the rest of this Code is to explain how we apply that verse to our business processes.
Personal Money Planning shall place the client's interest above its own. In financial jargon, this means that we hold ourselves out to be a Fiduciary. We do not do this lightly as this puts onto us a heavy burden—but it is a burden that, in our opinion, should be part of every advisor’s duty.
This fiduciary relationship goes beyond what is suitable. After all, two recommendations could be suitable yet one is a much better choice for you. A fiduciary relationship requires that the determining factor be what we believe is best for you.
Honesty and openness are the keystones of the advisor-client relationship. We will be truthful and candid with you. Here at Personal Money Planning, we will never make a promise that we do not intend to keep. If we are unable to meet a commitment, we will inform you as early as possible and attempt to fairly renegotiate the terms of that commitment. We will own up to our mistakes and do our best to correct them.
Objectivity requires intellectual honesty and impartiality. It is an essential quality for any advisor. It is also impossible. The dictionary says that being objective means we are uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. What we strive to do is acknowledge where we might not be objective, inform you when it occurs, and ensure it does not negatively affect the advice we give you.
While we will never be free of them, we will endeavor to avoid conflicts of interest whenever possible. That is why Personal Money Planning is a fee-only firm. We accept no commissions. This relieves us of one of the main conflicts in the investment world…advisors being compensated by the very companies we are supposed to judge. Sure we get sent the occasional golf ball or t-shirt, but never to the extent that can sway our opinion of the firm.
We do not receive fees or compensation from any party based on the referral of a client or the client's business. That way if we recommend an insurance agent or accountant you can be sure that we do so because we truly mean it, not because they are paying us to say so. But as we acknowledged from the beginning, conflicts are impossible to eliminate. After all, we will often recommend folks to other advisors who also recommend people to us. Is this a quid pro quo relationship or do we both truly believe in the other’s abilities? We strive to make sure it is the latter.
One is competent only when he has attained and maintained an adequate level of knowledge and skill, and then applies that effectively in providing services to clients. Competence not only includes the initial acquisition of this specialized knowledge and skill, but also requires continued learning and practice. Personal Money Planning staff shall provide services to clients competently and maintain the necessary knowledge and skill to continue to do so.
New knowledge is constantly being created. Skills need to be continuously honed. We keep learning.
A person seeking the services of Personal Money Planning expects a relationship of personal trust and confidence. This type of relationship can only be built upon the understanding that information supplied to Personal Money Planning will be confidential. In order to provide the contemplated services effectively and to protect the client’s privacy, Personal Money Planning shall safeguard the confidentiality of such information. An employee shall respect the confidentiality of any information entrusted to or obtained in the course of the employee’s business or professional activities.
A Personal Money Planning employee shall not disclose any confidential client information without the specific consent of the client unless in response to proper legal process, to defend against charges of wrongdoing, or in connection with a civil dispute between the employee and client.
That’s Not All
There is another part of our Code of Ethics. It is our Code of Ethics Manual which details how we go about trying to accomplish the above. In addition we have a companion to our Code of Ethics Manual: the Compliance Manual. While much of what is written in both manuals will seem like minutia to most clients, they are available by request. To receive copies, just ask, and they will be provided to you.
As a Certified Financial Planner®, Gary follows the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. A copy of this document can be downloaded at http://www.cfp.net/about-cfp-board/ethics-enforcement/standards-of-professional-conduct