It’s been a couple of weeks since the sudden passing of one of my favorite mentors, Dick Wagner. Most people outside the financial world haven’t heard of him. Dick’s influence on the public came from behind the scenes, through financial professionals.
“Professional” was an operative word with Dick. Trained as a lawyer, he asked what it meant for the financial advice business to be less like an industry and more like a profession.
His standards for this distinction were high. An industry member needs knowledge of products – how they are made, how they are used, who should use them and who shouldn’t. A profession requires a broader awareness. It would study history, economics, math, literature, political science, psychology, natural science, etc. – in other words, the liberal arts. He proposed a new discipline – “Finology.” Finology would study not only how money is created and changes hands, but its far-ranging effects.
Dick called money “the most powerful secular force on the planet” because he knew how it affects our individual, family, community, country, and global lives. Who but a professional should be entrusted with this force? Professionals by definition have a knowledge advantage which carries great responsibility. Along with that is great potential for abuse. In a profession like medicine, or law, or accounting, often customers don’t know how to compare or judge competence. The services provided in a profession are intimate, personal, and often life-changing. Because of this, most customers prefer some level of trust, but don’t know how to judge that, either.
Thus the need for standards. Medicine, law, and accounting all have them. They evolve over time. Finance is working on it, but it’s still dominated by manufacturer representatives. It’s still an industry.
Yet more than a few members have chosen to follow the same path of Dick Wagner – the path to professionalism. How would you know if you’re talking to one? Here are several clues:
1) They sign a fiduciary oath to always act in the client’s best interest.
2) They seek to achieve the most rigorous certifications.
3) They are constant learners who often become their peers’ mentors and teachers.
4) They remain open-minded to new ideas.
5) They see their advice as reflecting on their competence, their character, and their credential.
6) When they are present with their peers, there is cameraderie in the room, not cut-throat competition.
When Dick Wagner was in the room, I felt my best, and the best of my emerging profession, was yet to come. He held the torch of professional standards high. He inspired confidence and courage. I carry that spirit now, no matter what room I am in.