Don’t Abuse Trust and Discredit Your Profession

We have all heard of disappointing scenarios when leaders abuse trust, fail in their fiduciary responsibilities, and discredit themselves and their professions. Financial professionals who commit fraud certainly fall into this category. Other examples include religious leaders who deceive trusting and devoted followers through fraud or abuse. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals are not exempt from abusing trust and discrediting themselves.

In circumstances that involve abuse of trust, it is appropriate for such professionals to reap the consequences of their actions (legal, financial, and otherwise) and to find other lines of work that don’t involve fiduciary responsibilities. It is one thing to “mess up” and to learn a lesson from mistakes due to incompetence. A professional career might be salvageable in this situation. It is another matter altogether to actively use deceit and manipulation to abuse the trust that others placed in you.

Particularly troubling in these abuse of trust situations, the fraud and deceit go beyond ordinary commercial transactions in which the buyer and seller are expected to beware as a matter of course (i.e., “caveat emptor” and “caveat venditor“). It’s one thing for a buyer to “pull the wool” over a seller’s eyes (or the other way around). However, professionals who deceive actively abuse trust that others formally place in them due to their positions.

Financial professionals are expected to be competent and trustworthy. Credentials such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Financial Analyst (CFA), and Certified Treasury Professional (CTP), require training and compliance in ethical codes of conduct.

The word “credential” implies credence or trust. A credible person, whether certified by a professional body or not, follows ethical standards and consistently performs competently to demonstrate reliability and gain trust.

Moreover, financial professionals have fiduciary responsibilities to their principals. This means that professionals must guard their principals’ interests and exercise due diligence as if the resources they are stewarding were their own.

CPAs are required to avoid “acts discreditable to the profession.” These include, but are not limited to, acts such as breaching confidentiality, illegally harassing or discriminating in employment practices, negligence in financial record keeping and reporting, and failing to follow proper accounting and tax standards. Additionally, fiduciaries are expected to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

Take your professional ethical and fiduciary responsibilities seriously. Many people are relying on you. You don’t want to give yourself and your profession a bad name by breaching this trust. Know the rules of ethics, and resolve to live by them. Be prepared in advance to appropriately and decisively respond if you ever receive pressure to diverge from the ethical high road.