Ethics Center: Business Ethics

Be Careful: Don't Let Narcissism Wreck Your Business or Career

Remember Narcissus? He was the beautiful youth in Greek mythology who refused all offers of love. As punishment for his indifference, he was made to fall in love with his own image, eventually pining away and turning into a flower.

In the modern world, we know that narcissism is a common ailment. And many would argue that the financial-services business has its fair share of narcissists—advisors who are too busy contemplating their own “beauty” to care much about anyone or anything else. Not sure about that assessment? Consider some of its telltale symptoms.

  • Being blinded by one’s goals. Many advisors get distracted by money, toys, and the latest hot product or selling system. As a result, they lose sight of the fundamental value they could bring to their clients over the long-term.

  • Viewing the world through the blinders of personal experience. Some advisors seem incapable of seeing life through another’s eyes, of empathizing with others. This encourages bending or even breaking the rules. If you’re not convinced, just read the advisor sanctions on the FINRA web site.

  • Striving to produce short-term rather than long-term results. Many advisors lack the patience to wait for good things to unfold over time. They’ve forgotten that good things come to those who wait.

  • Believing the world revolves around them. For these advisors, clients represent the future value of a series of payments. That's unfortunate because no client wants to be viewed as a revenue stream.

  • Doing a lot more talking than listening. Too many advisors begin a client relationship with answers rather than questions. Assuming a client needs product X without doing comprehensive fact-finding is unconscionable.

  • Having weak ethical values. Certain advisors put expedience ahead of integrity in their business practices. Anything is acceptable, they believe, as long as it feathers their nest—now.

What happens to a business of narcissists? Does it produce satisfied customers and growing revenues over time? Does it deliver true long-term value to customers rather than flash-in-the-pan thrills? Does it expect a commitment to ethics instead of lip service to compliance?

On all counts, the macro-level answer is “no.” And what about the micro-level impact on advisor businesses?  That is negative as well, because narcissists have a tough time creating client trust, satisfaction, loyalty, and repeat business. Even more problematic, narcissistic advisors are more prone to drop the ball on key client requests, which can lead to complaints and E&O insurance claims.

So if you find your eyes gravitating to the mirror more frequently these days, here’s what to do:

  • Start viewing yourself as a servant. You exist to help your clients, not vice versa.

  • Don’t make recommendations based on what you stand to earn. Focus exclusively on what’s best for the client.

  • Force yourself to walk in your clients’ shoes now and then. Think about what it would be like to own their problems—and what it would take to solve them.

  • Practice full disclosure.  What you may lose by disclosing, you’ll gain in trust.

  • Get comfortable with the idea that the world does not exist to make you happy.

  • Focus on getting the job done well and quickly for your clients. This will prevent E&O insurance problems.

Advisors who stop admiring themselves quite so much will become better advisors—and better human beings. We also suspect they’ll work less, but make a lot more money. Now that’s something to love. 

For information on affordable E&O insurance for low-risk insurance agents, investment advisors, and real estate broker/owners, please visit EOforLess.com. For information on ethical sales practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center.