Professionalism in Financial Services?

That question mark is there deliberately.

Within financial services the debate continues about whether those who work in it are working in an ‘industry’ or a ‘profession’, predominantly because of its obsession with sales (of policies or this quarter’s next best thing in investment funds).

At this time of year, just a few weeks since exam results were published, social media rehashes its staple threads of those arguing that they do not work in the ‘financial services industry’: having passed all those exams necessary to become a Chartered Financial Planner, they are a ‘professional’.

Unfortunately, marks of professionalism do not simply emerge through the passing of exams (regardless of the standards required and hours worked to pass them). Solicitors, barristers, accountants, doctors, clergy, similarly all will have passed stretching exams, but apparently absent is any debate about whether they  are working in an industry.


An industry will have the following features, among others: a need for sales and sales targets; a product (including those that arguably don’t add much to a person’s life or needs); distribution channels (a cookie-cutter template for getting the product to the end customer); a race to achieve scale for the product by taking over other product distributors. We can all recognise an industry when we see one.

But contrast this with a profession. While the hallmarks may be more nuanced, again, we can generally recognise a professional when we see one: a person who shows commitment to ethical dealings; one who puts the client (as opposed to the ‘customer’) first in every way; a person who takes responsibility for client outcomes; an individual who is not afraid to say “you don’t need me.”

It’s not difficult to see why many people’s experiences of working with financial services, particularly in the field of financial advice or planning, is more akin to that of an industry rather than a profession. Qualifications and membership of financial services bodies are not enough to elevate an individual from one who works in an industry to one who is a professional.

Fortunately the ground is changing in the giving of financial planning advice as the better firms begin to adopt genuine lifestyle and financial planning with a clear emphasis on a client’s needs at the outset (Manse Capital has been doing this for nigh on 15 years): discovering who clients really are, where they are in their lives and where their families want to be, and using detailed, multi-layered techniques to show how they can get there.

On some occasions clients can simply be reassured that nothing more is needed or required to be done. Others benefit immensely from a detailed lifetime financial plan which sets out clearly how they can achieve all manner of goals and dreams. A financial planning professional can distinguish between the two types of client without fear of having failed to reach a sales target.

If you want to begin to discover professionalism in financial services:

Meet the Team

Mark Roe

Chartered Financial Planner