Ring In the Year with a Subscription & Donation to the ME-P

An ME-P Staff Impact Round-Up for 2011

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By Dr. David Edward Marcinko FACFAS, MBA, CPHQ, CMP™

[Founding Publisher, CEO and Editor-in-Chief]

By Professor Hope Rachel Hetico RN, MHA, CPHQ, CMP™

[Managing Editor]

By Ann Miller RN, MHA

[Executive-Director]

And, with Edward, Mackenzie and Cecelia [staff members]

This has been a year of incredible impact for the ME-P. And, as volunteers, we’re making a vital difference.

So, as 2011 comes to a close, please formally subscribe to us for free, cease the “lurking” -and-  consider making a monetary donation to help us continue this important work.

Subscription link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/HealthcareFinancialsthePostForcxos

Donation link: www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?c=cart&i=641232&cl=109140&ejc=2 

Our Impact?

What do we mean by impact? We hope these three examples, each from the integrated sectors we serve, give you an idea.

The Financial Services Industry

First is the essay on Mary Schapiro, the current SEC Chairwoman. In it we advocate for all investors, not just physicians and medical professionals, so that everyone receives trusted financial advice and not just the bastardized contortion that she – and those on Wall Street that she is beholden to – dreamed up in some linguistically parsed, ethically challenged and obtusely regulated mashup definition of honesty.  Demand fiduciary accountability at all times; period. Just as one can’t be a little pregnant – “financial advisors”, planners, and stock-brokers can’t be a little honest.

Link: https://medicalexecutivepost.com/2011/12/19/the-one-woman-physician-investors-should-not-trust/

The Health Care Sector

Then, there is the essay from investigative reporter Darrell K. Pruitt DDS that not only humiliated the ADA and toppled a dental management CEO and his embarassed company, but who also repeatedly warned all medical professionals on the risks and benefits of eHRs. Although not technophobes, we do believe – like the silent majority – that while eHRs are indeed the future, they are not currently ready for meaningful use, real security or the user friendly prime time they promise, despite PPACA, HITECH and ARRA legislation. Incentives, mandates and financial credits promote bubbles, not a competitive marketplace of true innovation.

Link: https://medicalexecutivepost.com/2011/11/15/on-the-leadership-shake-up-at-the-cr-foundation/

The Medical Management Consultants

Finally, our impact can – and should also be – more personal. For example, we continued writing about the future of medical practice, evolving and emerging models and those economic consultants who advise, suggest, recommend, appraise, manage and value healthcare business entities. The work of colleague Robert James Cimasi MHA, AVA, CMP™ and the folks at Health Capital Consultants LLC, come quickly to mind. Without them, our newest textbook for 2012, Hospitals and Healthcare Organizations, would not be the financial management opus it is sure to become.

Link: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781439879900

ASSESSMENT

And so, your support is needed in 2012. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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Conclusion      

As always, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

Our Other Print Books and Related Information Sources:

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Physician Financial Planning: http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/0763745790

Medical Risk Management: http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/9780763733421

Healthcare Organizations: www.HealthcareFinancials.com

Physician Advisors: www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com

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On American Health Care and Financial Services Competitiveness

A MEMORIAL DAY OPINION – EDITORIAL

[Innovation – Not Nationalization – Can Again Lead]

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; FACFAS, MBA, CPHQ, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]

By Hope Rachel Hetico; RN, MHA, CPHQ, CMP™

[Managing Editor]

Ann Miller; RN, MHA

[Executive-Director]

American Flag

On this 2010 Memorial Day weekend, please allow us to directly reflect for a moment on the decline of the healthcare, banking and financial services industry in America. And; then somewhat indirectly comment on the hopeful emergence of the web 2.0 phenomena of which we all are a part. The competitive applicability to these sectors should be appreciated by the insightful ME-P reader.

Collapse of Command and Control Monopolies and Oligarchies   

Old monopolies everywhere are crumbling because of tougher new competitors and the transparency wrought by electronic connectedness. For example, our old newspaper has to compete with the internet, your electric utility company battles low-cost local start-ups, telephone companies must begin installing fiber optic lines to fend off cable companies; and RIAs and fiduciary focused financial advisors [FAs] will supplant BDs and stock brokers in the financial services sector.

www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com

cmp-logo

The airline industry collapsed a few years ago, the banking industry has just collapsed, and the auto industry is recovering as we pen this post. [We have a particular affinity for the auto sector however, as the son of a UAW member and step-daughter of Michiganders]. Regardless, the rush to more intense competition cannot be stopped. As a doctor, FA or other business competitor; you either keep pace or get crushed by quasi-oligarchic organizations like the American Medical Association [AMA], American Podiatric Medical Association [FPMA], American Dental Association [ADA], American Osteopathic Medical Association AOMA], Financial Planning Association [FPA], Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards [CFP BoS], College for Financial Planning [CFP] or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors [NAPFA], etc. What have they, and Wall Street, done for you … lately? Scandal, taint, doubt, lost-credibility, a business-as-usual ennui, lethargy and ruin! Enter www.Sermo.com

Link: https://healthcarefinancials.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/calling-for-cfp%c2%ae-fiduciary-status-real-education-and-higher-duty/#comment-4136

Health Insurance Companies

In the last-generation of health insurance companies and related fraternal medical organizations, patients exercised great control over physician selection, had quicker access to specialists and encountered fewer restrictions on care. The reverse was true with financial services. But, because of advancing technology, aging demographics, intense R&D, global manufacturing, and escalating domestic HR costs – competitive market forces against traditional and structured staff model managed care companies – many industry analysts [like us] predicted growth would decline [Yes, greed was also involved as healthcare was presumed a recession-proof sector; and didn’t we all own behemoth big-pharma and HMO stocks in our 401-K, and 403-B plans]? But now, many former stock-brokers and FAs are going rogue; er – independent!

“Although inefficiencies in any business often open up in the short term, and can be greatly exploited by creative and visionary entrepreneurs – as in most business structures – market forces will prevail in the long run”.

Leo F. Mullin, MBA

[Former CEO – Delta Airlines]Shadows

Next-Gen with “Fly”

Fortunately, a new generation of enlightened physician and FA entrepreneurs is coming “out-of-the-shadows” as new-wave web 2.0 corporations and RIAs are becoming more flexible, competitive and market responsive. Simultaneously, monolithic and collectivist political ideas keep trying to regulate the medical and financial services workplace with rules, regulations and contracts to control entire populations. Yet, in the new healthcare economy, this new generation of doctors and FAs with “fly,” is headed toward more competition; not less – with more collaboration with patients and clients – regaining self autonomy.

Physician and FA Advocates

Meanwhile, as medical professionals, FAs and patient advocates, we must all choose between staying flexible to ride out tough times – or – adopting a hard, brittle line that will crack under the pressure of competition. We know where we stand at the ME-P, do you?

Flexibility and Virtual Reality

In recent years, many large corporations and top-down business models were not market responsive and change was not inherent in their DNA. These traditional organizations represented a rigid or “used-to-be” mentality, not a flexible or “wanna-be” mindset; according to business columnist Alan Webber. Some financial advisory corporations, and today’s emerging health 2.0 initiatives, may possess the market nimbleness that cannot be recreated in a controlled or collectivist [nationalistic] environment. And so, going forward, it is not difficult to imagine the following new rules for the new financial and virtual medical ecosystem.

[A] Rule No. 1

Forget about “SEC suitability and FINRA rules”, large office suites, surgery centers, fancy equipment, larger hospitals and the bricks and mortar that comprised traditional medical practices or financial product delivery systems. One doctor or niche focused FA with a great idea, good bedside manners or competitive advantage, can outfox a slew of public servants, the AMA, SEC, ADA or FINRA “faux copy-cat examiners”, while still serving the public – and patients – and making money. It’s now a unit-of-one economy where “Me Inc.”, is the standard. Physicians and FAs must maneuver for advantages that boost their standing and credibility among patients, peers, payers, customers and clients. Examples include patient satisfaction surveys; outcomes research analysis, evidence-based-medicine, physician economics credentialing and true integrated fiduciary-focused financial planning.

However, we should also realize the power of networking, vertical integration and the establishment of virtual RIAs or medical practices, which come together to treat a patient, or help a client, and then disband when a successful outcome is achieved. Job security is earned with more successful outcomes; not necessarily a degree, automatic AUMs, certifications or onsite presence. In fact, some competition experts, like Shirley Svorny PhD, a professor of economics and chair of the Department of Economics at California State University, wonder if a medical degree is a barrier – rather than enabler – of affordable healthcare.

Link: https://healthcarefinancials.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/medical-licensing-obstacle-to-affordable-quality-care

Others even presume the establishment of virtual medical schools and hospitals, where students and doctors learn and practice their art on cyber-entities that look and feel like real patients, but are generated electronically through the wonders of virtual reality units. The same can be said for the financial services industry, although much farther down-line given its current slow rate of real education and quasi-professional acceptance.

[B] Rule No. 2

Challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the traditional box, recapture your dreams and ambitions, disregard conventional gurus and work harder than you have ever worked before. Remember the old saying, “if everyone is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking”. Do collective-nistas and nationalized healthcare advocates react rationally; or irrationally? [THINK: Wall Street, medical unions]

[C] Rule No 3

Differentiate yourself among your healthcare and financial advisory peers. Do or learn something new and unknown by your competitors. Market your accomplishments and let the world know. Be a non-conformist. Conformity is an operational standard and a straitjacket on creativity. Doctors and FAs should create and innovate, not blindly follow organization or political “union” leaders [shop stewards, BDs, etc] into oblivion.

[D] Rule No 4

Realize that the present situation is not necessarily the future. Attempt to see the future and discern your place in it. Master the art of the quick change with fast but informed decision making. Do what you love, disregard what you don’t, and let the fates have their way with you. Then, decide for yourself if you are of this ilk – and adhere to any of the above rules? Or, just become an employed [government, BD] doctor or FA shill. Just remember that the political party, or monopoly that can give you a job, can also take it away [THINK: LB, ML, Wachovia, national healthcare, etc].

CP 1

Memorial Day Considerations

Finally, on this Memorial Day weekend, consider that life and career is a journey, and that in this country we have the choice to ponder or pursue any, and all of the above options, and more. We have the ability to think, cogitate and ruminate, as we have done here today. So – please – thank those who have helped turn this idealistic philosophy, into pragmatic daily reality.

For us personally, we thank Bonze Star Medal Winner Captain Cecelia T. Perez, RN. Now – ponder and consider – who do you thank? If no one has impacted you up-close on this Memorial Day weekend and national holiday, please visit our military channel to reflect, comment and opine.

Link: https://healthcarefinancials.wordpress.com/category/military-medicine

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this Medical Executive-Post are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, be sure to subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com  or Bio: www.stpub.com/pubs/authors/MARCINKO.htm

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I Jealously “Shake my Fist” at Somnath Basu PhD

On CFP® Mis [Trust] – One Doctor’s Painful Personal Experience

[“So Sorry to Say it … but I Told You So”]

By: Dr David Edward Marcinko; FACFAS, MBA, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]dem21

According to Somnath Basu, writing on April 6, 2009 in Financial Advisor a trade magazine, the painful truth is that many financial practitioners are merely sales people masquerading, as financial planners [FPs] and/or financial advisors [FAs] in an industry whose ethical practices have a shameful track record. Well, I agree, and completely. This includes some who hold the Certified Financial Planner® designation, as well as the more than 98 other lesser related organizations, logo marks and credentialing agencies [none of which demand ERISA-like fiduciary responsibility]. For more on this topic, the ME-P went right to the source last month, in an exclusive interview with Ben Aiken; AIF® of Fi360.com  

fp-book4

The CFP® Credential – What Credential?

Basu further writes that stockbrokers and insurance agents who earn commissions from buying and selling stocks, insurance and other financial products realize that a Certified Financial Planner® credential will help grow the volume of their business or branch them into other related and lucrative products and services. After all, there are more than 55,000 of these “credentialed” folks. And, this marketing designation seems to have won the cultural wars in the hearts and minds of an unsuspecting – i.e., duped public; probably because of sheer numbers. Didn’t a CFP Board CEO state that its’ primary goal was growth, a few years ago? Can you say “masses of asses”, as the oft quoted Bill Gates of Microsoft used to say when only 2,000 micro-softies defeated 400,000 IBMers during the PC operating system wars of the early 1980’s. Quantity, and marketing money, can trump quality in the public-relations business; ya’ know … if you repeat the lie often enough … yada … yada … yada! Yet, as the so-called leading industry designation, the CFP® entry-barrier standard is woefully low. Moreover, the SEC’s [FINRA] Series #7 general securities licensure sales examination is not worth much more than a weekend’s study attention, even to the uninitiated.

insurance-book2

Easy In – Worth Less Out

In our experience, we agree with Basu and others who suggest that scores of lightly educated, and sometimes wholly in-articulate and impatient individuals are zipping through the CFP® Board of Standards approved curriculum in three to six months of online, on-ground, or “self-study”. But, that some can do so without a bachelor’s degree when they join wire-houses and financial institutions, which cannot be trusted to adequately train them, is an abomination. And, even more sadly, some of these CFP™ mark-holders, and other folks, believe they have actually received an “education” from same. Of course, their writing skills are often non-existent and I have cringed when told that, in their opinion, advertiser-driven trade magazines constitute “peer-reviewed” and academic publications. Incidentally, have you noticed how thin these trade-rags are getting lately? Much like the print newspaper industry, are they becoming dinosaurs? One agent even told me, point-blank, that his CLU designation was the equivalent of an “academic PhD in insurance.” This was at an industry seminar, where he thought I was a lay insurance prospect.

THINK: No critical thinking skills.

biz-book4

Education

There is another sentiment that may be applied in many of these cases; “hubris.” I mean, these CFP® people … just don’t know – how much they don’t know.”  The very real difference between training versus education is unknown to many wire-houses and FAs, isn’t it? And, please don’t get me started on the differences in pedagogy, heutagogy and androgogy. Moreover, it’s sad when we see truly educated youngsters become goaded by wire-houses into thinking that these practices are de-rigor for the industry. One such applicant to our Certified Medical Planner™ program, for example, had both an undergraduate degree in finance and a graduate degree in economics from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University – in my home town of Baltimore, MD [name available upon request]. He was told, in his Smith Barney wire-house training program, to eschew CMP™ accountability and RIA fiduciary responsibility, when working with potential physician and lay clients; but to get his CFP® designation to gather more clients. To mimic my now 12 year-old daughter; it seems that: SEC Suitability Rules – and – Fiduciary Accountability Drools. And, to quote Hollywood’s “Mr. T”; I pity the fools, er-a, I mean clients. But, T was an actor, and this is serious business.

cmp-logo1

Of CEU Credits and Ethics

Beside trade-marks and logos, we are all aware that continuing education, and a code of ethics, is another important marketing and advertising component of state insurance agents and CFP licensees. It’s that old “be” – or “pretend to be” – a trusted advisor clap-trap. Well, I say horse-feathers for two reasons. First, both my insurance and CFP® Continuing Educational Unit [CEU] requirements were completed by my daughter [while age 7-10], by filling in the sequentially identical and bubble-coded, multiple-choice, answer-blanks each year. Second, this included the mandatory “ethics” portions of each test. When I complained to my CEU vendor, and state insurance department, I was told to “enjoy-the-break.”  My daughter even got fatigued after the third of fourth time she took the “home-based tests” for me.  After I opened my big mouth, the exact order of questions was changed to increase acuity, but remained essentially the same, nevertheless. My daughter got bored, and quit taking the tests for me, shortly thereafter. She always “passed.”dhimc-book3

Thus, like Basu, I also find that far too many financial advisors are unwilling to devote the time necessary to achieve a sound education that will help attain their goals, and would rather sell variable or whole life products than simple term life, even when the suitability argument overwhelmingly suggests so, for a higher payday. We not only have met sale folks without undergraduate degrees, but also too many of those with only a HS diploma, or GED. Perhaps this is why a popular business truism suggests that the quickest way for the uneducated/under educated class to make big bucks, is in sales. Just note the many classified ads for financial advisors placed in the newspaper job-section, under the heading “sales.” Or, in more youthful cultural terms, “fake it – until you make it.”

Of the iMBA, Inc Experience

According to Executive Director Ann Miller RN MHA, and my experience at the Institute of Medical Business Advisors, Inc:

“Far too many financial advisors who contact us about matriculation in our online Certified Medical Planner™ program – in health economics and management for medical professionals – don’t even know what a Curriculum Vitae [CV] is? Instead, they send in Million Dollar Roundtable awards, Million Dollar Producer awards, or similar sales accomplishments as resume’ boosters. It is also not unusual for them to list some sort of college participation on their resumes, and websites, but no school affiliation or dates of graduation, etc. And, they become furious to learn that we require a college degree for our fiduciary focused CMP™ program, and not from an online institution, either. The onslaught of follow-up nasty phone-calls; faxes and emails are laughable [frightening] too.”  

www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com

Assessment

More often than not, it is the financial institutions that FAs and CFP™ certificants’ work for that reward sales behavior with higher commissions, rather than salaries; which encourage such behavior and create the vicious cycles that are now the norm.

THINK: ML, AIG, Citi, WAMU, Wachovia, Hartford, Prudential, etc.

Note: Original author of Restoring Trust in the CFP Mark, Somnath Basu PhD, is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. We have asked him to respond further.

My Story: I am a retired surgeon and former Certified Financial Planner® who resigned my “marketing trademark” over the long-standing fiduciary flap. I watched this chicanery for more than a decade after protesting to magazines like Investment Advisor, Financial Advisor, Registered Rep, Financial Planner, the FPA, etc; up to, and even including the CFP® Board of Standards; to no avail. Feel free to contact me for a copy of a 43 page fax, and other supportive documentation from the CFP® Board of Standards – and their outsourced intellectual property attorneys – over a Federal trademark infringement lawsuit they tried to institute against me for innocent website errors placed by a visually impaired intern. Obviously, they disliked the launch of our CMP™ program. As a health economist and devotee of Ken Arrow PhD, I polity resigned my license, as holding no utility for me, to the shocked CFP Board. They later offered to consider re-instatement for a mere $600 fee with letter of explanation, to which I politely declined. Of course, my first thought after living in the streets of South Philadelphia while in medical school, during the pre-Rocky era, was to say f*** off – but I didn’t. Nevertheless, I still seem to be on their mailing list, years later. No doubt, the list is sold, and re-sold, to various advertisers for much geld. And, why shouldn’t they; an extra bachelor, master and medical degree holder on their PR roster looks pretty good. I distrust the CFP® Board almost as much as I distrust the AMA, and its parsed and disastrous big-pharma funding policies. Right is right – wrong is wrong – and you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time, especially in this age of internet transparency.

Shaking my Fist at Somnath … in Envy

And so, why do I shake my fist at Somnath Basu? It’s admittedly with congratulations, and a bit of schadenfreude, because he wrote an article more eloquently than I ever could, and will likely receive much more publicity [good or slings-arrows] for doing so. You know, it’s very true that one is never a prophet in his own tribe. Oh well, Mazel Tov anyway for stating the obvious, Somnath. The financial services industry – and more specifically – the CFP® emperor have no clothes! Duh!

ho-journal5

Good Guys and White Hats

Now that Basu’s article has appeared in Financial Advisor News e-magazine, the other industry trade magazines are sure to follow the CFP® certification denigration reportage, in copy-cat fashion. And, the fiduciary flap is just getting started. This is indeed unfortunate, because I do know many fine CFP® certificants, and non-CFP® certified financial advisors, who are well-educated, honest and work very diligently on behalf of their clients. It’s just a shame the public has no way of knowing about them – there is no white hat imprimatur or designation for same – most of whom are Registered Investment Advisors [RIAs] or RIA reps. For example, we know great folks like Douglas B. Sherlock MBA, CFA; Robert James Cimasi MHA, AVA, CMP™; J. Wayne Firebaugh, Jr CPA, CFP®, CMP™; Lawrence E. Howes MBA, CFP®; Pati Trites PhD; Gary A. Cook MSFS, CFP®, CLU; Tom Muldowney MSFS, CLU, CFP®, CMP™;  Jeffrey S. Coons PhD, CFP®; Alex Kimura MBA, CFP®; Ken Shubin-Stein MD, CFA; and Hope Hetico RN, MHA, CMP™; etc. And, to use a medical term, there are TNTC [too many, to count] more … thankfully!

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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An Interview with Bennett Aikin AIF®

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On Financial Fiduciary Accountability

[By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA & Prof. Hope Rachel Hetico; RN, MHA, CMP™]

[By Ann Miller; RN, MHA]

Currently, there is a growing dilemma in the financial sales and services industry. It goes something like this:

  • What is a financial fiduciary?
  • Who is a financial fiduciary?
  • How can I tell if my financial advisor is a fiduciary?

Now, in as much as this controversy affects laymen and physician-investors alike, we went right to the source for up-to-date information regarding this often contentious topic, for an email interview and Q-A session, with Ben Aikin.ben-aikin

About Bennett Aikin AIF® and fi360.com

Bennett [Ben] Aikin is the Communications Coordinator for fi360.com. He oversees all communications for fi360. His responsibilities include messaging, brand management, copyrights and trademarks, and publications. Mr. Aikin received his BA in English from Virginia Tech in 2003 and is currently an MS candidate in Journalism from Ohio University.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

You have been very helpful and gracious to us. So, let’s get right to it, Ben. In the view of many; attorneys, doctors, CPAs and the clergy are fiduciaries; most all others who retain this title seem poseurs; sans documentation otherwise.

A. Mr. Aikin

You are correct. Attorneys, doctors and clergy are the prototype fiduciaries. They have a clear duty to put the best interests of their clients, patients, congregation, etc., above their own. [The duty of a CPA isn’t as clear to me, although I believe you are correct]. Furthermore, this is one of the first topics we address in our AIF training programs, and what we call the difference between a profession and an industry.  The three professions you name have three common characteristics that elevate them from an industry to a profession:

  1. Recognized body of knowledge
  2. Society depends upon practitioners to provide trustworthy advice
  3. Code of conduct that places the clients’ best interests first

Q. Medical Executive Post 

It seems that Certified Financial Planner®, Chartered Financial Analysts, Registered Investment Advisors and their representatives, Registered Representative [stock-brokers] and AIF® holders, etc, are not really financial fiduciaries, either by legal statute or organizational charter. Are we correct, or not? Of course, we are not talking ethics or morality here. That’s for the theologians to discuss.

A. Mr. Aikin

One of the reasons for the “alphabet soup”, as you put it in one of your white papers [books, dictionaries and posts] on financial designations, is that while there is a large body of knowledge, there is no one recognized body of knowledge that one must acquire to enter the financial services industry.  The different designations serve to provide a distinguisher for how much and what parts of that body of knowledge you do possess.  However, being a fiduciary is exclusively a matter of function. 

In other words, regardless of what designations are held, there are five things that will make one a fiduciary in a given relationship:

  1. You are “named” in plan or trust documents; the appointment can be by “name” or by “title,” such as CFO or Head of Human Resources
  2. You are serving as a trustee; often times this applies to directed trustees as well
  3. Your function or role equates to a professional providing comprehensive and continuous investment advice
  4. You have discretion to buy or sell investable assets
  5. You are a corporate officer or director who has authority to appoint other fiduciaries

So, if you are a fiduciary according to one of these definitions, you can be held accountable for a breach in fiduciary duty, regardless of any expertise you do, or do not have. This underscores the critical nature of understanding the fiduciary standard and delegating certain duties to qualified “professionals” who can fulfill the parts of the process that a non-qualified fiduciary cannot.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

How about some of the specific designations mentioned on our site, and elsewhere. I believe that you may be familiar with the well-known financial planner, Ed Morrow, who often opines that there are more than 98 of these “designations”? In fact, he is the founder of the Registered Financial Consultants [RFC] designation. And, he wrote a Foreword for one of our e-books; back-in-the-day. His son, an attorney, also wrote as a tax expert for us, as well. So, what gives?

A. Mr. Aikin

As for the specific designations you list above, and elsewhere, they each signify something different that may, or may not, lend itself to being a fiduciary: For example:

• CFP®: The act of financial planning does very much imply fiduciary responsibility.  And, the recently updated CFP® rules of conduct does now include a fiduciary mandate:

• 1.4 A certificant shall at all times place the interest of the client ahead of his or her own. When the certificant provides financial planning or material elements of the financial planning process, the certificant owes to the client the duty of care of a fiduciary as defined by CFP Board. [from http://www.cfp.net/Downloads/2008Standards.pdf]

•  CFA: Very dependent on what work the individual is doing.  Their code of ethics does have a provision to place the interests of clients above their own and their Standards of Practice handbook makes clear that when they are working in a fiduciary capacity that they understand and abide by the legally mandated fiduciary standard.

• FA [Financial Advisor]: This is a generic term that you may find being used by a non-fiduciary, such as a broker, or a fiduciary, such as an RIA.

• RIA: Are fiduciaries.  Registered Investment Advisors are registered with the SEC and have obligations under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 to provide services that meet a fiduciary standard of care.

• RR: Registered Reps, or stock-brokers, are not fiduciaries if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.  If they give investment advice that crosses the line into “comprehensive and continuous investment advice” (see above), their function would make them a fiduciary and they would be subject to meeting a fiduciary standard in that advice (even though they may not be properly registered to give advice as an RIA).

• AIF designees: Have received training on a process that meets, and in some places exceeds, the fiduciary standard of care.  We do not require an AIF® to always function as a fiduciary. For example, we allow registered reps to gain and use the AIF® designation. In many cases, AIF designees are acting as fiduciaries, and the designation is an indicator that they have the full understanding of what that really means in terms of the level of service they provide.  We do expect our designees to clearly disclose whether they accept fiduciary responsibility for their services or not and advocate such disclosure for all financial service representatives.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Your website, http://www.fi360.com, seems to suggest, for example, that banks/bankers are fiduciaries. We have found this not to be the case, of course, as they work for the best interests of the bank and stockholders. What definitional understanding are we missing?

A. Mr. Aikin

Banks cannot generally be considered fiduciaries.  Again, it is a matter of function. A bank may be a named trustee, in which case a fiduciary standard would generally apply.  Banks that sell products are doing so according to their governing regulations and are “prudent experts” under ERISA, but not necessarily held to a fiduciary standard in any broader sense.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

And so, how do we rectify the [seemingly intentional] industry obfuscation on this topic. We mean, our readers, subscribers, book and dictionary purchasers, clients and colleagues are all confused on this topic. The recent financial meltdown only stresses the importance of understanding same.

For example, everyone in the industry seems to say they are the “f” word. But, our outreach efforts to contact traditional “financial services” industry pundits, CFP® practitioners and other certification organizations are continually met with resounding silence; or worse yet; they offer an abundance of parsed words and obfuscation but no confirming paperwork, or deep subject-matter knowledge as you have kindly done. We get the impression that some FAs honesty do-not have a clue; while others are intentionally vague.

A. Mr. Aikin

All of the evidence you cite is correct.  But that does not mean it is impossible to find an investment advisor who will manage to a fiduciary standard of care and acknowledge the same. The best way to rectify confusion as it pertains to choosing appropriate investment professionals is to get fiduciary status acknowledged in writing and go over with them all of the necessary steps in a fiduciary process to ensure they are being fulfilled. There also are great resources out there for understanding the fiduciary process and for choosing professionals, such as the Department of Labor, the SEC, FINRA, the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning division, the Financial Planning Association, and, of course, Fiduciary360.

We realize the confusion this must cause to those coming from the health care arena, where MD/DO clearly defines the individual in question; as do other degrees [optometrist, clinical psychologist, podiatrist, etc] and medical designations [fellow, board certification, etc.]. But, unfortunately, it is the state of the financial services industry as it stands now.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

It is as confusing for the medical community, as it is for the lay community. And, after some research, we believe retail financial services industry participants are also confused. So, what is the bottom line?

A. Mr. Aikin

The bottom line is that lay, physician and all clients have a right to expect and demand a fiduciary standard of care in the managing of investments. And, there are qualified professionals out there who are providing those services.  Again, the best way to ensure you are getting it is to have fiduciary status acknowledged in writing, and go over the necessary steps in a fiduciary process with them to ensure it is being fulfilled.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

The “parole-evidence” rule, of contract law, applies, right? In dealing with medical liability situations, the medics and malpractice attorneys have a rule: “if it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen.”  

A. Mr. Aikin

An engagement contract accepting fiduciary status should trump a subsequent attempt to claim the fiduciary standard didn’t apply. But, to reiterate an earlier point, if someone acts in one of the five functional fiduciary roles, they are a fiduciary whether they choose to acknowledge it or not.  I have attached a sample acknowledgement of fiduciary status letter with copies of our handbook, which details the fiduciary process we instruct in our programs, and our SAFE, which is basically a checklist that a fiduciary should be able to answer “Yes” to every question to ensure the entire fiduciary process is being covered.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

It is curious that you mention checklists. We have a post arguing that very theme for doctors and hospitals as they pursue their medial error reduction, and quality improvement, endeavors. And, we applaud your integrity, and wish only for clarification on this simple fiduciary query?

A. Mr. Aikin

Simple definition: A fiduciary is someone who is managing the assets of another person and stands in a special relationship of trust, confidence, and/or legal responsibility.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Who is a financial fiduciary and what, if any, financial designation indicates same?

A. Mr. Aikin

Functional definition: See above for the five items that make you a fiduciary.

Financial designations that unequivocally indicate fiduciary duty: Short answer is none, only function can determine who is a fiduciary. 

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Please repeat that?

A. Mr. Aikin

Financial designations that indicate fiduciary duty: none. It is the function that determines who is a fiduciary.  Now, having said that, the CFP® certification comes close by demanding their certificants who are engaged in financial planning do so to a fiduciary standard. Similarly, other designations may certify the holder’s ability to perform a role that would be held to a fiduciary standard of care.  The point is that you are owed a fiduciary standard of care when you engage a professional to fill that role or they functionally become one.  And, if you engage a professional to fill a non-fiduciary role, they will not be held to a fiduciary standard simply because they have a particular designation.  One of the purposes the designations serve is to inform you what roles the designation holder is capable of fulfilling.

It is also worth keeping in mind that just being a fiduciary doesn’t equate to a full knowledge of the fiduciary standard. The AIF® designation indicates having been fully trained on the standard.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Yes, your website mentions something about fiduciaries that are not aware of same! How can this be? Since our business model mimics a medical model, isn’t that like saying “the doctor doesn’t know he is doctor?” Very specious, with all due respect!

A. Mr. Aikin

I think it is first important to note that this statement is referring not just to investment professionals.  Part of the audience fi360 serves is investment stewards, the non-professionals who, due to facts and circumstances, still owe a fiduciary duty to another.  Examples of this include investment committee members, trustees to a foundation, small business owners who start 401k plans, etc.  This is a group of non-sophisticated investors who may not be aware of the full array of responsibilities they have. 

However, even on the professional side I believe the statement isn’t as absurd as it sounds.  This is basically a protection from both ignorant and unscrupulous professionals.  Imagine a registered representative who, either through ignorance or design, begins offering comprehensive and continuous investment advice.  Though they may deny or be unaware of the fact, they have opened themselves up to fiduciary liability. 

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Please clarify the use of arbitration clauses in brokerage account contracts for us. Do these disclaim fiduciary responsibility? If so, does the client even know same?

A. Mr. Aikin

By definition, an engagement with a broker is a non-fiduciary relationship.  So, unless other services beyond the scope of a typical brokerage account contract are specified, fiduciary responsibility is inherently not applicable.  Unfortunately, I do imagine there are clients who don’t understand this. Furthermore, AIF® designees are not prohibited from signing such an agreement and there are some important points to understand the reasoning.

First, by definition, if you are entering into such an agreement, you are entering into a non-fiduciary relationship. So, any fiduciary requirement wouldn’t apply in this scenario.

Second, if this same question were applied into a scenario of a fiduciary relationship, such as with an RIA, this would be a method of dispute resolution, not a practice method. So, in the event of dispute, the advisor and investor would be free to agree to the method of resolution of their choosing. In this scenario, however, typically the method would not be discussed until the dispute itself arose.

Finally, it is important to know that AIF/AIFA designees are not required to be a fiduciary. It is symbolic of the individuals training, knowledge and ongoing development in fiduciary processes, but does not mean they will always be acting as a fiduciary.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Don’t the vast majority of arbitration hearings find in favor of the FA; as the arbitrators are insiders, often paid by the very same industry itself?

A. Mr. Aikin

Actual percentages are reported here: http://www.finra.org/ArbitrationMediation/AboutFINRADR/Statistics/index.htm However, brokerage arbitration agreements are a dispute resolution method for disputes that arise within the context of the securities brokerage industry and are not the only means of resolving differences for all types of financial advisors.  Investment advisers, for example, are subject to respond to disputes in a variety of forums including state and federal courts.  Clients should look at their brokerage or advisory agreement to see what they have agreed to. If you wanted to go into further depth on this question, we would recommend contacting Brian Hamburger, who is a lawyer with experience in this area and an AIFA designee. Bio page: http://www.hamburgerlaw.com/attorneys/BSH.htm.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

What about our related Certified Medical Planner® designation, and online educational program for financial advisors and medical management consultants? Is it a good idea – reasonable – for the sponsor to demand fiduciary accountability of these charter-holders? Cleary, this would not only be a strategic competitive advantage, but advance the CMP™ mission to put medical colleagues first and champion their cause www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org above all else. 

A. Mr. Aikin

I think it is a good idea for any plan sponsor to demand fiduciary status be acknowledged from anyone engaged to provide comprehensive and continuous investment advice.  I also think it is a good idea to be proactive in verifying that the fiduciary process is being followed.

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Is there anything else that we should know about this topic?

A. Mr. Aikin

Yes, a further note about fi360’s standards. I wrote generically about the fiduciary standard, because there is one that is defined by multiple sources of regulation, legislation and case law.  The process defined in our handbooks, we call a Fiduciary Standard of Excellence, because it covers that minimum standard and also best practice standards that go above and beyond.  All of our Practices, which comprise that standard, are legally substantiated in our Legal Memoranda handbook, which was written by Fred Reish’s law firm, who is considered a leading ERISA attorney.

Additional resources:

Q. Medical Executive Post 

Thank you so much for your knowledge and willingness to frankly share it with the Medical-Executive-Post.

Assessment

All are invited to continue the conversation with Mr. Aikin, asynchronously online, or thru this contact information:

fi360.com
438 Division Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
412-741-8140 Phone
866-390-5080 Toll-free phone
412-741-8142 Fax

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