08 June, 2011

The spirit of the Hippocratic oath

Truth & Integrity are words we hear a lot about… but tend to see it far less in practice… in every walk of life. Politicians talk a lot about it and almost have nothing to show for it. Their oath of allegiance when they assume office is hollow, as politics today is a game of private enrichment at public cost.

It is not just there. Integrity has been gaining value as there are too few practitioners. It is equally surprising that people have this conviction that integrity and truthfulness do not have a place in the present day world.
Integrity ofcourse does have a place in today’s world and those who are practicing it know it and are doing extremely well. There are many who practice the highest levels of integrity in their personal lives and in their corporate avatars.
Infosys, Wipro, Tatas, Godrej, TVS group are some of the well-known companies/ groups, which come to mind when we are on the subject of integrity. For some of them, it is their calling card. For Tatas, apart from their management acumen, they are sought after by any company looking for an India entry, due to their impeccable credentials.

Integrity can be an actual differentiator. In the finance field, which deals with people’s money, it is even more important. Finance field has received a severe battering in the past three years and the integrity of this industry is in tatters. To this day we have been receiving stories of deceit and wanton misleading of various participants.

Integrity is at the heart of building longstanding relationships. Integrity is difficult to maintain at all points… it is easier to bend the rules a bit, to suit one’s convenience. But that would bring down the moral stature a person has and their all-weather dependability. Trust is built over time. One wrong move and their integrity is compromised.

Trust is a word that is often used by many in business. It is used even more in the world of finance… for to allow another to handle your money and with it your future, requires quite a leap of faith. Hence, trust and integrity has even more salience in the financial space.

Come to think of it, this can be one’s calling card. It will be an effective one at that. Each one of us operating anyway require something to distinguish us from the rest. Why not integrity? Why not actually take the moral high ground and stay there, where the clients like us to be?

Think of this as a longterm strategy… An insurance agent might lose some potential income by foregoing on the opportunity to push a product with a juicy commissions – especially to a client who anyway does not know much about insurance. That is where integrity comes in. Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. What does the agent gain by doing the right thing? On an immediate basis - nothing. But the agent can always communicate to the clients, all options available before the client and educate the client why among the various options, he is suggesting a particular product. This willingness to spend time to engage and do the right thing, will certainly be appreciated and remembered. These are the agents who will go on to become the star agents of the branch, region, company… because, a happy client refers ten others.

It works. Not just in insurance. It will work everywhere. It is even more fundamental in the Financial Planning profession, where I come from. Integrity is the backbone of this profession. Financial Planners get to handle the complete client information, unlike any other, who may only get to see bits and pieces. Hence, integrity needs to be of the highest order here– not just beyond reproach. Trust is the currency here. And trust needs to be earned.

Earning trust is a relentless, dogmatic pursuit. Talking the truth all the time is immensely tough. But it needs to be done… because that is the highroad that one needs to take, if success of the highest order needs to be courted. Quite simply it is in our own self-interest – enlightened self-interest.

The doctors take the Hippocratic oath to always act in their patient’s interest. A similar oath is what we all require. Both professions have a fiduciary responsibility. Done right, Finance is as much a noble profession as medicine is – for one treats the body and other takes care of the other most important part – money.

We all need to think about it. Each of us have to attest to the highest standards of honesty, integrity & truthfulness. This is not some utopia that I’m talking about. It’s what regulators are trying to create… it is what we can create ourselves and reap the benefits too. And be counted as some of the best professionals there are.

The choice is ours.

Article by Suresh Sadagopan ; Published in The Economic Times on 8th June 2011

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