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You Have the Right to Ask the Doctor to Wash His Hands

January 27, 2013

According to David Lazenby, Ph. D., the rate of medical professionals’ hand-washing in one hospital rose to nearly 100% when the following sign was posted in waiting areas and patient rooms: “You Have the Right to Ask Any Medical Professional to Wash His or Her Hands Before Treating You.”

When I heard this from Dr. Lazenby at a conference recently, I thought about a sign that could be posted in any financial professional’s office: “You Have the Right to Ask Any Financial Professional to Understand Who You Are Before Making Recommendations.”

One reason doctors need to wash their hands is to protect you, and them, from the last patient’s potential problems. Part of practicing a profession is crafting diagnoses, prescriptions, and advice that is unique to each presenting patient or client. Yet the financial industry has chosen largely to mass produce diagnoses, prescriptions, and advice.

Kathy and Kyle walked into a brokerage office with questions about a seven-figure inheritance from her father. Not knowing where to turn, they chose the national firm that already held her father’s account. The representative asked some questions, then produced a laminated pie chart suggesting how to allocate the cash. Kathy and Kyle asked a few questions of the broker. He answered them. They were going to consider his proposal. As they stood to leave, Kyle reached for the chart. The broker, panicked, grabbed it back, and said, “Oh, no, you can’t take that. I need it for my next client.”

When a financial representative shows the same laminated pie chart to every client, they are not selling professional advice. They are selling a professionally assembled financial widget disguised as advice.

Why, as a society, do we tolerate medical staff who don’t wash their hands and financial staff who assume all clients look alike? Why do we expect professional service but tolerate something less? The next time someone offers you advice but has not clearly understood you and your issues first, then demand better, or find someone else.

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