Decoding Ethics in a Hyper-Connected World

By Mike Bushnell • October 28, 2014 • 0 Comments

The world has never been smaller, but the opportunities to say or write something that could undermine an entire career have never been greater. Conference keynoter Lauren Bloom, an attorney in Washington, D.C., told attendees at the 2014 ASPPA Annual Conference Oct. 27 how ASPPA’s Code of Conduct pertains to this “brave new world” of highly digitized business.

“We as people and as professionals have to deal with challenges no one has had to face before,” Bloom said -- right before imploring the crowd to turn off their cellphones. “In this era of electronic communications, you have to think about how you reach out to clients and peers like never before.”

Bloom told the crowd that they face the particularly challenging fact that many of them now have to use technologies that were inconceivable when they began their careers. 

To reflect these changes, with Bloom’s lead, ASPPA revamped their Code of Conduct in July 2013 to reflect the many ways that retirement plan professionals work online. While the regulations now regulate social media, online advertising, online plagiarization and other digital-related issues, the overarching theme remains the same: Be honest and forthright in everything you do.

“You are obliged as a member of ASPPA to act honestly and with integrity, to bring appropriate skill, care and due diligence to everything you do,” Bloom said. “There is no exception for work that is done in the virtual world.”

Bloom urged attendees to be particularly judicious and selective about the content they post on social media, whether it is professional or personal. She said that, ironically, digital communications are longer-lasting than anything on paper ever could be, therefore making it more critical than ever to take care before sending nearly any kind of correspondence.

Some of the suggestions she included for self-checking included making a habit of entering the recipient’s email address after typing the body of a message, so you don’t inadvertently send incomplete copy, and to never text or tweet a sensitive message that could come back to harm you later.

Bloom also advised retirement professionals to be cognizant of their tone in all written correspondence, so it’s important to know as best as possible what the recipients’ mood is. “When people see communications in print, they will read it with you in their voice, not yours,” she said. “If they’re upset with you, they might pick up an interpretation that you don’t want, or for you to say something that you find funny that they don’t.”

Another key component of the Code of Conduct regards confidentiality. She said retirement consultants and advisors need to be clear with their clients about what is confidential and what isn’t, and urged them to have standard engagement letters with all employers insulating themselves from fault if one of them divulges sensitive materials. 

Whether it was about sending confidential memos, addressing sensitive emails, writing Linkedin recommendations for co-workers, advertising your services online, or just posting Facebook photos from a bachelor party, Bloom said all the technology best practices come down to two things: responsibility and restraint. There is an urge, she said, for immediacy in business and flashiness in personality, but both can get you in trouble. When in doubt, she said, keep a cool head.

“In the virtual world, once you’ve sent something out there you might as well have set it in stone,” she said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”