Questions of Qualification

By ASPPA Net Staff • September 18, 2015 • 0 Comments
When working in the employee benefits field, practitioners, investment advisors, attorneys, accountants, actuaries and other pension professionals need a solid grounding in their specialty. But to deliver optimal service, it can be helpful for the pension professional to have a working knowledge of other disciplines.

In “Questions of Qualification,” her regular Ethics column in the Summer 2015 issue of Plan Consultant magazine, Lauren Bloom, General Counsel & Director of Professionalism, Elegant Solutions Consulting, LLC, discusses pension professionals’ qualifications and how they can expand them in order to enhance the service they offer and provide.

Bloom argues that employee benefits is an area of practice where accounting, actuarial science, administration, finance, law and tax intersect. No one pension professional is likely to be expert in all of those fields, she says, but continuing education, work experience and training can give a pension professional exposure to and greater comfort with other professionals’ disciplines.

Trouble can arise, Bloom warns, when pension professionals are tempted to offer advice or services beyond their expertise, and that compounds when clients ask pension professionals for “informal advice” on matters beyond their normal field of practice. She points out that it can be difficult for a pension professional to refuse such a request, especially when he or she is confident they have sufficient knowledge to answer a client’s question.

ASPPA members can look to Section 11 of ASPPA’s Code of Professional Conduct for specific guidance to address questions of qualification, Bloom points out. And the code requires an ASPPA member to think carefully before answering questions or offering advice or services that go somewhat beyond his or her normal field of practice, but it does doesn’t prohibit him or her from answering such questions.

Bloom suggests that a pension professional consider the following when faced with a question about her or his professional qualifications:

  • How confident are you?
  • How did you get your expertise?
  • How much will your client rely on you?
  • Tread softly in new areas.
  • Partner up.
  • Document your decision.
Finally, Bloom notes that while it can be uncomfortable to refuse a client’s request for help, doing helping when unqualified to do so could do more harm than good. She concludes with the suggestion that it makes good professional sense for one to evaluate one’s qualifications before providing advice and services to a client in the short and long term.