The Hippocratic Oath of Advice

Originally published | 22nd May 2019

We’ve heard the Hippocratic Oath mentioned a million times in medical shows on television.  In its simplest form, it is a doctor swearing to uphold specific ethical standards.

The Greek Physician, Hippocrates, who is often called the father of medicine, wrote the original oath between the fifth and third centuries BC.

When you read the English translation of the oath, there are passages that, we as a financial planning industry, should consider.

“I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing.”

The role of a financial adviser/planner is to ensure that you are prescribing a treatment to a client to assist them improve their financial health.  Just as a doctor doesn’t prescribe the same treatment for every patient, nor should a financial adviser prescribe the same strategy to a client.

“But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.”

This passage is where our industry needs to be heading for post the Royal Commission.  We need to be ensuring that we decide to provide advice to a client that we are pure of heart and ensure we are always acting with the highest of ethical standards.

“Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm.”

It is often thought that the first exact phrase of the Hippocratic Oath is to “First do no harm”.  The phrase itself doesn’t appear in the AD 245 version of the oath, however, it is a simplified version of the first sentence of the fourth paragraph.  All of those who enter the financial services industry should be ensuring that they help the client and abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm.  As financial advisers, the main role is to improve the financial health of your client.

The final passage is the real kicker as it brings forth consequences both positive and negative to actions:

“Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I break it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.”

I know that as a Compliance Specialist, I want a reputation for my art, that is compliance consulting, and so to should advisers.  There should be a desire to be held in the highest regard and if you break the sacred bond, then you should suffer the consequences.

The question, which should be answered at the end of every client meeting, and was recently outlined by ASIC Chairman, James Shipton, “is this practice or product going to cause harm, be detrimental or have a negative consequence?”

It is this question which I believe, when answered with pure of heart, will help you “Do no harm” in your advice.

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