Rules, boundaries, and compliance definitely have their place. They play an important role in restraining unethical and illegal behavior in the financial services industry.
But the never-ending wave of scandals on Wall Street proves that compliance rules are just not enough.
We need to go far beyond compliance. To do that – We need hearts that care for our clients and for our own integrity.
Bible Characters and Compliance
The famous people in the bible who were most opposed to Jesus were the ones who were enslaved to their interpretation of God’s rules, boundaries, and compliance regulations. The rules weren’t evil, but their interpretation was, well, a little over the top at times.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were sticklers for following every rule, every guideline, and every requirement. They even counted the seeds in their gardens to be sure they got it all right! But by focusing on compliance to the details, they missed the big picture. Jesus came speaking of love and grace. He spoke words of kindness and hope. The common people loved to hear him (most of the time), but the rules-mongers hated him because his message of freedom threatened their dominant role in Jewish society.
Ironically, Jesus never spoke against the rules and regulations the Pharisees and Sadducees held sacred.
Not the Enemy, Not the Answer
When you saw this title, you may have thought, I wonder if Jim’s going to tell us how he went “beyond compliance” to all – or some of – the rules, boundaries, and regulations in the financial services industry. Nope, I’m not. In fact, I want to affirm that most of our compliance guidelines and regulations are good and right. They are useful to restrain selfishness and punish unethical people who try to take advantage of others for personal gain.
From Self Sacrifice to Self-Service
Our culture of consumerism has moved from self-sacrifice to self-service, from generosity to greed, from Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan to Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. The scandals at Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and a host of other scandals – like Bernie Madoff – show us that we need some rules, boundaries, and regulations now more than ever.
The Law Can’t Fix Integrity Issues
The compliance rules aren’t the enemy, but they aren’t the entire answer either.
A lack of integrity can be punished, but the presence of integrity can’t be legislated. It has to come from deeply held convictions where human greed is overcome by a powerful sense of honor and care for others.
We’ve all seen the people caught lacking integrity on the front page of the paper, on cable news in handcuffs, but those who serve their clients and teams with dignity, honor, and respect – they don’t make the headlines.
The first stock I ever bought was Tyco. I saw Dennis Kozlowski on the PBS “Nightly Business Report,” and he seemed like a man of great vision. I was impressed, so I bought his company’s stock for $32 a share. Within eight months, the scandal was unfolding and the stock had plummeted to $5. Millions of people like me were hurt by his lack of integrity.
Don’t Just Dream About It
The Red Billboard is a story that helps to paint a picture of who I really am in my wild little heart.
I haven’t always paid close attention to every single rule, boundary, and regulation. And, honestly, I don’t always read the “I Agree” documents before advancing to the Download Page.
Some time ago, I wanted to advertise my State Farm Financial Planning Services, so I looked into billboards as a way to get the word out. State Farm had developed several billboards we could pick from, all of which had passed the compliance department’s regulations. The one I liked best read: “Don’t Dream About Retiring—Plan for it.” I liked that it went beyond the traditional image of State Farm as an insurance provider, but I didn’t like that it began with a negative: “Don’t.”
A Little Touch-Up Paint
Soon after the billboard went up on HWY 3 in Houston – just across the way from Ellington Field near my office in Clear Lake, Texas, I found a way to make that billboard much better.
Connie had recently painted our front door a beautiful red, and the color perfectly matched the red border in the billboard. I took the can of paint and a stepladder from the garage, and I drove out to the highway in front of my sign. In bold, bright red, I carefully crossed out the word “Don’t,” and I underlined the word “Dream.” I climbed down from the ladder, took a few steps back, and admired my incredible artistry. Perfect!
A Call From The Compliance Police
In the days following my artistic effort, I got more compliments on that sign than any other marketing piece I’ve ever used. But about two weeks later, I got a call from corporate . . . the compliance department.
They were, well, let’s just say they weren’t too happy with my artistic editing of their sign. They demanded that I take it down right away. It cost me a substantial amount of money, but I did as they asked.
Learning Two Lessons The Hard Way
I learned two lessons from this experience. One is that I need to check with our people before I make any changes in any written or printed matter that comes from the corporate office. The second lesson is that I need to do a better job of informing the corporate office of how they can serve me better. If I had taken some time to explain how the sign could have been more positive and powerful, I could have avoided a lot of trouble.
Would they have listened?
Think About It
I end today’s podcast with a few questions to help you “think about it”. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next week!