Ipsos MORI has been ranking professions according to how much the British public trusts them for 35 years, and doctors consistently come first or second. The latest survey shows that 92% of us trust doctors to tell them the truth. Only nurses are more trusted.
Financial advisers aren’t included in the survey. The least trusted occupations are advertising, politics and my own profession, journalism, but let’s move on!
What is it, then, about doctors that makes them so believable? More specifically, what can advisers learn from doctors that would make people have more faith in them?
Before we start, I don’t mean to generalise. There are bad doctors as well as good ones. I also know advisers who could help a few medics with their bedside manner. But here are five ways in which doctors tend to have the edge when it comes to trust.
They have patients’ interests at heart
You go to a doctor and you expect them to act in your best interests. Whether it’s fair to not, the perception of financial advisers is rather different. The FCA interviewed 13,000 people about their personal finances for a report called Financial Lives, and just 39% of them said they trusted advisers to act in their clients’ best interests.
They know their subject inside out
It normally takes five years of study and extensive clinical training to earn a medical degree, and to stay on the GMC register you need to keep abreast of the latest research. Sadly, for advisers, the barriers to entry are very much lower. Many advisers have only a limited knowledge of academic finance, and CPD often consists of little more than a few days a year attending promotional events run, or at least sponsored, by product providers.
They know their limitations
The field of medical knowledge is vast. It’s impossible for one person to have specialist expertise in every area. When a doctor sees that a patient requires help that is outside their circle of competence, they refer them to a consultant. Advisers, on the other hand, often dabble in areas in which they aren’t properly qualified; macro economics, stock selection and market timing are good examples. The best advisers know how they do add value and focus all of their attention on those.
They don’t sell, they prescribe
Doctors don’t sell drugs or courses of treatment, they prescribe them. They base their decisions on scientific evidence; and if the evidence suggests that the patient is better off without medication, they won’t prescribe it at all. True, UK advisers are no longer paid commissions for the products they recommend, but there’s still a sales culture in advice. Too often it’s products that take precedence over the client’s needs.
They make good listeners
What patients often find most valuable about a doctor’s appointment is not the prescription they take away with them but the opportunity to talk about what’s worrying them and, crucially, to be listened to. As Herman Brodie and Klaus Harnack explain in their book The Trust Mandate, doctors tend to be good listeners, and it’s this, more than anything, that inspires trust. "One additional unit of warmth,” say the authors, “will bring (advice firms) closer to a high-trust relationship than one additional unit of competence.”
Again, there are exceptions. I suspect, for instance, that many of us have seen a doctor who’s reached for their prescription pad before we’ve barely opened our mouths. Similarly, there are several advice firms I work with that tick all five of the boxes mentioned here.
That said, there are reasons why doctors are more trusted than advisers — and ambitious advice firms would do well to study them.
This article was first published by Money Marketing.