The Ethics of Disclosure

Every year I teach ethics to thousands of financial advisors across the US. At the end of sessions I get interesting questions about ethical dilemmas faced by the attendees. This past month, I had to face one of my own. 

I had a routine check-up with my doctor. We discussed what the TV ads describe as “my going problem.” He conducted an exam and ordered blood tests. He referred me to specialists and they ordered more tests. After several weeks we had a diagnosis and a treatment plan. 

My ethical dilemma was whether to disclose this information to clients - just to new clients or to all clients. Discussion of my reproductive system wasn't something covered in my CFP Board training. What is covered? Making sure that clients and prospective clients have all of the pertinent information they need when deciding to hire an advisor. I decided it would be pertinent if I hired a professional. So, I decided to share what I know with all of you.

 I have advanced prostate cancer. It cannot be removed surgically but it can be treated with chemo and radiation. Eventually, even these measures will fail and the cancer will move to my bones and other organs. I trust the team at Dana Farber to do everything they can to postpone that day into the future. How far into the future I don't know. In the meantime, I plan to continue helping clients and teaching advisors as usual. I feel fine and enjoy what I do. As the disease progresses that may change and I may need to scale back or even stop doing one or both activities. Until then, I will focus more on developing a meaningful succession plan and  helping my clients become more self-sufficient. 

I tell new clients that my goal is for them to take greater control of their own financial lives so that eventually they may not need me. Some of you are there already!  And, some still need a guide along the way. I know that some of you may choose someone else to be your guide. That is OK. I understand that uncertainty about my health may be too discomforting for our relationship to continue. I will be content with the time we had and hope you are, too. 

I started treatment this week to slow down the cancer without slowing me down as well. There will be challenges along the way and I am grateful for all of you who choose to continue this journey with me. 

I© PennyTree Advisers, LLC 2014