What the financial advice industry can learn from the American Dental Association

On Friday August 3rd I saw a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal from the American Dental Association (ADA) encouraging people to use a dentist and discouraging people from performing do-it-yourself dentistry. ADA DIY Ad

I literally had to read the ad twice, as I had no idea that anyone in their right mind would think it smart to perform their own dental work, and perhaps be so arrogant that they could do what a dentist does. I ripped out the ad, as I saw some interesting lessons that the financial advice industry could learn from.

I went to the ADA website to learn a little more about this problem of DIY dentistry. It turns out that the combination of Youtube videos on straightening one’s own teeth, to home-use veneers, to teeth whitening products have created great problems because either the online advice is bad, or the person over-uses or misuses the product. Dentists, orthodontists and periodontists have reported large numbers of patients who have harmed themselves, hence the ad campaign.

The first, big picture takeaway for the financial advice industry is that the ADA is the primary dental association for all those in that industry. There are another 30 or so associations that specialists belong to. In the financial services industry there should be one association that all persons and firms belong to, even if some of these firms directly compete, or even in fact strongly disagree with each other. The mantra “Advice”, or some other unifying moniker should be employed to impress upon investors and consumers that getting financial help is a good idea. Right now, our industry has more than 30 organizations, some of which have their own message direct to consumers. This is all fine, but the lack of one overarching organization and message means the 30 groups are competing and the consumer is not impressed with one consistent message and must “choose” amongst the 30. Most other industries operate this way, all the while the warring factions duke it out in the marketplace.

The second takeaway from the ad and the ADA comments is the message “don’t be 100% DIY”. The ADA website states clearly that if you are going to use a product like a whitener, or tooth aligner, please have your dentist opine on the proper use. The advice industry should have the same unifying message, especially in our world of Bitcoin, raging markets, trading costs nearing zero and so many other opportunities for an investor with no guidance to hurt themselves financially.

Finally, the ADA did not bash the products that were being misused, rather stated if you are considering using these products, have a professional give an opinion. I still hear and read to this day a fair amount of bashing of the competition going on. There will always be accurate criticism of one’s competitor to be made, however, the client generally does not want to hear it. Negative selling does not work, and never has and is perceived as unprofessional. The better path is to educate the client on why a course of action or product is not ideal for them, and refrain from criticizing the competition.

Do-it-yourself projects like woodworking, knitting and cooking are wonderful, fun and fulfilling. Being a complete do-it-yourselfer for your teeth or your money is fraught with potential ill-effects. I think the financial advice industry at large would be well served-and more importantly so will investors-if it takes a page from the ADA.