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A Risky Assumption

There is an incredibly pervasive, and risky, outlook that the vast majority of people take when it comes to assuming there is a correlation between position and competence.

Whether it’s doctors, lawyers, police officers, religious leaders, financial advisors, accountants, or the president of the United States of America, the prevailing assumption is that the people who occupy these positions should be competent in their profession. That they must be subject matter experts who can be relied upon to execute their position effectively, even in difficult circumstance.

The reality is – they aren’t. And in fact it’s not just the odd one who could be slapped with a label of incompetence.

And yet the people in these professions can have truly substantial impacts on our lives. Both as a result of how they carry out their duties, but also because of the choices and decisions we make as a result of the information they provide us.

These impacts can be positive, but they also have the potential to be incredibly negative, and it all depends in large part on the competency of the person occupying the position.

Like any profession, there are the true experts that rise to the top of their respective fields. Let’s call them the top 10%. They work hard to stay current, strive to provide the best service, and let’s be honest, they are difficult to find. When you do find one of these people, they are worth building a relationship with in order to add them to your network of contacts.

Then there’s the middle 70%, a wide range of ability, but overall generally competent people. The odds are clear that they are the most likely professionals you will end up dealing with. And they probably have a sound base of knowledge about their profession, but they aren’t exactly a top ten percent-er.

That brings us to the 20% that fall squarely at the bottom. These people exist in every profession known to man, the math doesn’t lie.

We’d all like to think that because these people passed the qualifying tests to occupy their position, and that the requisite level of knowledge and competence must rise with the importance of said position, they must have at least a base level of competence………right?

But let’s be honest – do you really want the doctor who barely passed their medical exams treating you or a loved one? Do you want the police officer who barely scraped through the academy investigating an offence you’ve suffered?

But despite these vast differences in ability, I regularly see people who refrain from questioning “professionals”, even when they clearly have doubts about what that person is saying? Why? I suppose their title carries weight, and it can be intimidating to question authority figures. Not to mention that we live in a society where questioning people in authority or professional positions can be viewed as both rude and disrespectful. So the vast majority don’t persist. We instead rely on the fact that the person is in their current position to assure us that they must know what they are talking about.

We relate their title or position to a degree of competency that is simply not warranted.

There is a particularly wide range of competency in the financial industry, and blindly relying on someone to give you appropriate financial advice tailored to your individual needs, just because they occupy a position in the industry, is a downright dangerous approach.

But we can’t feasibly be experts in every financial field, so we inevitably have to rely on some professional advice. So how do you ensure, as best you can, that the person you are dealing with has a high degree of competence in their field?

Well you try your darnedest to find those top ten percent-ers. (Or at least people on the high end of that 70% mid-range!)

Some people might suggest obtaining referrals, or reading reviews, which are great tools, but the first place to start is by educating yourself. The only way you are going to be able to assess the knowledge base of a professional is if you have at least some base knowledge yourself. Otherwise they could be blowing smoke and you would never know it.

So whether you’re about to talk to an accountant, doctor, or lawyer inform yourself on the topic(s) for which you are meeting to discuss.

Prepare a list of questions and concerns you have regarding the topic(s) so you can ensure you are organized, prepared, and will leave the meeting fully informed. Remember – this is their career, they should have no issue having an open conversation with you regarding whatever you may need further clarification or information about. Someone who is really switched on will likely enjoy having this type of conversation with their clients.

If a professional is unable to answer your questions adequately, or they balk at having an open dialogue with you about your concerns, find someone else.

Choosing a qualified professional in any field can be a daunting task, but look at it like an interview. You wouldn’t just interview one candidate for a job opening, you would always interview multiple candidates in order to get the best fit for the job. Treat choosing your financial professionals (and life professionals) in the same way. Meet with and interview at least three potential candidates. Very quickly you will get a feel for their knowledge, approach, and overall compatibility with your financial goals and style.

But don’t just stop your due diligence once the selection process is over. Continue to assess and ask questions of your professionals. While ultimately they should gain your trust and confidence over time and demonstrated performance, giving it to them solely because of their title has the potential to be an extremely costly practice.

Make it a goal to find a top 10% person in every area you require the services of a professional. From your plumber, to your realtor, to your lawyer, to your accountant, building your repertoire of top performers will make an enormous impact on your financial gains and security over the long term. And when you do find a top performer – just make sure to be a top client.

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