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 92 per cent trust doctors to tell us the truth.
Financial advisers are not included in the survey. The least-trusted occupations are advertising, politics and my own profession, journalism.
What is it about doctors that makes them so believable? More specifically, what can advisers learn from doctors that would make people have more faith in them?
Here are five ways in which doctors tend to have the edge when it comes to trust.
1. They have patients’ interests at heart. You go to a doctor and expect them to act in your best interests. Whether it is fair or not, the perception of advisers is rather different. According to an FCA survey for its Financial Lives report, just 39 per cent of people said they trusted advisers to act in their best interests.
2. They know their subject inside out. It takes five years of study and extensive clinical training to earn a medical degree, and to stay on the register you need to keep abreast of research. Sadly, for advisers, the barriers to entry are much lower. Many have a limited knowledge of academic finance, and continuing professional development often consists of little more than a few days a year attending promotional events run or sponsored by providers.
3. They know their limitations. The field of medical knowledge is vast. It is impossible for one person to have specialist expertise in every area. When a doctor sees that a patient requires help outside their circle of competence, they refer them to a consultant. Advisers, on the other hand, often dabble in areas in which they are not properly qualified. The best advisers know how they add value and focus their attention there.
4. They don’t sell, they prescribe. Doctors base their decisions on scientific evidence, and if the evidence suggests the patient is better off without medication, they won’t prescribe it. UK advisers are not paid commission for the products they recommend but there is still a sales culture in advice. Too often products take precedence over clients’ needs.
5. They make good listeners. What patients often find most valuable about a doctor’s appointment is not the prescription they take away but the opportunity to talk about what is worrying them and, crucially, to be listened to.
Of course, there are exceptions. I suspect many of us have seen a doctor who has reached for their prescription pad before we have barely opened our mouths. Similarly, there are advice firms that tick all of the boxes above. That said, there are reasons why doctors are more trusted, and ambitious advice firms would do well to study them.
Robin Powell is a journalist who blogs as The Evidence-Based Investor and runs Regis Media, a boutique content consultancy for advice businesses. You can find him tweeting @RobinJPowell