True professionals are well equipped to deal with conflicts of interest or treating customers fairly, says Lord Hunt

Professionals have an easy life.

If that sounds strange, just think how straightforward decision-making becomes once you really commit to the principles that underpin professionalism.

Being a genuine professional means being competent, compliant, ethical, objective, discreet and wedded to the pursuit of the highest standards. Once these pillars are in place, the professional has ready, reliable reference points that can be used to help navigate whatever challenges arise.

Take Treating Customers Fairly (TCF). This FSA initiative has caused consternation in the broking community. Some have taken umbrage at the suggestion they ever did anything other than treat their customers fairly. Others have sought refuge in the apparent vagueness of the concept, hoping they would never be pinned down by its strictures.

But what of the professional? Clearly, the professional has no choice but to pay close attention to what his or her regulator is saying on how individuals, firms and the market as a whole should behave. Thus the professional will refrain from knee-jerk defences and will eschew hopes of slipping under the regulatory net for lack of damning evidence.

No. The professional's choice is simple: give TCF the consideration it deserves and see how it meshes with the demands of professional conduct. Then, as questions arise about TCF's impact, the precepts of professionalism will offer guidance on how to behave.

Another matter of huge significance has been the question of how brokers should approach conflicts of interest. Again, the professional is spared any dilemmas because professionalism naturally requires that conflicts of interest should always, wherever possible, be avoided. If they do unavoidably arise, the true professional will manage them in such a way as to minimise - or preferably eliminate - any risk of detriment to customers, clients or colleagues.

In essence, then, professionals are equipped to deal with matters such as TCF and conflicts. That is not to imply, however, that they can merely set up camp on the moral high ground and spend the rest of their careers looking down complacently upon everyone else.

Another crucial component of professionalism is a lifelong commitment to continuing professional development. That does not refer only to technical knowledge, but also to awareness of regulatory changes and market developments as they affect professional activities.

Professionals can never assume they are at the peak of efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to complying with their professional obligations. For example, a broker may long have guarded against potential conflicts of interest, but new approaches may have emerged in recent months that are demonstrably superior. For that matter, new potential conflicts may spring up. It would be unprofessional for the broker not to keep abreast of developments and change his or her modus operandi to reflect accepted best practice.

Fortunately, professional brokers have a professional association that can support their efforts in this regard. The CII has guidance notes on both TCF and conflicts which are readily available from its website at What could be easier?

' Lord Hunt is chairman of the financial services division of Beachcroft Wansbroughs, and also of the Professional Standards Board of the CII