A Hippocratic Oath for Financial Planners

Lewis Walker |


In 2009 a series of books titled Fiduciary Ethos: Living In A Fiduciary World was envisioned. Published by FPA Press, the publishing arm of the Financial Planning Association (FPA), I authored Volume Two of the series entitled Planning for the Challenges of Aging, Healthcare and Special Needs.

Since 2009 we have grown older, and with the pandemic and recent electioneering, healthcare as a political and financial planning concern still is top of mind. Relative to financial planning and investment advice, many advisors and investment managers declare that they “act in the client’s best interest” as fiduciaries. You want all of your advisors, including doctor, lawyer, accountant, and financial planner, to act in your best interest and, as Hippocrates ordained, “to do good or do not harm” in rendering counsel.

Hippocrates was a Greek physician born in 460 BC. Considered the founder of medicine, he based his practice on observations of human behavior and the study of the human body. He held that the body must be treated as a whole, not just as a series of parts. Hippocrates was the first to declare that thoughts, ideas, and feelings came from the brain, not the heart as commonly believed. Illness had a physical and rational explanation and did not stem from evil spirits or disfavor of the gods.

Many are surprised to learn that the Hippocratic oath to which doctors swear does not contain the words “do no harm.” While the concept of “first doing no harm” is explicit in the oath, the words cited in paragraph two come from one of the great doctor’s other writings, Of the Epidemics.

Upon graduation, many medical students swear to a version of the Hippocratic Oath written by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean, Tuft University School of Medicine, in 1964. A financial planner’s version of the oath was adopted from Dean Lasagna’s version for Volume Two of the FPA series by yours truly, reflecting on financial and life transitions planning advice centered on individual and family challenges encompassing aging, healthcare and special needs, especially care giving demands. Living and testamentary estate planning calls for depth of knowledge, sensitivity, and coordination with a team of professionals appropriate to the circumstances.

A Hippocratic Oath for Financial Planners

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won gains of trust of those financial planners and trusted advisors and pioneers in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of those who seek my help, all measures that are required, avoiding the traps of excessive architectural process and product complexity on one hand, and naive simplicity on the other hand, doing at all times what is clearly in the best interest of the client, and those who may be their caregivers.

I will remember that there is an art to financial planning as well as process, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh tools and technology and the application of products.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in colleagues and credentialed professionals when the skills of another are needed for a client’s progress and well-being.

I will respect the privacy of my clients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of sensitivity involving serious illness, threats to life and financial integrity, and personal and family challenges. All matters of a personal and sensitive nature must be approached with a sense of awesome responsibility, and must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own limitations as an advisor. Above all, I must not give advice that is the province of legal, medical, accounting, and other trained and credentialed professionals.

I will remember that I serve a human being whose challenges may affect the person’s family and their economic stability. My responsibility includes understanding related problems. I constantly should upgrade my education and be part of a collaborative network of thought-leaders and resource providers if I am to care adequately for challenged clients who have placed their trust in my ability to help.

I will help clients to anticipate and plan for life’s vagaries and challenges since a well-crafted and communicated plan is preferable to an emotional and panic-driven response to crisis as the prudent and preferable course.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those of sound mind and body as well as those suffering from physical and mental challenges, and those who care for them and love them.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, cognizant of my spiritual obligations, be respected by family, community, clients, and peers while I live, and be remembered with affection thereafter.

May I always act so to preserve the finest traditions of my calling, and may I long experience the joy of motivating positively those who seek my counsel.