PHILADELPHIA (May 22, 2012) – The internet is wonderful, but the internet is not so wonderful … and “it all has to do with people,” said Lauren Bloom as she spoke to the Mid- Atlantic Benefits Conference addressing the issue of Ethics and Professionalism in the Digital Age. We live in a world of instantaneous communications with the e-transfer of documents, the 24-7 cycle of news, and social networks. This all contributes to a constant sense of urgency. In addition, work product has become cheaper, as in many instances there is less labor involved. Because of the internet there is much more information available. Our digital world is wonderful in many ways but is it better, Bloom asked? As a result of these instantaneous communications, professionals face new ethical challenges according to Bloom: “Those of us who have to work online are facing risks we have never faced before”. She indicated that these risks existed before the Internet. The principles that will help you navigate the ethical challenges of the digital age are not new – they just need to be adapted to the world we live in.
We live in a world where the written word no longer arrives in a letter. We don’t have the luxury of time to draft responses to clients. As Bloom herself reminded the audience, all too often clients call asking for a response to a ten minute old email. One problem Bloom sees with the client “wanting it now” is that professionals don’t always have time to think carefully before they have to give advice. In addition, there is always the question of the professionalism of the tone, and the risk that confidential information will inadvertently be shared. And finally there is the issue of permanence of a seemingly transient message. As Bloom said, “when you hit send, just assume you are carving it in granite because it will be there forever. Just because you erase it does not mean they will”.
All members of American Society of Pension Professional and Actuaries (“ASPPA”) are bound by ASPPA Code of Conduct (“Code”). Given the challenges presented by the Internet and, given that as professional ASPPA members you must follow the Code, what do you do? Bloom believes all sections are important but the one that says it all is the section on Professional Integrity. When providing professional services you must act with honesty, integrity, skill and care. This section of the Code of Conduct will always apply, Bloom said, emphasizing that there are no exceptions for work done online. Bloom gave an example of an email, or even worse, the text from the client saying “I will call you in five minutes.” In light of the Section on Professional Integrity, she insisted an ASPPA member must get in the habit of talking to the client so they understand, no matter how urgent they think a matter might be, you are going to take the time to do a professional job. How to do that? Bloom suggested that a professional should reply twice, saying with the first reply that you received their email (or text) and will be back in touch. If possible you can tell them you will be back in touch in x days, but never ten minutes. “Just because something is important does not mean it means to be handled immediately. In fact it probably means that it needs to be handled carefully.”
Bloom warned the audience to very careful of the “reply all” button and to be especially careful of blind copies that are blind only on the first iteration. If the person you sent a blind copy to then hit “reply all,” you could end up in a very bad situation. Bloom’s rule about blind copies is not to use them unless absolutely necessary. Another thing to be careful of is the “reply” field in an email. Bloom suggested that the audience was familiar with the feeling of accidentally sending an incomplete or badly-written email. Her trick to prevent this? Write the email with the address field blank. Once the email is complete and proofed, then complete the address field.
If you are in a difficult situation, or someone is angry, Bloom reminded the audience to pick up the telephone, or better yet, schedule a face to face meeting. “When something is emotionally sensitive, you need to be in human contact.” She warned that a danger of the world we live in today is that, unless we are careful, we could end up staring all day at the computer screen instead of talking with one another.
—Miriam G. Matrangola, Esquire, QPA, QKA
President, Atlantic Pension Services, Inc., PA
ASPPA Member since 1997
Category: Member Focus