FTA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics 

The Board of Directors of the Financial Therapy Association (FTA) hereby publicizes the FTA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, effective August 31, 2017. This is meant to serve as a guide for those practicing financial therapy.

 

Section I: Responsibilities to Clients


  1.  “Client” Defined: An individual, couple, family, or group becomes the “client(s)” of a financial therapist when the client is engaged in the consent for services process and the financial therapist and client have both signed the consent for services and engagement agreement. A “client” is any person who has undergone an engagement process with the financial therapist and who has signed an informed consent for services document.
  2. Nondiscrimination: Financial therapists must not discriminate against clients because of age, race, ethnicity, nationality, health status, ability status, religious affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, gender, relationship status, or socio-economic status.
  3. Consent for Services & Engagement Agreement: Financial therapists must inform clients in writing through a “consent for services and engagement document” the following information during the initial engagement session: their process of financial therapy, the nature of the relationship, and the services that clients can expect from them based on their level of credentialing and scope of practice as a CFT. Clients and financial therapists should both sign as an indication that consent is acknowledged. Client consent must be informed and clients must be given the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the consent. When a person, due to age or mental status, is legally incapable of the informed consent process, financial therapists must obtain informed permission from a legally authorized person, if such a substitute is legally permissible. If a client is unable to read or interpret the document, financial therapists must provide reasonable accommodations to the client (for example, reading out loud, obtaining an interpreter, providing brail copies, etc.). If changes occur to the nature of the financial therapy process, the service offerings, or the FT’s credentialing while providing financial therapy services, the client must be informed in writing.
  4. Consent for Recording: Financial therapists must obtain written consent from all involved clients prior to recording any part of a financial therapy session through video or audio recording means.
  5. Consent for Observation: Financial therapists must obtain a client’s written consent prior to permitting any third-party or outside observation of their work. Third parties do not include other service providers within the same business/practice entity (e.g., paraplanner, co-therapist, co-counselor), but consent is needed for any other non-affiliate (e.g., non-hired interns, administrative staff).
  6. Initial Explanation of Fees: Prior to engaging in the financial therapy process with clients, financial therapists must explain to clients through a written document, the nature of the financial therapist’s fees and billing structure.
  7. Dual Relationships: Financial therapists must be aware of their potentially influential position with clients and therefore must make every effort to avoid dual relationships with clients that could impair their professional judgment or increase the risk of harm to clients. Specifically, when a financial therapist is also a certified financial planner, they must avoid controlling financial elements of the client’s life that may interfere with doing what is in the client’s best interest. When a dual relationship cannot be avoided, FT’s must take appropriate steps to ensure that judgment is not impaired and that no exploitation occurs.
  8. Abuse of the Relationship: Financial therapists must not abuse the potential power in their relationship with clients.
  9. Sexual Relationships with Current and Former Clients: Financial therapists must not engage in any type of sexual or intimate relationship with clients or former clients for a period of no less than 6 years. Financial therapists who engage in such relationship prior to six years following the end of the financial therapy process have the ultimate responsibility (burden of proof) to prove that such activities did not have exploitive emotional or financial consequences.
  10. Benefit of the Relationship: Financial therapists must only continue services so long as the client is demonstrating a benefit from the relationship.
  11. Termination: When necessary, financial therapists must assist in making appropriate recommendations for the continuation of services following termination of the financial therapy process.
  12. Clients Outside Scope of Practice: Financial therapists must avoid entering or immediately terminate a service relationship if it is determined that the client is outside of their professional scope of practice, and as result, cannot properly assist the client. The FT must respectfully offer a more appropriate referral for the client in these circumstances.
  13. Protecting Clients in Group Settings: When interacting in group settings, such as group courses, seminars, and group financial therapy, FT’s must take steps to protect clients from trauma resulting from these interactions.

Section II: Confidentiality


  1. General Confidentiality: Financial therapists must keep information related to their services with clients confidential unless disclosure is required for the welfare of the client/others, or is required by law. When disclosure is required, only information that is essential is revealed, and when possible, the client is informed of such a disclosure.
  2. Confidentiality for Financial Therapists with an Active Mental Health License: Financial therapists who are licensed as mental health professionals may adhere to the standards of confidentiality required by their held license, which at times may be a higher standard than the “general confidentiality” standard above. Financial therapists with a higher standard of confidentiality must inform their clients of this in the consent for service document (see section I-B) and delineate the differences in their reporting mandates per applicable law.
  3. Confidentiality of Records: Financial therapists must maintain appropriate confidentiality in creating, storing, accessing, transferring, and disposing of client records. Financial therapists must take caution and ensure that confidentiality is maintained when utilizing electronic records systems and electronic communication.  
  4. Written Permission for Disclosure/Release of Information: When information about clients is requested from any outside party or professional, or when a client requests the release of their information to an outside party or professional, all clients involved in the financial therapy process must provide written permission prior to disclosure/release of this information.
  5. Written Permission to Record or Observe: Financial therapists must obtain written consent from clients to record sessions electronically (video/audio recording) or to allow session observation by others.
  6. Confidentiality Requirements for Staff/Associates: Financial therapists must take measures to ensure that confidentiality of clients is maintained by staff and associates of the financial therapist or their practice.
  7. Confidentiality in Group Work Settings: Financial therapists must clearly communicate to group members that confidentiality is expected, but cannot be guaranteed in group settings. Financial therapists must appropriately outline these expectations for all group members and protect individual group members’ disclosures and confidences from others in the group unless written permission is obtained by the group member.
  8. Confidentiality in Couple and Family Work: In the context for couple or family work, financial therapists must not disclose or reveal information about one family member during services to others in the client unit without prior written consent of that individual. If the financial therapist is working with individuals in a partnership separately, the financial therapist should keep separate files and documents for each person.
  9. Data Protection and Anonymity Requirements: Financial therapists must maintain confidentiality in non-clinical activities and must protect the identity of their clients when using data for training, consulting, research, writing, or public presentation. 

Section III: Professional Responsibility


  1. Scope of Practice: Financial therapists must acknowledge their scope of practice with clients and must engage in practices only within the boundaries of their level of competence outlined by their certification, experience, and education. Scope of practice should be clearly documented and presented to clients in consent process.
  2. Continuing Education: Financial therapists must engage in continuing education to maintain their professional competence.
  3. Professional Impairments: Financial therapists must not offer their professional services when conflicts or personal problems may potentially cause harm to a client or others.
  4. Seeking Assistance: Financial therapists must seek out assistance from a professional when issues arise that could potentially impair performance or judgement.
  5. Accurate Advertising: Advertising of services must be accurately represented by financial therapists.
  6. Use of the Financial Therapist designation in media: The Financial Therapy Association’s forthcoming certification/designation must not be misrepresented by financial therapists in media, advertising, and marketing pursuits must not be misrepresented by financial therapists.
  7. Misrepresentation: Financial therapists must claim and imply only the professional credentials they possess, and must also correct any known misrepresentations of their credentials by others.
  8. Harassment: Financial therapists must not engage in sexual harassment or any other form harassment of clients, employees, students/trainees, supervisees, colleagues, or research subjects.
  9. Unjustified Personal Gains: Financial therapists must not use their professional position to seek or receive unjustified personal gains, sexual favors, unfair advantage, or unearned goods or services.
  10. Ineffective Employment Conditions: Financial therapists must inform their employers to policies or conditions that may be potentially disruptive or damaging to their professional responsibilities, may limit their effectiveness, and/or are not in the client’s best interest.
  11. Competence of Employees and Personnel: Financial therapists must only involve competent staff and must assign responsibilities compatible with staff skills and experience.
  12. Exploitative Relationships: Financial therapists must not engage in exploitative relationships with clients, employees, students/trainees, supervisees, colleagues, or research subjects.

Section IV: Compensation/Fees


  1. Fiduciary Standard: Financial therapists who advise clients on specific financial issues or give financial advice must adhere to a fiduciary standard of practice, which means that they are required to recommend what is in the client’s best interest.
  2. Compensation/Fee Disclosure: Financial therapists must clearly disclose to clients their fees for service and billing structure as a part of the client engagement and consent for services process in the initial financial therapy meeting/session. Once services have begun, financial therapists must provide reasonable notice to clients regarding any changes in fees or service-related charges. Financial therapists must present add-on services up front.
  3. Acceptable Fee Structures: Financial therapists must only charge for services in one of the following manners as outlined by the Financial Therapy Association: hourly rate, monthly retainer, or assets under management.
  4. Product Sales: Financial therapists must not sell to clients or recommend financial products from which they receive additional compensation or other direct or indirect payments.
  5. Financial Integrity: Financial therapists must not offer or accept kickbacks, rebates, bonuses, or other remuneration for referrals. Fee-for-service arrangements are not prohibited.
  6. Gifts: Financial therapists must consider the potential effects that receiving or giving gifts may have on clients and on the integrity and efficacy of the relationship. Financial therapists should also consider cultural norms when making decisions about accepting gifts from or giving gifts to clients.
  7. Payment Recovery Procedures: Financial therapists must give reasonable notice to clients with unpaid balances of their intention to seek collection by agency or legal recourse. When such action is taken, financial therapists will not disclose case information pertaining to the client.

Section V: Evaluation and Assessment


  1. Limits of Competence in Evaluation: Financial therapists must perform only testing and assessments for which they are trained in and competent. Financial therapists must also not allow the use of therapeutic evaluation and assessment techniques by unqualified persons under their supervision.
  2. Appropriate Use of Assessment Instruments: Financial therapists must use assessment instruments in the manner for which they were intended.
  3. Explanation of Assessments and Evaluations: Financial therapists must provide explanations to clients about both therapeutic evaluation tools and financial analyses prior to implementation. Explanations should include the nature of and purpose of the evaluation or analyses.
  4. Sharing of Assessment Results: Financial therapists must ensure that accurate and appropriate interpretations accompany any release of assessment information. Financial therapists must have a client’s written consent to release assessment and analyses to outside professionals or parties using a Release of Information document that is kept in the client’s file.

Section VI: Responsibilities in Teaching, Training, and Supervision


  1. Sexual Relationships with Students/Supervisees: Financial therapists must not engage in sexual relationships with their students and supervisees.
  2. Services for Students/Supervisees: Financial therapists must not provide financial therapy services of any kind to current students/supervisees.
  3. Confidentiality with Students/Supervisees: Financial therapists do not disclose supervisee confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or when mandated or permitted by law. In educational or training settings where there are multiple supervisors, disclosures are permitted only to other professional colleagues, administrators, or employers who share responsibility for training of the student or supervisee. Verbal authorization will not be sufficient except in emergency situations, unless prohibited by law.
  4. Credit for Contributions to Research: Financial therapists must give credit to students or supervisees for their contributions to research and scholarly work.
  5. Supervision of Others: Financial therapists who mentor or who offer supervision services in financial therapy must be trained and prepared in supervision methods and techniques.
  6. Oversight of Student/Supervisee Competence: Financial therapists do not permit students or supervisees to perform or to hold themselves out as competent to perform any services beyond their training, level of experience, and competence.
  7. Evaluation of Students/Supervisees: Financial therapists must clearly state to students and supervisees in advance of supervision/training the levels of competency expected, methods of evaluation of their work, as well as timing of any evaluations. 
  8. Feedback: Financial therapists must provide students and supervisees with periodic performance evaluations and feedback throughout the education or training program.
  9. Limitations of Students and Supervisees: Supervisors must assist students and supervisees in securing remedial assistance when needed and must recommend dismissal from the training program for students and supervisees who are unable to provide competent service due to academic or personal limitations.
  10. Self-Growth Experiences: Counselors who conduct experiences for students or supervisees that include self-growth or self-disclosure must inform participants of the supervisor’s ethical obligations to the student and must not grade participants based on conduct during such experiences.
  11. Standards for Students and Supervisees: Non-credentialed students and supervisees preparing to become financial therapists must act with adherence to the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Practice outlined by FTA for financial therapists.

Section VII: Research and Publication


  1. Approval by the Institution: When institutional approval is required, financial therapists must submit accurate information about their research and obtain appropriate approval prior to conducting the research.
  2. Plagiarism: Financial therapists who are the authors of books or other materials that are published or distributed must not plagiarize or fail to cite persons to whom credit for original ideas or work is due.
  3. Precautions to Avoid Injury in Research: Financial therapists must avoid causing physical, social, or psychological harm or injury to subjects in research.
  4. Confidentiality of Research Information: Financial therapists must keep information obtained about research participants confidential.
  5. Research Integrity: Financial therapists must not distort or misrepresent research data, nor fabricate or intentionally bias research results.
  6. Publication Contributors: Financial therapists must give appropriate credit to all those who have contributed to research projects.

Section VIII: Technology


Many professionals engage in service delivery with the assistance of technology and an increasing number of different technological platforms. While there are benefits to this, there are also responsibilities involved with their use. Standard VIII addresses the basic ethical requirements of offering financial therapy, supervision, and related professional services using technological and electronic means.

  1. Financial Therapy Services Utilizing Technology: Prior to beginning any services through technological or electronic means (including, but not limited, to phone and Internet), financial therapists must ensure that they are compliant with all relevant laws for the delivery of such services. Additionally, financial therapists must take additional steps to: (a) determine that technologically-assisted services or supervision are appropriate for clients or supervisees; (b) communicate the potential risks and benefits associated with technologically-assisted services; (c) confirm the security of their communication medium and that the medium maintains confidentiality standards; and (d) only practice the delivery of technologically-assisted services after appropriate education, training, or supervised experience using the relevant technology.
  2. Consent to Technology Services & Disclosure of Risks: Financial therapists must address the potential risks of technology services to both clients and supervisees in writing via a “consent for technology-assisted financial therapy services”. In addition, financial therapists must advise clients and supervisees in this consent of client-related responsibilities in engaging with technology services and how to minimize risks of services provided via technology.
  3. Professional Responsibilities Related to Technology Services: Financial therapists must take responsibility for selecting technological programs and platforms that align with best practices standards related to confidentiality. Clients and supervisees are to be made aware in writing of the limitations and protections via their consent document about the limitations of these programs and platforms.
  4. Electronic Documentation: Financial therapists must be sure that all documentation and correspondence containing identifying or otherwise sensitive information which is stored and/or transferred electronically is done so using technology that adhere to standards of best practices related to confidentiality and professional responsibility. Financial therapists must provide information via the consent involving the limitations and protections offered by the technology programs and platforms.
  5. Competence with Technology: Financial therapists must ensure that they are trained and competent in the use of all offered technology service platforms and programs. Misuses and/or issues that arise with the use of technology are the responsibility of the financial therapist. Technology chosen must also be up to date, secure, and advanced enough to best serve the needs of financial therapy clients and supervisees.

Section IX: Resolving Ethical Issues


  1. Ethical Behavior Expectation: Financial therapists must take appropriate action when they possess reasonable cause that raises doubts as to whether other financial therapy professionals are acting in an unethical manner. It is the responsibility of a financial therapist to report suspected unethical practices or behaviors by another financial therapist.
  2. Unwarranted Complaints: Financial therapists must not initiate, participate in, or encourage the filing of ethical complaints that are unwarranted or intended to harm a financial therapy professional rather than to protect clients or the public.
  3. Cooperation with the Financial Therapy Association: Financial therapists must cooperate with any investigations, proceedings, and requirements of the FTA concerning an ethical violation.

 

 © 2017 Financial Therapy Association.


 The following influenced the development of these FTA practice standards. Adapted from AAMFT, AFCPE®, APA, and CFP® Board Standards of Practice and Ethical Requirements.

References


The following were used to influence the development of these FTA practice standards.

American Association for Counseling and Developmental Association for Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development.  (1989). The responsibilities of users of standardized tests (rev.). Washington, DC.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Legal_Ethics/Code_of_Ethics.aspx

American Counseling Association. (1995). Ethical standards. Alexandria, VA.

American Psychological Association. (1985). Standards for educational and psychological testing (rev.). Washington, DC.

Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (2017). Retrieved from https://afcpe.org/resource-center/professional-standards/code-of-ethics

Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (2017). Retrieved from http://www.afcpe.org/resource-center/professional-standards/standards-of-practice

Certified Financial Planning Board’s Practice Standards. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.cfp.net/for-cfp-professionals/professional-standards-enforcement/standards-of-professional-conduct/code-of-ethics-professional-responsibility

National Board for Certified Counselors. (1989). National Board for Certified Counselors code of ethics.  Alexandria, VA.