Letterhead and Business Cards

How agents identify themselves on a business card or letterhead is important since these are, typically, the client's first introduction to the agent.The key ethical consideration when an agent designs his or her letterhead and business cards is to include sufficient information to adequately identify him or her and the company being represented without being misleading.  Agents generally have fairly wide latitude in designing stationery and business cards with respect to both the design and language that is used, although some companies may have more stringent requirements than others.  

 Consider, for example, the letterhead for a certified financial planner (CFP®) designee.  While the principal of the agency may be a certified financial planner, perhaps not all employees/associates of the firm hold that designation.  So while "Jared Jones, CFP® and Associates" would be accurate, "Jared Jones and Associates CFP®" could be misleading as it gives the impression that Jared and all of the associates hold a CFP designation. Similar problems can arise with other titles and professional designations.  In addition, each professional organization will have its own rules for proper usage of its designation.  It is important that the agent comply with those rules and well as making sure that the designation's use is not misleading.  And obviously, the use of the designations CPCU, CLU, CFP, ChFC or CPA would be improper and deceptive unless the agent had earned them.

Widely recognized professional designations can add credibility to an agent's business card or letterhead.  But what of most general terms and titles, such as "financial planner" or "investment advisor".  Some jurisdictions have guidelines on what terminology can be used, and under what circumstances those terms can be used. ( For example, "registered investment adviser" is reserved for those who have passed a licensing examination and are registered with the SEC.)  Other times the agent is left to his or her own good judgment.  The key question an agent should ask in these situations is: "Does the title mislead?".  Generally speaking it is best to stick with traditional titles such as insurance agent or stockbroker to describe oneself.

When an agent holds a title from a firm, such as registered representative, the agent should include the name and address of the broker/dealer whom the agent represents.  To omit the company affiliation would be to mislead prospective clients as to the nature of the title.  For those agents who use the products of multiple companies, it is important that if products are listed the company with whom each product is placed and its principal home office address should also be supplied.  

It is important that a agent's business card and letterhead permit the client or prospect to properly identify him or her as a property and casualty agent, a life insurance agent, a stockbroker, a registered representative, a registered investment adviser, etc.  In addition, when a client receives the piece he or she should be able to determine what the agent sells.