Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (for advisers)

 FBI Advisers are required to demonstrate and promote the highest standards of professionalism at all times.

Advisers come from a variety of professions, all with their own Codes of Ethics and Conduct.  If an Adviser’s native professional Code calls for a standard of conduct that differs from ours, whichever Code calls for the higher standard applies.

FBI membership demands a willingness to adhere to this Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

Ethical Guidelines provide high level conceptual and moral guidance explaining how to provide most appropriate, highest quality professional advisory services to family businesses.

Professional Conduct prescribes what FBI Members should do, to deliver exceptional advisory services to family business clients.


Because family businesses have special needs, their advisers often find themselves in complex situations beyond the contemplation and jurisdiction of their native professions.  They may be required to say, or do (or not do) things that could be considered inappropriate by “normal” professional standards.  This Code is designed to cover this extended level of activity.

In this Code the term “advice” covers the entire range of professional services that may be required by family businesses, from time to time.  It includes a much broader range of activities than is usually described as “professional advice”.

Ethical Code

FBI Advisers must:

  • Comply with the requirements and the spirit of FBI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
  • Do the right thing, in the right way, to the right people, at the right time.
  • Approach all engagements with an open mind and with an unswerving commitment to produce the best possible outcomes for clients, under all the circumstances.
  • Act professionally in all dealings with clients, stakeholders, colleagues, other professionals and the public and refrain from doing anything that could bring FBI, or the FBI community, into disrepute.
  • Be accountable and accept responsibility for professional performance and clients’ outcomes.
  • Constantly increase their professional capacity to serve the family business sector through continuous learning and the generous sharing of ideas, knowledge and experience.
  • Respect our environment and balance the rights of future generations with current practical and economic needs.
  • Be guided by, and demonstrate, admirable values that include honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and reliability in all professional and business dealings.

Code of Professional Practice

1. The Engagement

Professional engagements must be formally evidenced in writing, in an Engagement Letter, or similar document.  Electronic communication is acceptable.  Ensure transparency and comprehension so all parties fully understand their commitments and expectations of each other throughout the engagement.

The Engagement Letter should be expressed in plain English (or other language appropriate to the parties) and must clearly state:

  • The terms of the engagement, including: nature, scope and objectives and especially the capacity in which the adviser is employed (definition of professional role).
  • Details of the planned approach or process, including timing of major stages and anticipated deliverables / outcomes.
  • Procedures for modifying the original plan as the engagement progresses, if required.
  • Identification of the key parties, and the adviser’s responsibilities towards them. In particular, ensure that you clearly define:  “who is the client?” as it may be an entire group of people (whole family).
  • Communication and reporting processes to be followed during the engagement.
  • Anticipated costs, or at least the basis of charging fees and expenses, including details of how bills will be rendered and paid.
  • Details of any commissions or referral fees payable to any other parties in respect of the engagement.
  • Confirmation that there are no known conflicts of interest, or details of any known or suspected conflicts.
  • Procedure for formal acceptance of the engagement terms by authorised representatives of both/all parties.

 2: The Adviser: Client Relationship

A major distinguishing feature of most family business advisory work is the high level of trust established between advisers and clients. Trust is based on many factors, foremost amongst them being: Honesty & Integrity; Client Priority; Reliability; Independence, Impartiality & Objectivity; Trustworthiness; Confidentiality.

Clients must always be well-enough informed to be able to decide whether to commence, or continue with an engagement.

The following rules are designed to help establish and maintain trust AND satisfy the requirements of the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics:

 a) Honesty & Integrity

Honesty requires advisers to present their facts, opinions and expectations as accurately as possible.

Integrity requires advisers to do the right thing by their clients, and others.

FBI Advisers must:

  • Describe their education, training, experience, skills, expertise, success rate and professional credentials with honesty and accuracy.
  • Assess and diagnose the client’s current and anticipated needs with the utmost care and integrity, before advising or commencing an engagement.
  • Tailor proposed services to respond to the diagnosed needs as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.
  • Provide clients with honest opinions and comprehensive, relevant and accurate information to facilitate informed decision making, at all stages in an assignment.
  • Only undertake engagements they honestly, and reasonably justifiably, believe they can handle, either on their own, or with the support of their trusted professional network.
  • Openly and honestly disclose any serious concerns they have, or should reasonably have, concerning their ability to undertake, or to continue successfully with, an engagement.
  • Openly and honestly advise their clients of any serious concerns they have about ultimately achieving successful outcomes, according to the client’s reasonable expectations.

b) Client Priority

Client Priority requires advisers to place their clients’ interests above their own within the framework of an engagement.

FBI Advisers must:

  • Strive, and be seen to be striving, to achieve the best possible outcomes for their clients, under all the circumstances.
  • Promptly refer clients to other advisers or experts, to complete some or all of an engagement, when it appears reasonably likely that this will produce better outcomes for the client.

c) Reliability

Reliability relates to performance: doing what you say you’ll do; when you say you’ll do it; how you say you’ll do it. There should be no surprises or disappointments between client and adviser if you under-promise and over-deliver.

FBI Advisers must:

  • Competently perform their family business advisory work in accordance with the terms of their engagements as regards: content, scope, style, process, quality, timing and costs.

d) Independence, Impartiality & Objectivity

Independence: freedom from the control or influence of others.

Impartiality: freedom from bias or favouritism; disinterest; equitable and fair.

Objectivity: freedom from influence caused by personal emotions, needs or prejudices; judgments and actions based on facts.

Independence and objectivity can be hard to achieve and even harder to maintain in a complex family business engagement involving conflicting interests.

In most traditional professional engagements the adviser is engaged by an individual or company to do their specific bidding and to represent and promote their interests.  When a whole family is the “client”, there is no single interest or position to champion. The adviser may be required to deal with the diverse and sometimes interconnected interests of individual family members, AND the family as a collective entity, AND the business as a commercial entity.

In most family business advisory engagements it’s almost impossible to achieve true “independence”, since there is usually only one, or a small number of key individuals providing most of the information, giving most of the instructions, approving the adviser’s accounts, and paying the bills.  Realistically, advisers are usually closer to those individuals with whom they have regular communications than to others.

Therefore, in complex family business engagements (not technical engagements) FBI requires Impartiality, rather than Independence.

The adviser should be fair and helpful: “a friend to all, and an advocate for none”.

FBI Advisers must:

  • Be free, able and willing to act in an impartial, fair and professional manner, towards all stakeholders, at all times.
  • Be free of real or perceived conflicts of interest that could reasonably raise doubts about their impartiality and objectivity.
  • Disclose the possibility of any potential conflicts of interest – past, present or future, to all relevant parties, as soon as they appear to be serious.
  • Avoid advocating the interests of any stakeholder(s) against any other stakeholder(s), to the extent their actions could reasonably be perceived to compromise their impartiality.

e) Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness, in an adviser context, means having a close relationship with clients that encourages, sanctions and even requires the adviser to ask the hard questions like: What keeps you awake at night?, in order to get a full picture of what’s really going on below the surface of the business and/or the family.

FBI Advisers must:

  • Try to develop close and trusting relationships with all clients.
  • Be willing and able to deal with hard questions and issues, either by themselves or with appropriate help.
  • Ask the hard questions, as early as is practically possible in each engagement, to obtain a better understanding and appreciation of the family and personal dynamics influencing the situation.

f) Confidentiality

Confidential Information is secret/privileged information provided to an adviser to inform them as fully as possible, given in the expectation it will not be divulged to others without express authorisation.

FBI Advisers must:

  • Treat all sensitive information obtained during the course of an engagement as confidential, unless told or authorised otherwise.
  • Not divulge any confidential information to any unauthorised parties.
  • Not use any confidential information obtained during the course of an engagement for any purpose other than that for which the information was provided.

 3. General Professional Conduct Rules

FBI Advisers must:

  • Conduct themselves as credible and responsible professionals at all times.
  • Create and maintain individual client files, in hard and/or soft copy, to enable FBI to conduct quality reviews if a complaint is raised. Files should be kept for at least six years from date of completion of engagement.
  • Disclose the nature of any business relationship and/or referral fee arrangement, when referring a client to another adviser, or to a service provider.
  • Keep current in their area of professional practice, including family business, by complying with all relevant CPD (continuing professional development) requirements set by their professional associations.
  • Treat all persons fairly, equally and respectfully regardless of their race, creed, colour, national origin, religion, gender, age, marital status, sexual preference, physical condition, and/or appearance.
  • Recognize and respect the intellectual property rights of others and properly acknowledge the original author and source whenever publishing said works, in any form.
  • Encourage and support the professional development of other FBI Advisers.
  • Help other advisers to understand, appreciate and comply with the Ethical Guidelines.
  • Encourage, promote and support the interests and development of FBI, and the field of family business generally, whenever possible.
  • Avoid unwarranted and/or unnecessary criticism regarding clients, other advisers, FBI and the field of family business in general.
  • Not speak, nor purport to speak, on behalf of FBI, unless authorised to do so.
  • Avoid the existence, or perception, of conflicts of interest.

Contravention of the Code

A serious breach of this Code may result in disciplinary action, which could lead to suspension of FBI membership and the cancellation of accreditation, at the sole discretion of the FBI Board.