Interview with Dr. Larry Barton, CAP®, President and CEO of The American College

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HORAN partnered with The American College Center for Ethics to host the 2013 American College of Industry Ethics Luncheon on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. At the luncheon Dr. Larry Barton, CAP®, President and CEO of The American College, spoke about The American College’s history, the benefits of earning industry certifications, what it means to be an ethical advisor and the future of the college. 
As a founding member of The American College Center for Ethics, HORAN is able to ensure access to the highest standard of continuing education resources which allows for our professionals to give an additional layer of value to clients through an ethical framework. 
We had a chance to catch up with Dr. Barton and have an in-depth conversation on the topics he spoke about at the luncheon and the benefits financial services professionals and their clients gain from continuing education. 

(Q.) What are your goals for The American College over the next three to five years? 
(A.) The first goal is to broaden our academic portfolio beyond what we are best known for which is the CLU® and the ChFC® designations. There are really two huge leaps forward—one is that we are entering into the CFA® (Chartered Financial Analyst) space which is probably one of the most respected designations in the world for investment professionals. For us to be moving into the program is a very significant step. We have also just launched the nation’s first PhD in financial planning and retirement planning. We need more researchers and teachers in this country that understand retirement planning. The fact is no institution is producing doctorates who know how to teach and create meaningful research on annuities, long term care and planning for a mature life. The primary goal is to launch the new programs with great success. 
(Q.) What are the key differentiators of The American College? 
(A.) Our accreditation is the highest standard that any university can have. We are not a trade school; we are accredited by the same group that accredits Princeton and Penn State. We have to have a leading edge faculty and the content of our courses have to be top notch. We have a very robust, award-winning online learning program so students can use Blackboard, an online learning tool. 
We have thousands of modules of video case studies. In our cases, we can embed very brief cases on a wide variety of potential clients. For example; case studies on individuals with dementia or memory issues, a female business owner asking about a buy-sell agreement or a couple with a baby born with special needs and how to prepare a financial plan for that child. To be able to have thousands of interviews with clients and agents talking about these issues is probably one of our key differentiators because we can deliver all of that on your iPad, Android or in a live class literally within minutes. It is something most institutions are not even close to touching.
(Q.) How is The American College utilizing technology to expand knowledge and opportunities for its students? 
(A.) We started our digital launch literally a decade ago when I came here; we had no online learning beforehand. Approximately 70 percent of all of our teaching is online now. We are the only college in the country devoted strictly to financial services and we are non-profit. Our scale is such that we were able to respond to our students 10 years ago when they said they needed access to (our resources) on their laptop as soon as possible. We were able to respond real time to digital needs a decade ago to the point where now we are two to four years ahead of most large colleges in the country. Our job is to maintain that momentum. 
(Q.) Is continuing education important for everyone? 
(A.) It is (important) because there are two ways to look at continuing education. The first is what is required by the states, and typically it’s not very impressive. You can take so many hours per year, you can take a course at a local college, read a book or, in most states, read an article, fill in the questions and send it in. I think continuing education of that nature is often sloppy, inexpensive and not very meaningful. Sometimes we give false comfort to the client that our advisors and agents are really receiving in-depth continuing education like a doctor, psychologist or a lawyer. They have to go through very intense changes in neurology or cardiology because you want them to have the best knowledge. In this industry, we don’t do that. We say that you can take a course for $29 and you don’t really have to be there; you just send in your completed materials. I think that kind of continuing education is fraught with risk and diminishes great companies. 
The second part of continuing education is “what have you learned lately?” If you have your CLU® go back for your ChFC®. If you don’t have any designations, take a course—go after the RICP® which is a three course designation in retirement. The point is to take a course or to complete a program; don’t just take a one-hour module. If you do that you are going to lift your practice, be more successful in addressing your clients’ needs and prove to yourself and your contemporaries that you take education seriously. If you don’t have any designations and all you do is take a couple hours a year of continuing education, then, if your practice is moderately successful, it’s probably the reason why. 
(Q.) What is the importance of ethics and what does it mean in regards to the financial services industry?
(A.) Our industry has been the subject of much speculation and is suspect in the eyes of many clients because of the Bernie Madoffs, the failure of AIG and a number of really unethical advisors and agents who make headlines. 
What we need to remember is the vast majority of insurance agents and financial advisors are incredibly hardworking, very diligent, highly focused, very ethical and are role models in their community. I look at your CEO as an example—one of the top people in the city who has built an incredible company, that’s an ethical guy. What we need to do is make sure the everyday interaction with the client is grounded in ethics—that we tell the truth—what we know and what we don’t know, when we can help a family or business owner and when we can’t and that we disclose all that we need to close. 
The founder of The American College was a professor at the Wharton School, Solomon Huebner. He came up with a very simple pledge in 1927 and since then we have had 150,000 graduates who have taken that pledge. The pledge is that “I will put my clients’ interests above my own.” What a simple, elegant, powerful affirmation that you believe in ethics. Always put my clients’ interests above my own; that’s what this issue is about. Some people abuse the public trust and that’s why they are in jail. It’s also why we celebrate the ethical advisor. In my opinion, 99.9% of them are extremely honest people. 
(Q.) What part of your role as the president and CEO of the college brings you the most enjoyment? 
(A.) I love teaching. Being President means I’m an administrator and I have to create the vision for the institution and hold people accountable, but I’m also a professor of Management at the college and that is how I began my career teaching at Harvard Business School. To be a professor at The American College teaching agents and advisors means I am able to roll up my sleeves and spend days with them on case studies, going into our digital studio and having press conferences and helping them think about how they manage the good days and the challenging days. There is nothing more exciting than being a professor with eager, very accomplished professionals—I just get a kick out of that. I love their feedback, criticisms and debates. That is what learning is all about; it shouldn’t be one way. I just consider it a privilege to be a teacher.