Help your downsizing clients create their legacy

Many investment and financial advisors have older clients who struggle with decluttering as they prepare to downsize. I picked up some useful ideas from a session presented by Matt Paxton, the host of the PBS program Legacy List and the author of a book that had the same title as his presentation, Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff: Declutter, Downsize, and Move Forward with Your Life.

We hold onto things because of the people and the emotions attached to those items, said Paxton. We can’t let go because we love those people and the memories. However, there’s a way to let go of those things while keeping the memories. Paxton said that if you tell their stories, their memory doesn’t die. (However, satisfaction from this process may be hard for some people. An audience member pointed out that not everyone has fond memories of the people in their lives.)

Below is a five-step process suggested by Paxton.

Step 1: Know your finish line. 

Know where you are going and your “why.” In Paxton’s case, he wants to be a grandpa, which drives his decluttering. 

Write down the real reasons you’re downsizing and put them on the wall everywhere to remind you of your goal.

Step 2: Start small.

Declutter 10 minutes a night for the first two months, then move up to 30 minutes a night. In the first two months, you’re proving to yourself that you can get it done. 

Start in a non-emotional area, such as a junk drawer, suggested Paxton. Emphasize “Look at how much did get done” instead of how much is left to do.

Step 3: Focus on your legacy.

Write down a “legacy list” of the top five items in your house. What would you take with you if your house caught fire? 

Step 4: Tell the stories.

Tell stories about your top five items. Sharing your stories speeds up the process of letting go of things. The story is the legacy, not the item. Find someone to tell the story to. Your audience could be friends or members of your community—not just family members.

Paxton uses an app called to record stories of items. When you record your stories, don’t get stuck on the details. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Include:

  • What is it?
  • How did you get it? Who gave it to you?
  • What do you remember about that day? What smells and sounds do you remember?
  • Why is this item important?

Step 5: Donate.

Paxton recommended donating rather than selling because sales rarely make enough money to make you happy. He estimated that you might receive maybe only 10% of an object’s value.

Paxton said that it’s also helpful to think about “What if someone else needs this now more than I do?” That works for me. I’ve felt touched by the delight with which some Buy Nothing group members have received some of my discards.

Guilt is a huge part of downsizing, Paxton said. But it’s “wasted energy” and represents your brain holding you back from doing the right thing, he added.

You can learn more about Paxton at


I hope these steps help your clients—and maybe even you—declutter and create a legacy.



Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

How do you spell it? “Out-performance” vs. “outperformance”

The browser’s spellchecker keeps tagging “outperformance” as a typo. I feel very annoyed when this happens because I The prefix out- should be united with whatever follows, just as bride and groom should be united.believe it’s wrong. This spurred me to do research on the correctness of my assumption.

The case for “outperformance”

Here’s the evidence in favor of marrying “out” and “performance” so they’re one word:

  1. “Generally do not hyphenate when using a prefix with a word that starts with a consonant,” said The Associated Press Stylebook, when I originally researched this question some years ago. More recently, the online AP Stylebook says, “Follow Webster’s New World College Dictionary.” The dictionary includes “outperform” without a hyphen.
  2. Words into Type says, “The modern tendency is to eliminate the hyphen between a prefix and a root unless the root is a proper noun or adjective, such as un-American.”
  3. I asked, “What would The Wall Street Journal do?” as suggested in my financial jargon killer blog post. At a quick glance, the newspaper appears to favor “outperform.”

The case for “out-performance” with a hyphen

I mustered one piece of  evidence in favor of hyphenating “out-performance” when I originally researched this post. Google yielded more than 931 million search results for “out-performance” vs. only 1.01 million for “outperformance.” It’s strange that the first four results use the spelling “outperformance,” as you see in the screen shot on the left.

I found a similar discrepancy between the number of search results for “outperformance” versus “out-performance” and the spelling in the actual search results when I repeated my search in March 2024. However, the gap between the number of search results shrank to 5.6 million for the hyphenated word versus 5 million for the unhyphenated word.

Results of my spelling poll

When I polled my newsletter and blog readers about the proper spelling, “outperformance” won in a landslide, with 92% of the vote. Here are the results:

  • Outperformance: 92%
  • Out-performance: 0
  • Out performance: 8%



Note: This post was updated again on March 22, 2024. I updated this piece on December 1, 2013, to share the results of my poll, instead of directing readers to a poll that’s no longer active. This post originated as a request for readers to respond to a poll.

“Investable” or “investible”–which spelling is correct?

How should you spell the word that may appear in descriptions of an asset management firm’s minimum requirements for clients—“investable” or “investible”?

My gut tells me “investable” with “a” because the definition depends on how much you are able to invest.

The case for “investable” over “investible”

    1. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary includes “investable,” but not the alternative spelling. The same is true on, which AP style uses along with Garner’s (see #2 below) to justify its preference for “investable,” according to its “Ask the Editor” column. lists “investable” first, with “investible” as an alternative. Words  into Type, an older reference book, says, “The correct spelling of words with the terminations -able or -ible is often puzzling. The student of orthography can find rules for the use of these endings, but it is more practical to learn the spelling of each word and refer to the dictionary if memory fails for the moment.”
    2. Garner’s Modern American Usage calls “-ible”  “dead as a combining form in English,” while “-able” is a living suffix that may be added to virtually any verb without an established suffix.”  It includes “investable” among “some of the hundreds of adjectives preferably spelled -able.” explains: “Unlike –able-ible isn’t used to make new words. It exists only in words retained from earlier stages of English.”
    3. The world is moving away from “investible” toward “investable,” at least as shown by Google Books Ngram data for the U.S. and the U.K.’s “Investible or Investable – Which Is Correct? (UK vs. US)” (unfortunately, the post is no longer online) looks at the Google Books Ngram for the two terms. It shows that the use of “investable” has grown steadily in U.S. books, while the use of “investible” has declined since 1950. In the U.K., “investible” initially dominated, but it has fallen below “investable” in the twenty-first century.

The case for “investible” over “investable”

  1. A Google search turns up more references to “investible” than to “investable,” and the imbalance has only gotten worse since I originally researched this back in 2010. Back then, I found about 393,000 references to “investible” vs. only 320,000 to “investable.”  By 2020, the disparity was 2.79 million to 29.6 million. I don’t know how to explain these results, which contrast with the Google Books Ngram results discussed above.
  2. Fowler’s Modern English Usage says “The –ible form is the natural one for words derived from Latin verbs ending –ere or –ire, making adjectives in –ibilis.” I don’t know about “making adjectives in –ibilis,” but lo and behold, my dictionary says the word “invest” comes from the Latin investire. However, my copy of Fowler’s dates back to the 1960s.
  3. The Financial Times Lexicon went with “investible” when I originally researched this question in 2010 (sorry, the Lexicon link no longer works). I wondered if this could be a British thing, as Fowler’s is also British. However, when I searched the Financial Times website in 2022, instances of “investable” outnumbered “investible,” 965 to 193. This is consistent with the Google Books Ngram trend discussed above.

The SEC is a draw

A search of the SEC website yielded an equal number of results for both spellings. I wonder if it uses both as key words for search purposes.

The FINRA website gives “investable” a slight edge over “investible,” 108 to 98.

Do the two words have different meanings?

A reader suggested to me that the two words have different meanings:

Investible refers to an asset in which an investment can be made.

Investable refers to an asset that can be used to make an investment.

In ordinary usage, cash is investable but not investible, while shares are investible but not investable.

That’s an interesting theory. I haven’t found evidence in dictionaries to support it.

Still, the glossary shows only “investible” and defines it in the first sense listed above. However, a Nasdaq website search shows only four results using “investible” versus 24 for “investable.”

The bottom line: You should define your terms for your readers whether you use “investable” or “investible,” especially when the meaning isn’t clear from the context.



Note: I updated this blog post in 2015 to delete an outdated reference to an inactive poll. I expanded the post in October 2022 and updated it again in March 2023.


Discuss your mistakes like Warren Buffett

It’s not a sign of weakness to discuss your mistakes. At least, it’s not if you discuss your mistakes like Warren Buffett.

Benefit of discussing your mistakes

“Berkshire investors gain confidence because Buffett doesn’t gloss over his mistakes,” writes L.J. Rittenhouse, in Buffett’s Bites: The Essential Investor’s Guide to Warren Buffett’s Shareholder Letters. She shares several examples of mistakes that Warren Buffett has discussed in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder letters.

“These public postmortems may not reduce the number of his mistakes—he is human—but he is less likely to repeat them,” says Rittenhouse.

How to discuss your mistakes

Buffett is a big fan of using plain language in writing about financial topics. He speaks plainly about his mistakes. Referring to Dexter Shoe Company, he wrote, as quoted by Rittenhouse,”To date, Dexter is the worst deal that I’ve made. But I’ll make more mistakes in the future—you can bet on that.” You can’t get plainer than that.

Buffett uses some humor in discussing his mistakes. For example, says Rittenhouse, “He described his biggest all-time blunder in his 2007 letter in a reference to a Bobby Bare country western lyric about going to bed with good-looking women and waking up to find they are ugly.” I think that putting down women’s appearance risks offending today’s readers. However, the use of analogy is a powerful technique.

It’s safer to poke fun at oneself. Buffett described his failure to do a big deal, saying, “The only explanation is that my brain had gone on vacation and forgotten to notify me.”

Try discussing mistakes in your performance reviews

I’ve discussed the importance of discussing mistakes in “Four lessons from Wasatch Funds on reporting underperformance.” By explaining what went wrong, you give your clients and prospects more confidence in how you’ll manage things in the future. After all, if you can’t recognize your mistakes, how can you fix them. Try it!


Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Ready-to-use content for financial advisors

Financial advisors with tight budgets and limited time sometimes buy ready-to-use content from publishers who offer a library of resources. I list some of them below, including links to their sites. I am not endorsing any of them. Some of the content comes from names that I know, such as Litman Gregory, Wendy Cook, and Bob Veres’ Inside Information.

Using ready-to-use content

These resources typically offer ready-to-use content that can be presented as if it has been created by the advisory firm that shares it. This is different than curated content, with which you share material (or links to material) for which its creation by a credible third-party source is part of its appeal.

Please check that the content is right for your firm. Some of the resources cater more to registered representatives (including getting content preapproved by FINRA), while others may appeal more to registered investment advisors.

Each resource is listed in alphabetical order with a description provided by the resource.

The marketing professionals who told me about some of these resources have a good tip for you. When you buy standardized content, do something to customize it, to make it yours, assuming this is allowed by the terms of your agreement with the provider. I’ve written about this in Canned newsletters can hurt your marketing.

Sources of ready-to-use content for advisors



AdvisorFlex says:

Tired of the boilerplate market commentary available from many of the industry marketing services? Don’t have time or staff expertise to create your own? Want to differentiate your firm? Let AdvisorFlex do it for you. They provide market commentary for your practice, custom written monthly articles, custom website copywriting or editing, automated content marketing, and RIA branding services.

Advisor Products’ FINRA reviewed content

Advisor Products says:

Business websites that post new content consistently get their pages indexed by search engines 434% more than the sites who don’t. Blogs and articles using keywords that are relevant to your target audience help Google improve your ‘relevancy’ score [and] your rankings.

Broadridge’s Advisor Resource Center

Broadridge says:

Differentiate your advisors as thought leaders. Expand your advisors’ library of resources and save time by leveraging original content created by our team of in-house subject matter experts. Advisors can share content with their audiences, quickly respond to requests for information and convert more clients with custom presentations.

Inside Information’s Client Articles

Inside Information says:

Receive articles and cartoons to send to clients, use in quarterly newsletters or as part of your drip-marketing campaign. This service may NOT be sent to centers of influence or professionals.

Litman Gregory AdvisorIntelligence Communications

Litman Gregory AdvisorIntelligence says:

White-Labeled Materials to Guide Your Client Conversations

One of our goals with our AdvisorIntelligence service is to make available everything we do in our own practice that might be of value to other advisors. Beyond the considerable resources we devote to providing our research and investment strategy, we also share the communications we use to establish and maintain our client relationships. Importantly, through our communications, we seek to instill client confidence in our competence, investment approach, and core values (integrity, excellence, passion, and courage). This sets the foundation for a successful, long-term client relationship and requires clear and regular communication around our investment philosophy, approach, and the reasoning underlying our decision-making on our clients’ behalf.

MarketingPro Marketing Library

MarketingPro says:

Downloadable and professionally pre-written content with compliance review built right in. Keeping up communication with clients and prospects is pivotal to the success of your practice, but why waste time trying to draft your own messages, then wait weeks for compliance review? Our MarketingLibrary service offers Financial Professionals 24/7 online access to high-quality, high-impact content written by seasoned financial copywriters. And if your Broker/Dealer supports the system (hundreds do), the content you need may be pre-reviewed and approved for immediate use. Thousands of messages, with new content added every week – all for one low monthly fee.

Wendy J. Cook Communications

Wendy J. Cook Communications says:

Wendy offers a content-sharing library with affordable, turnkey content written especially for use by the evidence-based advisor. For your client letters, e-newsletters, video scripts and more, stop settling for tired financial speak that doesn’t speak to you.  Also, custom content.

Warning from my experience with this list

I originally created this list on Storify, a platform for sharing content. I kept it off my blog because I didn’t want to seem to endorse any providers. However, one day I tried to access my list, and found that it had disappeared. Oops, Storify had gone out of business!

Any time you share content only on a third-party platform, you run the risk of losing it. I’ve blogged about my earlier experience with this in Ouch, LinkedIn, why did you do that to me?

Luckily, I was able to recover my list using the Wayback Machine. However, it was a tedious process. I could have made my life easier by posting this list on my blog from the beginning.

Everything old is new again in advisor communications

This guest post comes from Andy McMorrow, a longtime financial marketer who has inspired some of my own blog posts. I’m glad to have his contribution about crisis communications for advisors.

Everything old is new again in advisor communications

By Andy McMorrow

Back in the day—probably been 15 or 20 years ago—private wealth consultant Russ Alan Prince did research on the topic of advisor communication during times of crisis. He discovered that not only did communication with clients help advisors retain client assets (as compared to those who did not communicate with clients), it could be used as the basis to grow AUM as markets returned to relative normalcy. More on this in a moment.

Discussing bad news can differentiate

Prince hypothesized that communication during times of crisis was a differentiator from most clients’ perspectives. My hypothesis in this blog post is that it remains so.

Let’s face it: delivering bad news hasn’t gotten any better in the past decade. There’s still no app for that.

Fact is, the path of least resistance for advisors has always been to avoid the discomfort of a discussion with a client when their portfolio performance is less than ideal.

Prince suggested that doing exactly that can really set one apart and help build trust. I think it’s a great plan of action for those willing to set aside the short-term angst of making lots of client calls in order to strengthen the client relationships.

4 suggestions for conversations

How does one go about this? Several ideas:

  • Focus on the plan—Remember the plans that you worked diligently to develop in close collaboration with your clients when the market was gliding ever upward? The plans that formalized the rational approach you suggested based on their time horizon, comfort with risk, etc.? That’s a great tool to support your outreach, especially if it can help you show that they are still on track to meet their objectives over the long term. Help them focus on the thinking they understood and signed off on before things went haywire and panic rose to the fore.
  • Help them be heard—Much of the value of financial advice comes from just “being there,” listening and acting as a sounding board, and keeping clients from taking rash action. (I want to sell at the bottom of the market and put everything in cash!)
  • Remind them that they’re part of the herd—Research has shown that investor attitudes to gain or loss can vary greatly depending on how that gain or loss compares to the market in general or that of another individual. Admittedly, a 25% loss of assets is tough no matter how it is communicated, but understanding that every investor felt that to some degree, will take the edge off of it. All investors—not just your clients—are feeling the pain.
  • They haven’t lost until they sell—Those losses are only conceptual unless the client locks them in by selling at the bottom of the market. Sure, nobody knows where the bottom is, just like no one knew where the top was; time to break out the “10 best days in the market” and other sales idea to help them understand the risks associated with staying the course or selling after the market’s worst series of days.

The point is communication is better than not communicating. As speaker and financial advisor coach Richard Weylman says, “In the absence of communication, people always assume the worst.”

Don’t let them assume the worst about you and your relationship with them and their money.

Grow your AUM

As a final thought, consider Prince’s final suggestion for communication: use it as the foundation of a strategy to actually grow your assets under management.

How do you go about this?

Prince suggested that in your outreach you ask about client assets that are managed by an advisor or advisors other than you. (If I recall, Prince had compelling research that said most clients do have assets spread among two or more advisors.)

Have they heard from their other advisor?

Yes? What did she or he say?

No? How do they feel about that? Depending on their response, you may have the perfect opening to use that lack of communication to segue into a conversation about consolidating those assets with someone they trust and is there for them in good times or bad.

If not, simply take note and be sure to ask again when you reach out in your next touch during the Downturn of 2020.

Andy McMorrow is a financial services marketer with more than 20 years helping asset managers, institutional firms, and advisors engage clients and prospects to prepare for their financial futures.


Financial communications during the coronavirus crisis

I wish I had a magic bullet for your financial crisis communications during a time of coronavirus and big market declines. I don’t. But I want to help you, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to watch a March 18 webinar delivered by consultant Nick Richtsmeier, whose presentation at the 2019 NAPFA Fall Conference had impressed me. The webinar was called “Mediocrity is Viral. Differentiated Marketing During Turbulent Times” (replay available with free registration at the link).

Framework for financial crisis communications

Richtsmeier explained that businesses struggle with what to say and how to engage during a crisis. However, the ways that we and our companies respond tell clients what we’re really made of.

Individuals and companies respond to crises in one of three ways, said Richtsmeier: fight, freeze, or flight. A “fight” response reflects a need to change the status quo. However, fight responses may be seen as “careless or cavalier,” he said. “Freeze” is the most common response, in Richtsmeier’s experience, and the related lack of action can be seen as “unstable and fragile,” he said. Finally, the avoidance and “willingness to ignore the facts” associated with “flight” can be seen as “being out of touch with reality.”

None of these is a perfect solution. So, what’s a communicator to do? This is a time when knowing yourself, your audience, and your competency pays off, said Richtsmeier. He posed questions under the heading of “know your competency” that speak to what you should communicate. He asked what relevant knowledge you have that “can alleviate one or more of the five factors of trauma.” This translates into how you can achieve one of the following goals (also shown in the image below):

  • Reduce uncertainty
  • Minimize losses
  • Mitigate risk
  • Create connection
  • Inspire confidence
Doing the Internal Work

Posted with permission from CultureCraft. View the webinar at


Crisis advice for financial advisors

Many financial advisors say to “do nothing” at a time like this, and that’s a problem, Richtsmeier said.

I struggled with that statement because “stay the course” is the classic investment advice during a crisis. After all, most advisors aim to position client portfolios so they can weather market declines. They also allocate portfolios in light of clients’ short-term cash flow needs.

I asked Richtsmeier, what can advisors do? He said that some use techniques that actively seek opportunities in uncertain times. They can communicate that information. Later, he shared a LinkedIn post linking to an audio clip recorded by Patti Brennan of Key Financial as an example of a good communication.

If financial advisors are not going to buy or sell client investments right away, perhaps they should mention tax-loss harvesting, a topic that came up in Brennan’s audio clip. Or, they might talk about how clients can manage a crisis-related unexpected loss of income. For example, clients might take advantage of a home equity line of credit, defer a planned IRA contribution, or do something else that they can discuss with their advisor. (Please don’t look to me for cash flow advice. I’d ask my advisor for advice in this situation.)

Another Richtsmeier suggestion for advisors was to schedule more meetings—not in-person meetings, of course. And, to make those meetings more about asking questions than delivering answers. That squared with other advice for advisors that I discuss below.

More perspectives on advisor-client communications

As Steve Wershing said in a recent blog post on The Client Driven Practice, “How you act now has a big effect on client loyalty. The guidance you provide during difficult times is more valuable (and more appreciated) than what you do during good times.”

Here’s one of his tips:

Ask, don’t tell. It is unproductive to tell people how they should feel. Like dealing with an angry child or a despondent widower, trying to talk them out of their feelings may not be helpful. Their feelings are what they are. Instead, ask them what’s on their mind. Permit them to talk it out.

In his blog post, Wershing referred to a post on “What Your Clients Really Need Right Now” by Julie Littlechild of Absolute Engagement. She suggested staying away from conversations about why everything will turn out all right. She also said not to ask clients how they feel about the current crisis. That’s because it’s obvious how they’re feeling.

Littlechild said:

Wouldn’t it be better to help clients articulate how they’re feeling about the future [instead of about the current crisis] and then use that input to start a different conversation? You can do that through one-on-one discussions, an informal poll or as part of a more structured client feedback process.

She suggested asking three questions:

  • Confidence: How confident are you that you will reach your primary financial goals?
  • Control: How confident do you feel that you can positively impact your own financial future?
  • Clarity: How clear are you about your plans for retirement?

These questions could be quite powerful in directing clients’ attention to their long-range goals instead of short-term turbulence.

Advisors can also check out a video discussion between Littlechild and Bob Veres of Inside Information. Veres says it’s important to acknowledge clients’ fears as the “lizard brain” kicks in.

On a related note, advisors should be ready for a shift in one-on-one interactions with clients. In a press release aimed at marketers, research group Gartner said, “Externally, marketing organizations should be ready for rapid changes toward at-home and digital delivery of products and services.” I imagine this may accelerate the trend toward remote meetings via video or screensharing.

Your suggestions for financial crisis communications?

If you have suggestions on client communications during a crisis (or if you’ve read a great article on the topic), please let me know. I always enjoy learning from you.

Relevant posts from various sources

Prepare clients for market volatility

Prepare your clients for the fact that their portfolios will experience periods of disappointing performance. I often share this advice in my presentations on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” but I’m always seeking more specifics on how to do this. At the NAPFA Spring 2019 Conference, I picked up practical ideas for how financial advisors can achieve this.

Financial plan as source of certainty

In “Improving Investor Behavior Through Behavior Coaching,” Jay Mooreland of the Behavioral Finance Network touched briefly on how financial advisors can prepare investors for volatility. He suggested focusing on the financial plan as a source of certainty.

Talk less about performance, and more about the plan, he urged the audience. “Remind them that your plan accounts for this volatility,” he said. After all, as he said, we can’t control market volatility, the economy, or politics. We can, however, control our investment strategy and our behavior and our reactions. In fact, you can coach clients to view volatility as their friend. That’s because it gives people an opportunity to “buy low.”

Pre-commitment plan

Mooreland suggested creating a “pre-commitment plan.” Tell your clients you understand that it’s difficult to buy during volatility. That’s why you have clients commit in advance that if the market falls X%, they’ll move Y% into stocks. You can make plans for multiple levels of market declines. “From a behavioral standpoint, it can be powerful,” said Mooreland.

Mooreland also showed two market performance graphs that reinforced why investors shouldn’t let short-term volatility upset them. If you fell asleep on September 1, 2018, and woke up on Easter Sunday, 2019, the market would be at roughly the same level. That investor wouldn’t have experienced volatility.

The perception of volatility is a function of how often you look at the market, said Mooreland. The more often you look, the more often you’ll see what is ultimately a good investment look bad.

Use your communications to reduce the volatility and stress that your clients feel. Both you and your clients will benefit.

Avoid guarantees

Of course, don’t promise that the financial plan will protect clients from harm in any scenario. You know how the SEC feels about guarantees. Still, there’s plenty that you can do within the constraints imposed by the regulators.

Writing and preventable mistakes

“Does your advice stick?” is the title of an article by Moira Somers in the Journal of Financial Planning (May 2018). Based on her book, Advice That Sticks: How to Give Financial Advice That People Will Follow, it describes why clients fail to follow financial advice, and what advisors can do about it. Somers lists preventable mistakes that advisors make in their personal relationships with clients and prospects.

Some of the mistakes could seep into your writing, making it harder for clients and prospects to feel a connection with you. I highlight two of them below, with comments on how to address them.

Mistake 1. “Using incomprehensible jargon”

If people can’t understand what you’re saying, they can’t follow your advice.

If you’re not sure about the jargon level of your writing, you can run tests using Hemingway, the app I describe in “Free help for wordy writers!” You’ll find more tools in “Does your article pass these writing tests?

Even better, get a member of your target audience to read what you’ve written. Then, don’t just ask them, “Do you understand what I’ve written?” Ask them to summarize it in their own words. That’s the gold-standard test.

Somers suggests that you ask even more from members of your target audience. She says:

Start by taking every piece of written information you might give to a typical client and hand it over to four or five people—either existing clients or people who would be similar to them in major ways. Equip them with a marker and ask them to highlight every sentence whose content they do not fully understand. Compare the results. Redo those documents in client-friendly language.

That seems as if you’re asking a lot of those people. However, it would be a valuable exercise.

When you rewrite your documents, you may find it helpful to use the techniques in “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” and “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.” You can also consult “Glossaries for investment and economic jargon.

Mistake 2. “Allowing disapproval, disappointment, or disdain to taint the relationship”

Somers’ suggestion for this point focuses on in-person meetings. “Do a warmth audit of your team,” looking at “eye contact, nodding, and smiling.” Look at your writing through a similar lens.

Tone matters. Your blog posts and articles can suggest that your readers are making mistakes, but you shouldn’t imply “Oh, you idiot, stop making such stupid moves!”

I struggle with hitting the right tone as I write blog posts. It’s not easy. By saying that many people grapple with similar issues, I hope to avoid shaming people. After, most of my readers aren’t professional writers. It’s not reasonable to expect them to know the ins and outs of grammar, white papers, and the like.

Show empathy. You can do this focusing on the reader, suggests The Search Guru in “Discover how to show empathy in writing and why it’s important.” That means showing that you understand and empathize with the wants and/or needs of a relevant group of people.”

I offer more tips on this in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—”How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part One” and “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part Two.”


Purge these preventable mistakes from the writing you put in front of your clients and prospects! You’ll like the results.


Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.



Writing about the new tax legislation in your client letters

If you’re an investment or wealth manager, you and your clients will be affected by the tax legislation signed by President Trump on December 22, 2017.  You probably need to mention the legislation in your quarterly client letter or commentary. I think the language that you use to refer to the legislation will be important.

Your choices for how to refer to the tax law fall into three categories, as I see it.

  1. Neutral—tax legislation, tax bill, tax law, or the law’s formal name, which was originally the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
  2. Positive—tax reform, tax cuts
  3. Negative—tax cuts for the rich

What advisors and writers recommend

When I asked about on social media about writers’ choices, respondents preferred neutral language. Their suggestions included using the tax legislation’s official name. Financial writer Lisa Plotnick said,  “I refer to it by name for two reasons — to be neutral (as per my journalism training) and to make it easier for future readers to know the exact bill being referred to (the researcher in me).”

Most of my respondents seemed to believe, as I did, that the legislation’s formal name was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). But one of my readers questioned that. I learned that the name “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” violated the Senate’s Byrd Rule, according to CNN in “Senate rules force Republicans to go with lengthy name for tax plan.” As a result, said CNN, the bill got “stuck with the unwieldy name ‘To provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018.’ ” Despite this, you still might be able to get away with referring to the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” as the AICPA did in the Journal of Accountancy. That term is more likely to be recognized than “To provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018.” Still, if you refer to the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” people may not recognize that name. It’s safer to substitute something like “the tax legislation signed by President Trump on December 22, 2017.”

Another respondent said he refers to the Affordable Care Act instead of Obamacare, so he sees using TCJA as a comparable decision. The Affordable Care Act analogy raises the issue of the power of formal names to shape public perception. When talk show host Jimmy Kimmel had a crew interview people on the street about Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, people spoke much more favorably about the Affordable Care Act than Obamacare. This was true even though Obamacare is another name for the Affordable Care Act. Be aware of that when you use legislation’s formal name. Using the TCJA may not be as neutral as using a generic term.

Yet another respondent suggested that a firm’s compliance officer might flag your commentary if you use partisan language in discussing the legislation.

The risks and benefits to using positive or neutral language about the law

The risks stem from the fact that people feel strongly about the topic. If you seem to endorse or oppose the law, you may alienate readers.

On the other hand, if your clients and prospects are mainly in one camp or the other, partisan language may make your readers feel a deeper sense of connection with you. You sacrifice that opportunity, and perhaps lose authenticity, if you don’t use language that expresses your positive or negative views.

What newspapers do

As you may remember from “Financial jargon killer: The Wall Street Journal,” I suggest looking to newspapers for guidance on matters of writing style.

For example, a Wall Street Journal article published on Dec. 22 uses neutral language, but doesn’t use the law’s official name. It said, “President Donald Trump signed the 21% corporate tax rate into law Friday and Democrats are talking about which pieces of the bill they will keep and which they will toss aside should they assume power” (emphasis added).

In a quick scan of the Journal‘s website, the bill’s name seemed to appear more in opinion pieces and reports on the legislative process than in news articles. That may be because the name “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” is more agreeable to Republicans than to Democrats. Or perhaps it’s to save space because, as I said above, you need to describe what the act is if you use its official name.

On the website of The New York Times, a Dec. 22 Reuters article didn’t use the legislation’s formal name. Instead, it initially referred to “the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years.” However, later it used the positive term “tax reform” and referred to the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” in discussing Mallinckrodt’s filing discussing the legislation.

YOUR preference?

I’m curious. How will you refer to the tax legislation in your next client communication?

Dec. 28-29, 2018 update: I’ve edited this article to reflect the fact that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act isn’t the formal name of the law, as I and others had originally assumed. I also added a link to the Journal of Accountancy, which was sticking with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in an article published on Dec. 22.