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

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: fight, freeze, or flight, said Richtsmeier. 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 can you 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 https://www.culturecraftagency.com/crisisbranding.

 

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.

Communicate with your clients about their legacy

When you’re a financial advisor, you can deepen your relationship with clients when you learn more about their values and the legacy they’d like to leave. That’s one of the reasons Kathleen Burns Kingsbury encourages you to conduct legacy conversations with your clients. She suggests a list of questions in her book, Breaking Money Silence: How to Shatter Money Taboos, Talk Openly about Finances, and Live a Richer Life. Her list is reproduced with permission at the bottom of this blog post. (By the way, if you enjoy this post, check out Kingsbury’s presentation to the NAPFA Fall Conference in Orlando later this month. I’m looking forward to it.)

Advisors, start with yourselves!

In an interview conducted via email, Kingsbury explained why she suggests that advisors start by answering these legacy questions for themselves.

Advisors are people too! Just like their clients, there can be a tendency to avoid talking about their legacy plans with loved ones.  Answering these questions is a great way for advisors to start this dialogue with their own families, as well as gain some insight into what the experience of answering these inquiries may be like for their clients.

One area that may be particularly helpful for advisors are the questions related to their business and their plans for their practice once they retire. If an advisor has not done any succession planning, then it may be challenging for them to hold their clients accountable to do the same.  Anyone who has seen me speak or read my previous books and articles, knows that I firmly believe that the best advisors are the ones who are emotionally intelligent and have insight into both their strengths as well as potentially blind spots when it some to financial communication.

She also noted that if advisors personally experience the value of completing the questionnaire, they’re more likely to present it to clients in a compelling way.

Introducing the questions to your clients

Burns Kingsbury suggests introducing this questionnaire to your clients as a tool to assist them in preparing to discuss their legacy plans with their children. She said:

As many of the clients will be couples, the idea is for both partners to answer the questions separately, then for the advisor to facilitate a dialogue between the partners about shared values, intentions, and ideas around end-of-life care and preparing their heirs to receive wealth. This provides the couple (and the advisor) with a structured way to begin their journey of communicating important emotional and financial data to the next generation. Once the couple has agreed or found common ground in some or all of these areas, they will feel more prepared to communicate these values and their intentions to their children and/or grandchildren.

The questionnaire can be a take-home exercise for your clients—I think that’s how I’d prefer to fill it out—or you can ask the questions in person.

Success stories

I was intrigued that the legacy question list starts with success stories. Kingsbury said,

Advisors find that when they ask their clients to share their success story with their children, that some people are resistant at first to do so. This tends to be a generational phenomenon with people from the traditional and later boomer generations feeling that sharing their financial successes is a form of bragging. But when the advisor explains that telling the next generation your success story is a great way to identify and share your core values, they tend to be more open to do so.

Pushback and pitfalls

I wondered if clients ever resist answering the questionnaire. Kingsbury said,

The only pushback comes from clients who are very resistant to thinking about their mortality. If this occurs, then the advisor can simply focus on the question around the client’s success story first, or give the questions as a take-home assignment. Sometimes it takes clients a while to see the value of these conversations but with gentle persistence over time, most find this process not only helpful but also rewarding. Families who have engaged in this type of money talk are often very glad they have done so, especially once a parent becomes ill or dies.

I also asked if there are pitfalls advisors should avoid. Kingsbury said,

With any client inquiry, it is important for advisors to be focused on listening to the client’s responses, and asking clarifying questions to fully understand their client’s intended responses. It is vital that you suspend any judgments during this exercise. There are not right or wrong answers to these questions, just the one’s your clients provide.

I would also encourage advisors to refrain from self-disclosure unless a client asks for this information directly. For some people, knowing more about the advisor’s mindset is useful, but for most it can be a way of deflecting or trying to find out data to provide the “right” answer to please the advisor. Remember that these are not simple inquiries so if the client can only answer a few of the questions initially, that is okay. The goal of this exercise is to help facilitate meaningful reflection and conversation over the course of time, not to just fill in the blanks.

Benefits of legacy conversations

Wrapping up, Kingsbury described what she sees as the benefits of advisors conducting legacy conversations.

The more an advisor can learn about a client’s values and feelings about their wealth and legacy, the better. This helps the professional foster trust, and shows the clients that he or she cares about more than just making money off their investments. Conversations about these important aspects of life and aging will demonstrate to your new and existing clients that you want to help them in a holistic way (a very female-friendly practice) and differentiate your services from other more transaction-oriented advisors and fintech offerings.

These questions and the accompanying conversation are great to use to prepare for or as part of a family meeting. This helps the advisor begin to develop a relationship with their clients’ children. Overall this type of money talk is good for the clients and great for the advisor’s business. And most importantly, it helps advisors empower their clients to break money silence in their lives. Ultimately that is the goal of my new book and more work going forward.

Legacy questions

Reproduced with permission from Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, Breaking Money Silence: How to Shatter Money Taboos, Talk Openly about Finances, and Live a Richer Life

  1. Your Success Story

a. What is your personal or family success story, and how does this story express your core values?

b. What are the financial lessons embedded in this story?

c. What other family stories may be helpful to communicate to your family? These may include successes, but also mistakes and lessons learned.

2. Your Core Values

a. What are the three most important personal or family values you want to pass down to the next generation?

b. What makes these values important to you?

c. What stories or examples from your own life may help communicate these values to your heirs?

3. Your Charitable Giving

a. How do you view philanthropy and charitable giving as part of your legacy?

b. What charitable organizations do you currently give to and what organizations might you include in your estate plan?

c. What type of gifts (include financial and non-financial) would you like to give the next generation and when do you plan to gift them?

4. Your Business (for business owners only)

a. Do you have a business succession plan? If not, what is your rationale for not having one? If you do have one, what did you learn in the process of developing it?

b. Who will inherit the business, or will you sell your business? Is there a buy-sell agreement in place and if not, when will that be drafted?

c. Have you communicated your intentions to your family and key stakeholders? Why or why not?

5. Your Estate Plan

a. Do you have a will and/or an estate plan? If so, has it been reviewed in the last year? If not, when do you plan to draft one?

b. Have you shared your end-of-life wishes and health directives with the next generation?

c. If not, when do you plan to have this conversation? Who can you enlist to help facilitate this dialogue?

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

What are your top challenges in writing investment commentary?

As I prepare to deliver a June presentation on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” I’m thinking about how to help you beat your challenges.

Please help me to think about this topic by answering my brief survey about investment commentary. I invite you to identify your top challenges and share tips in the survey. If you prefer, you can share your ideas as comments on this post.

Your comments will inspire my teaching on this topic. An earlier, longer survey on my blog became the basis of “Ideal quarterly letters: Meaningful, specific, and short.”

Folks have already raised some interesting topics in discussions. For example:

  • How can I write commentary that’s original?
  • How can I discuss timely yet sensitive topics without offending people?
  • How can I write long-form commentary for an audience that’s suffering from ADD?

I’m planning to allow lots of time for Q&A in my June 22 webinar, “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

Early Bird pricing ends June 2

Register now to take advantage of Early Bird pricing on my June 22 webinar, which runs from 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern. If you’re not available at that time, you can register and watch the recording.

Visit the webinar’s web page for an overview of the program, testimonials, frequently asked questions, and more details.

Susan Weiner presents at NYSSA 2013

 

Quit hiding your meaning!

Don’t make it hard for your readers to understand your meaning.  Speak directly to your readers instead of hiding your meaning with nouns, passive verbs, and indirect references.

A letter quoted by Joseph M. Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace illustrates failures you can find in financial writing. His solution can also help financial writers.

Bad example: automotive recall letter

Williams skewers his example of an automotive recall letter as “an example of how writers can simultaneously meet legal requirements and ignore ethical obligations.” What did the writer do wrong? Williams says, “The author—probably a committee—nominalized all the verbs that might make a reader anxious, made most of the rest of the other verbs passive, and then deleted just about all references to the characters, particularly to the manufacturer.” “Nominalization” means turning a verb into a noun.

Here are two sentences from his example to give you an idea of what he’s talking about:

A defect which involves the possible failure of a frame support plate may exist on your vehicle. This plate (front suspension pivot bar support plate) connects a portion of the front suspension to the vehicle frame, and its failure could affect vehicle directional control, particularly during heavy brake application.

Partial rewrite of automotive recall letter

Williams suggests the following new sentence as a partial replacement for the sentences above:

If you brake hard and the plate fails, you will not be able to steer your car.

Williams’ suggestion is much clearer than the original—and way scarier for the reader.

Let’s look at some of the original wording and his replacements to see the techniques Williams used.

  • The original sentence’s “Heavy brake application” becomes “If you brake hard.” Williams undoes the original’s nominalization by turning a noun, “brake application,” back into a verb, “brake.” He also adds “you,” putting the reader in the sentence.
  •  “Its failure could affect vehicle directional control” becomes “You will not be able to steer your car.” Williams changes “vehicle directional control” to “steer” and again puts the reader in the sentence.

Mutual fund prospectus example: before and after

I looked at fund prospectuses. In a quick search, I didn’t find anything as bad as Williams’ example.

Here’s one example with room for improvement:

Many emerging markets have histories of political instability and abrupt changes in policies. As a result, their governments may be more likely to take actions that are hostile or detrimental to private enterprise or foreign investment than those of more developed countries, including expropriation of assets, confiscatory taxation or unfavorable diplomatic developments. Some emerging countries have pervasive corruption and crime that may hinder investments. Certain emerging markets may also face other significant internal or external risks, including the risk of war, and ethnic, religious and racial conflicts. In addition, governments in many emerging market countries participate to a significant degree in their economies and securities markets, which may impair investment and economic growth. National policies that may limit the Fund’s investment opportunities include restrictions on investment in issuers or industries deemed sensitive to national interests.

You can simplify the emerging markets example to something like, “Emerging-markets investments are riskier than investments in developed markets because their governments have historically been less stable and more like to meddle in their economies and stock markets.”

Actually, to be fair, higher up on the page, the prospectus says, “The risks of foreign investments are usually much greater when they are made in emerging markets.” On the other hand, you could be even more direct by saying, “You have a greater risk of losing money when you invest in emerging markets instead of developed markets.”

Do YOU have a favorite poorly written disclosure?

If you have a great example of a poorly written financial disclosure, please share it with me. Perhaps it will inspire a future blog post.

 

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

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Financial Blogging book

Click on the image or go to InvestmentWriting.com/book for details.

 

Fonts: By the numbers

The look of your financial reports makes a difference in the effectiveness of your communication. Fonts are part of your toolkit, as Professor Joyce Walsh explains in her guest post.

Fonts: By the numbers

By Professor Joyce Walsh, Boston University, College of Communication

Walsh_JoyceFor financial professionals, numbers are the heart and soul of client communications. But working with them in documents, presentations and online can be painful. Anyone who’s wasted an hour trying to get the decimal points to line up in a vertical column knows what I’m talking about.

Fortunately, there are ready solutions to numerical challenges. And they come from an unlikely source: your choice of font. You’ve probably spent some time considering the right font for your written material. (If you haven’t, you can read this paper I wrote about typography for financial professionals.) But the right font can also make your numerical life much easier—and your client reports and marketing material more effective.

If you’re having trouble with numbers in your documents and presentations, here are solutions to five common problems:

Problem #1: My numbers don’t align properly in columns

Arranging a column of numbers is a standard feature of most financial and investment reports. Whether you’re showing the market caps of your top 10 holdings or presenting a balance sheet, your figures need to stack up in an orderly way, with all decimal points in vertical alignment. If yours don’t, it’s because your font choice uses proportional figures, where each character varies in width. When 8s take up more space than 1s, your column will never line up properly.

The solution: Use a font that offers tabular figures, where each number is the same width on the page, and 1s take up the same horizontal space as 8s. If your default font doesn’t have a tabular option, consider investing in one that does or use a different, complementary font when presenting a numbers in a column. Many font families, like Gotham, offer both proportional and tabular options.

Pro tip: Not sure whether font figures are proportional or tabular? Here’s a quick way to find out: Type a line of 1s, then type a line of 0s underneath it. If the two lines end at the same place, the numbers are tabular.

Problem #2: When I bold a number in a column, it bulges out

Using bold is a great way to call attention to a significant number. But even if you’re using tabular figures, doing so can still throw a column out of alignment. If this happens to you, it’s because your font doesn’t have weight-duplexing figures.

The solution: Invest in a font that offers weight-duplexing, a feature that allows bold numbers to stack without bulging out of columns. Whitney, a font by Hoefler & Co., is a good example.

Pro tip: Speaking of bulging—10- and 12-digit numbers are common in today’s financial world, and they can wreak havoc in the best of layouts. Consider using a font that offers condensed numbers, which are designed to fit big numbers into narrow spaces without losing their readability or visual appeal.

Problem #3: When I use numbers in the body of a report, the spacing doesn’t look right

Financial professionals often use figures within the body of a report. And, yes, sometimes they just look off—the spacing seems out of whack or the numbers appear to be larger or smaller than the surrounding words. That’s probably because you’re using tabular figures instead of proportional ones. Within any font family, proportional figures are more like letters in their overall shape and appearance, and they tend to be more evenly spaced.

The solution: Always use proportional figures in running text or the body of a document. Their variable width makes them easier to read and lends a more harmonious feel to the content.

Pro tip: Beware of fonts with old-style figures, where the numbers approximate the size and shape of lowercase letter forms. While they work in a sentence, they look tiny and out of place in ALL CAP headlines. You’re safer with a font that offers lining figures, which are all-cap height and work well everywhere. Fortunately, most common system fonts default to lining figures.

Problem #4: I need more currency symbols for my reports

As the global economy expands to include emerging and frontier markets, forward-looking financial professionals need a font that goes beyond the dollar, pound, euro and yen to include symbols for currencies such as rupees, pesos and the new shekel. While it is possible to enter special numbers and codes to produce them, the process is slow and labor-intensive. If you use international currency symbols frequently, it’s just not practical.

The solution: Invest in a font family with extended currency symbols. Gotham, Mercury and Whitney are good examples of fonts with a wide range of monetary symbols.

Pro tip: If you want to make your articles, reports and presentations more useful and attractive for your audience, consider purchasing a font family that offers an extended character set. These typically include vertical and diagonal fractions, ordinals, and advanced mathematical and statistical symbols. Some even come with indices—circles with numbers in them—a very handy item if you want to compare plot points on a graph or add a distinctive touch to financial footnotes and disclosure references.

Problem #5: I need charts in my WordPress blog

The solution: You can apply the principles discussed above and post your charts as graphic files, such as JPGs or PNGs.

Pro tip: If you want to create charts and graphs while in WordPress, you will need a plugin. The WordPress Chart plugin is free and customizable, but is not user-friendly. Visualizer is also a free WordPress Plugin but is much easier to use. Just save your Excel XLS file as a CSV file. Then create a chart in the WordPress editor by selecting Add Media > Visualizations. To display the chart, simply add its shortcode to your post.

 

About Professor Joyce Walsh

Professor Walsh’s work has been featured in publications, exhibitions and corporate art collections around the world. Her book, Graphic Design Essentials: Skills, Software and Creative Strategies, was the first book to combine design fundamentals with creative software skills

Business data analyzing image courtesy of alexisdc/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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