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.


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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.


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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/


How to capture investment client questions when you lack access?

Investment commentary writers who lack direct access to clients may struggle to understand what’s on those clients’ minds. This makes it difficult for the writers to address those clients’ concerns in their commentary. What can you do in this situation?

I have some potential solutions to this challenge, which came up in a Q&A session for my presentation on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

1. Ask for feedback from the people with client contact

“What questions are your clients asking you?” This is a great question to ask the people who enjoy direct contact with the investor who use your company’s products or services. Open-ended questions like this may uncover totally new areas of interest and concern.

On the other hand, the question may be too vague to spark a memory among individuals who don’t routinely note client questions. Try asking more specific questions, such as what are your clients asking you about

  • Where to invest
  • Investments that worry them
  • Asset allocation
  • The economy
  • The effect of new taxes

When you get more specific, consider focusing on timely topics and your firm’s topical strengths.

2. Demonstrate the value of sharing information with you

What if the people in the middle aren’t communicative? A participant in one of my investment commentary programs said, “we ask our financial advisors but they won’t tell us.”

First, asking more specific questions, as I suggest above, may spur better responses.

Second, consider recruiting one person with client contact who can serve as an example of the value of sharing information. I imagine that you can find one person who’ll agree to help, especially when they understand that they’re not one of many people whom you’re asking for help. After all, they may have assumed that other people were feeding information to you.

Warning: If you take this approach, you should commit to following through on writing about at least one of your contact’s topics even if the client questions don’t seem worthy of incorporation in your next commentary.

For example, a client may ask a complex question about an investment strategy that accounts for a minuscule portion of your assets. Unless you can tie the answer to broader themes, it’s probably not worthy of incorporation in your commentary. However, the question rates an answer via phone or email. If the answer potentially has broader applications, you can share in on your website or a Q&A document.

Assuming you turn up a great client question, incorporate it in your commentary and give credit to the person who reported the question, assuming it’s okay with the reporter. Good behavior is contagious, as Chip Heath says in Switch. If you highlight and reward good behavior, more should follow.

3. Find opportunities to hear directly from clients

If you can sit in meetings with individual clients, that’s great. If that’s not possible, then look for opportunities to listen in group settings.

For example, you may send a strategist or asset class specialist to speak at events attended by users of your firm’s products or services. Ask if you can send a second person to attend the event. Observers can record client questions. They can also observe what parts of the presentation most intrigue or perplex the audience. That’s valuable information.

YOUR suggestions?

If you’ve successfully tackled this challenge, I’d like to hear from you. Please share your solution.


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Revisiting tired topics, with journalist Donald Murray

Financial bloggers sometimes ask me, “How can I take classic topics and make them sound new?”

As Donald Murray says in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work,Writing to Deadline by Donald Murray “All stories, even those in the Bible, are old stories. But there are ways that we can make them new, for the moment, both for our readers and for ourselves.”

Inspired by Murray’s sections on “Old Stories Seen in New Ways” and “Old Stories in a New Form,” I suggest some approaches for you.

1. “Change the angle of vision”

Look at your topic from a different person’s perspective. For journalists, Murray suggests that you “change the angle of vision from the senator to the senator’s aide, the view of the opponent, the voter, the lobbyist, the citizen affected by the vote.”

How can this apply to you? Let’s say you’re writing about education saving plans. Instead of writing from the perspective of the patients who are your clients, you could take the students’ perspective, in terms of issues such as how much control they’ll have over the funds. Or, you might look at how providers price the plans and their impact on the plan’s relative attractiveness.

2. Write a case study.

Murray suggests that you “focus on a single person.” You can apply this by writing a case study that shows how you’ve solved a problem for a specific person. Of course, make sure you don’t violate your clients’ privacy or your regulators’ rules about testimonials.

3. Look at rejected alternatives.

For journalists, Murray says, “Focus on the background instead of the foreground—the technology available, considered, rejected, and used in the trauma center.”

You can do the same thing with one of your topics. For example, if you prefer a certain kind of trust for transferring client assets, you might write about one or more of the trusts that you typically ignore.

4. “Tell the story through an interview.”

Interviews benefit from the fresh perspective and personality of someone new. Plus, they may offer specific details that your blog posts and articles lack. Consider interviewing someone who’s an expert in a technique, product, or service that you use.

Or, go to the other end of the spectrum to interview an individual who suffered because of their lack of expertise. An interview with an individual client might also demonstrate the benefits of something you recommend. A personal story can make the benefits seem more real. However, again I suggest that you check with your compliance expert to avoid violating the rules about testimonials.

5. Write the story in a different form.

Changing formats could give your topic new life. Murray suggests, “Write the story as a rhetorical form central to the story: a police report, a political speech, a company memo, a nursing report, a job application, a letter by a participant to a friend.”

For example, if you’re railing against a specific product or service, you could imagine a memo detailing the reasons why it’s good for the seller even if it doesn’t benefit the buyer.

Or, you might create a nursing home’s report on the finances and experiences of someone who bought long-term care insurance vs. someone who didn’t.

There are lots of possibilities. Another is the approach taken by Chuck Rylant in How to be Rich: The Couple’s Guide to a Rich Life Without Worrying About Money. Chuck wrote a fictional story to illustrate lessons of financial planning. However, when you write fiction, make sure you label it as fiction.

If you’ve used these techniques…

…I’m curious to learn about your experience with the techniques. How have they worked for you?

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.

Communicating your value to clients with Steve Lishansky

Focusing on your clients instead of your firm is something I hound my clients to do in their written communications. It’s also important in your sales conversations, as Steve Lishansky of Optimize International reminded me in his presentation, “Get Paid For Your Value: How to Attract, Win and Retain Clients Who Happily Pay You What You Are Worth,” to the New England Chapter of the National Speakers Association on March 8, 2014.

Steve told a story that made his point. Imagine you meet with two designers to redo your kitchen. One launches into a discussion of his great, technologically advanced tools. The other starts by asking, “What do you want to accomplish with your kitchen?”

Which designer would appeal more to you? Is there anyone who wouldn’t prefer the second designer?

Lishansky shared several questions that can help you connect with new prospects. They include the following:

  • What’s the most important result you’re looking for?
  • What are your biggest opportunities?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What are the most important measurements you’ll use to gauge your progress and success?

These questions place you on the “same side of the table” as your prospects, as together you uncover what matters to them.

This discovery also helps you to justify your fees. As Lishansky said, “when people see a chasm, they’re willing to pay you for a bridge.”

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