Do I need to use the (r) mark with my CFP designation?

“Do I need to use the ® mark with my CFP designation”? This question spurred me to do some research on whether one must always write “CFP®.”

When I was active as a reporter, I never used the ® mark. In fact, I rarely included an interviewee’s CFP designation because space was tight.

Upon doing research, I discovered that the rules for me as a reporter and blogger differ from the rules for you as a CFP certificant.

If you’re using your CFP designation in sales or advertising

Here’s what The Chicago Manual of Style says on its website:

Q. Is it proper or necessary to use the circled R each and every time the registered trademark name is used in a document? What is the correct usage for the symbol?

A. In publications that are not advertising or sales materials, all that is necessary is to use the proper spelling and capitalization of the name of the product. A trademark attorney can tell you when the use of the symbol is required.

From a legal standpoint, the key seems to be whether you’re using your designation in something that might be considered advertising.

The CFP Board’s stance on “CFP®

It appears that the CFP Board would like the circled R to appear with every use of the CFP mark, with the exception of “CFP Board.” As it says in its guidelines, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) is a company name or trade name, not a trademark, and therefore is not required to be displayed with the ® or ™ symbols.”

You can read general guidelines—and download detailed instructions—on the CFP Board’s website.

Will you land in trouble if you don’t abide by the guidelines? Maybe not, but do you want to annoy the body that issues a credential that’s important to you? Here’s the CFP Board’s response to my tweet on the topic.

CFP Board on using R with CFP designation

By the way, the CFP Board also has rules about what words you bundle together with “CFP®.” They ask you to use:

…one of CFP Board’s approved nouns (“certificant,” “professional,” “practitioner,” “certification,” “mark” or “exam”) unless directly following the name of the individual certified by CFP Board.

CFP practices at some big firms

For the heck of it, I searched “CFP” on the Merrill Lynch website. It yielded a sea of “CFP®” references. I didn’t see any CFPs without the mark.

The CFP certificants who popped up in a search on the Ameriprise Financial website also used the registered mark.

What about the CFA?

Doing this research made me worry about whether I’m supposed to use a mark when I write “Susan Weiner, CFA.” I learned that my current usage is fine, but there are cases where the CFA Institute would like me to use  the mark.

Here are some examples of proper usage from the CFA Institute’s web page about trademark usage:

  • John Smith is a CFA® charterholder.
  • Amy Jones, CFA, is a portfolio manager.
  • John Smith is a holder of the right to use the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation.

For more on the proper use of this designation, visit the CFA Institute’s page about trademark usage.

Your firm’s biographies

Doing this research made me realize that you should research the trademark status of the designations held by your financial firm’s employees. With research, you can make sure your firm’s bios conform with the rules.

Financial blogging tip: opinion + summary

If you’re a financial advisor who feels too busy to blog, you’ve got lots of company. It takes hours—maybe even days—to craft a finely tuned, completely original, 1,000-word article. RELAX. I’m not suggesting you write a literary masterpiece. I have a financial blogging tip that will save you time.

Short blog posts are fine. Especially when they also express an opinion and give a sense of who you are, two things that are key to attracting readers. You can do both in only 250 to 400 words. That’s as little as one double-spaced page. In fact, this is the length that I recommend to the beginning writers in my writing class, “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Class for Financial Advisors.”

One quick way to achieve this goal is to summarize and express a personal opinion about an article, blog post, or other brief communication.

Here’s a five-step process to write an opinion-plus-summary blog post.

financial blogging tips being typedStep 1: Find an article (or other short piece) about which you have strong feelings

At least for me, it has to be a piece to which I have a gut reaction. Like “This is nuts!” or “I love how this writer made the case for deflation.” Here’s a bonus financial blogging tip: It’s a lot easier to blog when you feel passionately about your topic.

Step 2: Identify the points that you want to make about the article

For example, “This is nuts because of reasons #1, #2, and #3.”

Step 3: Write an introduction that summarizes your topic

It should say the following in a few sentences:

  • The author says X in his article “NAME of ARTICLE with LINK TO IT ONLINE.”
  • The author makes some good points, but I disagree—or strongly agree—with a certain part of his argument.

Step 4: Summarize the parts of the author’s piece that are relevant to your argument

You don’t have to discuss the whole thing. Be selective. The nice thing about summaries is they’re relatively easy to write. After all, an author has already tried to organize thoughts logically for you. It’s fine to quote the author, but don’t copy too much or you’ll bore your reader and be vulnerable to accusations of copyright violation. For tips about “fair use” of other people’s content, see “Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.”

Step 5: Inject more of your opinion into the piece

You hinted at your opinion in your introduction. At some point, you’ve got to explain why you feel that way. Where you place your opinions depends on the flow of the blog post. For example, in “‘CFA credential implies a standard of care not always upheld,’ says Forbes opinion piece,” I spent three paragraphs summarizing the article before elaborating on the opinion I’d briefly expressed in my introduction.

Follow the five steps in this financial blogging tip, and you can write compelling blog posts more quickly than your colleagues who begin by staring at a blank monitor.

If you’re interested in learning how to write better financial blog posts, register now for “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Class for Financial Advisors.”

 

This article was originally posted as a guest post on the Wired Advisor blog, which no longer exists in its original form.

Image courtesy of Goldy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blogging Q&A with David Merkel of Aleph Blog

I met investment manager David Merkel when he contacted me about speaking to Baltimore’s CFA Society. I’ve noticed that his Aleph Blog posts frequently get picked up in investment blogs’ roundups, including Tadas Viskanta’s Abnormal Returns. Having met many people who blog in the hope of attracting clients, I was intrigued by David’s statement on his blog that “…though David runs Aleph Investments, LLC, this blog is not a part of that business. This blog exists to educate investors, and give something back. It is not intended as advertisement for Aleph Investments; David is not soliciting business through it.” This is a good reminder that advisors blog for many reasons.

By the way, David was a wonderful host for my presentation earlier this year. He has also reviewed my book on his blog.

This Q&A is part of a series that started with Michael Kitces.

Q. When did you start The Aleph Blog and why do you explicitly state that it’s separate from Aleph Investments?

A. I started Aleph Blog in February 2007 because I wanted to develop my own voice. I had written successfully at RealMoney.com for four years, and wanted to broaden my writings.

Aleph Blog is purely for the public good. That has been the goal from day one. There are many people that want a trustworthy investment advisor with talent. They contact me of their own desire.

Q. Has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships?

A. Yes, my blog has brought new business. Many of my clients came from reading what I wrote over the long-term. But I don’t sell my readers on my abilities. To do so is tawdry. I don’t like being sold to, so I don’t sell to my readers.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business or boosted your readership?

A. Can’t say. Aleph Blog is varied in what it writes about. I know this is a challenge for some readers, but I write about what I feel more strongly. I have a broad set of interests, so I may not be the best as far as marketing goes.

I have not tried to boost readership artificially. I’m not out for fame. I just try to produce good content, and let the readers do what they will. I do know that I have respect from most of the top bloggers.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts?

A. I have written many effective blog posts. I wait a year before I declare them to be such. You can read them here: http://alephblog.com/category/best-articles/

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Define your period over which you generate articles. You can generate a lot of little articles every day, or you can generate one significant article once a month. Or you can do something in-between. But be regular, or people will forget about you.

Second, write about what you feel most strongly. And if you don’t have a strong feeling, don’t write.

Blogging Q&A with advisor Lazetta Rainey Braxton

Lazetta Rainey Braxton’s plainspoken style makes her writing very appealing. She notes that writing about basic financial planning topics has “attracted DIY clients who are ready to deepen their financial planning efforts.” Her blogging experience also shows the value of sharing your content in different places, including distribution through the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council and an e-newsletter. Lazetta is the founder and CEO of Financial Fountains in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m delighted to share her insights in this Q&A, the latest in a series on this blog that started with Michael Kitces.

Q. When did you start your blog?

A. Your Financial Haven was launched December 2010 to encourage individuals to build their own financial haven in the midst of changing economic conditions. The blog’s mission is to offer a safe space for individuals to read, reflect, and respond in their own way to financial issues affecting their lives. The content focuses on enhancing knowledge and providing reassurance as individuals strengthen their financial position and move closer to reaching their goals.

Q. How long have you been publishing with CNBC as part of their Digital FA Council? I saw one of your posts on NBR.com. Does everything from CNBC.com get republished on NBR.com?

A. The CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council is the brainchild of CNBC Digital’s senior editor at large Jim Pavia (former editorial director at Investment News). In October 2013, Jim invited 20 financial advisors to assist with providing CNBC Digital content related to long-term financial planning. Blogs written by Council members are posted on CNBC.com’s Financial Advisor Hub. CNBC Digital recently launched a digital newsletter, Your Wealth, that will also feature the Council’s blogs. As a member of the Council, I have been granted permission to share my CNBC postings in our firm’s newsletters, noting permission granted by CNBC Digital.

CNBC’s cross-platform initiative encourages content sharing among CNBC’s media partners. NBR.com elected to post my blog “Financial Planning: Not just for Uber-Rich” on its website. On a related note, Andrew Osterland’s CNBC Digital interview with me, which discussed budgeting, was republished by USAToday.com. Postings in various media outlets are certainly a great bonus!

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships?

A. I started using MailChimp in November 2013 to increase the readership of my firm’s blog among prospective and current clients. The CNBC.com budgeting article was published in my firm’s January 2014 Your Financial Haven newsletter. This newsletter generated great excitement among my clients and friends. The partnership with CNBC Digital enhanced my credibility as a financial planner and gave my clients and friends bragging rights in a new way. I did experience new referrals from clients and friends since my first CNBC.com newsletter posting.

NBR.com shows the number of times an article is shared via social media channels. At this time, CNBC.com does not have this feature. The Council does not receive data regarding how many readers viewed the site.

Given CNBC Digital’s viewership, this opportunity rekindled my commitment to blog more frequently. Prior to this invitation, my blog postings were quite sporadic. Now, my goal is to write a monthly post to garner new and nourish the existing interest and referral momentum of readers.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. Writing about topics that are on the minds of my target clients has been a good strategy. I often direct prospective and new clients to blog postings to support the framework for their financial planning concerns. Core financial planning topics such as budgeting and saving, combining household finances, preparing for college expenses, retirement planning, small business planning, and working with a financial planner have attracted DIY clients who are ready to deepen their financial planning efforts. On several occasions, my firm represents a client’s first experience with working with a financial planner.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

I have a great appreciation for blogs with technical content written in layman’s terms. I am most excited about financial planning blogs which combine the heart and mind from a practical perspective.

Financial Advisors: Differentiate Yourself By Being Yourself: This is a post by Tim Maurer. His overall approach to financial planning is very refreshing. He defies industry norms. This particular blog post helps me stay true to my holistic view of financial planning.

Financial planning: Not just for uber-rich: This blog posting gave me an opportunity to express in a subtle way why I became a financial planner. Coming from a very modest background, my life’s desire is to help elevate financial wellness and literacy among underserved and underrepresented populations. These overlooked and misunderstood populations often have favorable income and access to significant resources. I truly believe that “Everyone should have confidence in their finances and a financial plan that can help them live a comfortable life. So I ask: Why not you?”

What is Your Relationship with Your Investments?: Zaneilia Harris’ blog, Finance ‘N Stilettos, does a great job with reaching her target audience. This posting clearly defines the benefits of long-term investing in a very practical way.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Know your writing style and be consistent. I find writing to be a slow birthing process; it takes a few days for me to formulate a good draft and a final version. I designate time each morning during a planned week for writing and editing. My blogger colleagues suggest having an editorial calendar and inviting other guest bloggers. These are great concepts that I intend to implement.

Blogging requires a consistent rhythm as expected by blog followers. It also requires creative spins on content that is easily accessible in a digital world. It is a task that does not necessarily offer immediate gratification in the form of viewer responses, particularly if you close comments due to compliance concerns. The process is easier if you truly enjoy the personal satisfaction that comes from the writing experience. This elevates the likelihood of consistent, thoughtful writing.

Mind mapping your way to client appreciation: An FPA article

Mind mapping has rescued me many times. “A mind map can be a complexity buster, translator, connector and simplifier,” as mentioned in the online blurb for the article discussed below.

Mission: Map a Better Client Value Relationship” describes how one advisor uses mind maps to help clients understand why they should pay for work other than money management. Essentially, creating a mind map helps clients to visualize the value of other services provided by their advisors. This article by Gary Klaben of Proninus appeared in the Jan./Feb. issue of the Financial Planning Association’s Practice Management Solutions magazine. I suggest you read the article.

For more on mind mapping, check out the following blog posts or learn to use mind maps as a writing tool in “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Lesson Writing Class for Financial Advisors.”

Most popular 2011 Investment Writing posts

Google Analytics revealed my most popular blog posts of 2011. Wordle.net created the image of the most popular words in this top 10 post. Enjoy!

  1. Writing resources for equity research analysts–There are some specialized resources for analysts.
  2. My fill-in-the-blanks approach for structuring articles–Bloggers can use this powerful technique to quickly produce a post.
  3. Career strategies for wealth managers without a book of business–My CFA charterholder colleagues contributed valuable advice to this article.
  4. White paper marketing: Walk a fine line–There are three key characteristics of white papers.
  5. Quick check for writers, with an economic commentary example–An easy-to-use technique for checking whether your writing is easy to read.

    Image created using Wordle.com

  6. The 10-postcard approach to financial advisor marketing
  7. Mark Tibergien’s one thing for financial advisors’ business improvement
  8. Best practices for institutional asset manager websites
  9. Financial advisor prescription by Statman evokes strong response
  10. Mind mapping technology for financial advisors

Guest post: “A Magazine Editor’s Top Tips for Improving Advisors’ Writing”

Morningstar is a company that values good writing as well as robust content. So I’m delighted to have Ryun Patterson, managing editor of Morningstar Advisor, as a guest blogger with some great tips to help advisors improve their writing.

A Magazine Editor’s Top Tips for Improving Advisors’ Writing

By Ryun Patterson

As our team assembles Morningstar Advisor magazine every other month, I read and edit lots of investment-related writing. This experience (as with most reading) has given me some strong opinions on what constitutes good finance writing and what is, shall we say, suboptimal. One of Morningstar’s core values is “Investors Come First,” so I’d love to share some tips that advisors can keep in mind when they’re writing for their clients or the general public.

Do: Simplify

Advisors read a lot of technical writing, from white papers to prospectuses. This familiarity can lead to imitation, but unless you’re writing a white paper or prospectus, you should avoid the temptations of jargon and alphabet soup. Yes, it sounds extremely classy (fancy and sophisticated, even) to say that something is “accumulating size,” but it’s really just growing. And the allure of ROAs, ROEs, and ROICs is great, but your writing will be better understood, especially in shorter pieces, if you just spell these abbreviations out. You readers may not thank you for it, but they’ll definitely read the whole article instead of quitting in frustration halfway through.

Don’t: Assume

The ranks of advisors and investors has grown so much in the past couple of decades that investing writers have got to stop making assumptions about their audience. The use of figures of speech that are normally reserved for sports broadcasters is a prime culprit here. Football fans might easily understand “keep your head on a swivel,” but the audience for investment writing has grown to the point that this kind of language can now be a barrier to comprehension rather than a connection formed through a shared interest. This extends to commentary that extends to political and religious references as well; being “politically correct” doesn’t have to be a priority, but readers will lose sight of genuine wisdom if it’s cloaked in a contentious point of view.

Do: Explain

There’s a class of investment words that pose as regular words but pull double-duty in the investment world to describe complex ideas. One example pulled from Morningstar’s writing guide is the word “duration.” Because this word has the temerity to be both noun that regular folks use in everyday conversation AND a noun that represents a measure of interest-rate sensitivity, Morningstar writers and editors always write “duration, a measure of interest-rate sensitivity” on first reference, just to make it clear that this duration is not your standard one. A little bit of thought in this arena goes a long way, as do hyperlinks or referrals to sites like Investopedia or Morningstar.com’s investing classroom.

Don’t: Dumb Down

Advisors writing for their clients or other investors should embrace the chance to be educators. Topics like basic asset allocation are no-brainers for investing professionals, but the key to explaining these isn’t using phrases like “everybody knows that…” or, more extremely, “Only an idiot would…” Instead, use concrete facts and figures to show, rather than tell, your readers why investing basics exist. This kind of communication is the best way to form a resonant, lasting relationship with your readers. Nobody likes to be patronized, and investors that feel like alienated idiots are less likely to ask important questions when it’s time to make important decisions.

Recommended Reading

If you’ve got a day for reading and want to improve your writing, there’s no better book I can recommend than Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. It’s less than 100 pages long, but it’s as essential for writers as Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis is for investing professionals. It has never steered me wrong, and it can do a lot for any aspiring writer.

Ryun Patterson is managing editor of Morningstar Advisor magazine, the magazine of investment insights for independent-minded advisors. Advisors can get a free subscription by going to Morningstaradvisor.com and clicking the “Subscribe” link on the upper right-hand side of the page.

The 10-postcard approach to financial advisor marketing

If you receive 10 postcards from productivity expert Jason Womack, it means you’re on his “most wanted” list of prospective clients. This seems like a strategy that financial advisors could adopt.

For 10 consecutive weeks after meeting a hot prospect, Womack sends a postcard to the prospect, as I learned in a video clip from his April 2011 presentation to the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He told me more when we traded tweets.

Each postcard contains a practical tip, with a link to a web page with additional information on the topic.

After 10 weeks, the prospects surely recognize his name. If Womack has hit their hot buttons, they will want to learn more.

This strategy poses two challenges for financial advisors, which I address below.

1. Where to obtain the content?

If you’re a financial blogger, you have content. The best content for a long-term campaign is “evergreen,” meaning it never gets outdated. You can print a teaser line on the front of a postcard, and then provide a short URL to input for more details.

I can imagine some of advisor Roger Wohlner’s blog posts working as postcards.

Six Investing Mistakes to Avoid” could go on the postcard’s front. On the back? Some teaser copy along with a link to the complete list of mistakes on his website.

If you’re not a blogger, you can license other people’s content and link to it on your website. Forefield‘s articles seem popular among advisors for this purpose.

2. How to create the postcard?

If you’re a low-volume postcard sender, you can start by designing and printing them in your office. I’ve used Vistaprint.com for my promotional postcards. I picked a template and input text. I’m not techno-geek, so you can rest assured that it’s pretty easy to do.

If you’ve successfully used postcards to market your services–or if you have ideas about how to tweak this approach to make it work better–I’d like to hear from you. Please comment below.

For another postcard-related tip, visit “How to connect with your workshop attendees.”

Guest post: “Why use a mind map with clients?”

A mind map can be a great tool for communicating with your financial planning or wealth management clients. Some people absorb information better in visual than written form. Even word geeks like me find mind maps useful. So I’m happy to have Alex Murguia, managing principal of McLean Asset Management, explain how you can benefit from using a mind map to create a visual display of the most important information about each client.

Not sure what a client mind map looks like? Alex has provided a generic example. You can click on it to view it in greater detail.

Why use a mind map with clients?

By Alex Murguia

Creating and sharing a client mind map shows client that you have the extensive knowledge about them that’s necessary to steer them through their financial lifecycle. This helps you overcome a common barrier to referrals as well as deepening your relationships with clients. Only 15% of clients feel their advisors are very knowledgeable about their entire situation, according to Breaking Through: Building a World Class Wealth Management Business by John J. Bowen, Jr., Patricia J. Abram, and Jonathan Powell. Over the course of a year, advisors with a perceived high level of client knowledge generated about eight referrals from clients compared to three and two referrals respectively for advisors with medium and low levels of client knowledge.

However, you won’t reap the benefits if you fail to communicate to clients your encyclopedic knowledge of their personal lives. A mind map expresses this knowledge effectively and elegantly to your clients.

At McLean Asset Management, we begin the mind mapping process in our first prospect meeting. We inform our prospect that we will ask a series of questions to determine if we are a good fit to provide value to their current situation and goals. With a pad and pencil in hand, we begin our semi-structured interview that covers various aspects of a financial life. We specifically want to have a discussion concerning a client’s values, objectives, important relationships, assets, other advisors that they work with, processes that they like, and personal interests. Each discussion topic is a node on the map that expands into subsequent branches dependent on the topic and answers.

Click on this mind map sample to view it more clearly

A mind map has important advantages over traditional note taking during the discovery process and subsequent progress meetings because:

1. It helps us drill down to a client’s key issues faster and more accurately.

2. It captures information quickly, yet in a highly organized format.

3. It makes it easy to link and cross-reference very different, yet connected, pieces of our client’s financial picture.

4. It involves clients more deeply in the discovery process.

5. It provides a basis for moving forward, with clear goals and next steps.

6. It provides you with a document that is fast and easy to review.

Unexpectedly, in about one-quarter of our discovery meetings, a client makes a point to convey a positive comment about the map.  During our second prospect meeting, we hand the potential client mind map printout for review. This is also an implicit reminder that we listen to our clients.

Mind maps are also great to show a client’s other advisors (i.e., potential referral sources for us) during brainstorming sessions about possible client solutions. Update meetings always begin with a review of the mind map. This serves as a reminder that we are best positioned to make financial decisions that impact a client’s life because we are a trusted advisor that knows all about what is important to him or her.

Alex Murguia is Managing Principal of McLean Asset Management, a wealth management firm in Northern Virginia, and CEO of Instream Solutions. He tweets as @alexmurguia1.

Independent vs. wirehouse approach to social media

Want to hear from two of the women who are pioneering social media use in financial services? Watch this webcast featuring Cathy Curtis of Curtis Financial, an independent advisor, and Lauren Boyman, director of social media for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. The webcast was organized by LinkedIn.

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear Curtis identify the form of social media that has helped her the most in connecting with prospective clients. She also mentions an interesting measurement of her social media success: The large number of prospects who find her small independent firm through a Google search.

Curtis keeps her content 80% business and 20% personal. The personal content focuses on food and wine. There’s nothing like one of her @CurtisFinancial foodie tweets to make me hungry.

Boyman discusses her firm’s strategy of providing pre-approved content to start conversations. Once that content starts the conversation, there will be more leeway for personalization. This is because a Twitter conversation, for example, moves away from being “static content” that requires pre-approval. It will be interesting to see how much flexibility the firm’s advisors actually receive.

Boyman’s firm will provide a calendar and worksheets to advisors. This sounds like an idea independent financial advisors could benefit from adapting.

To read about some of the webcast’s high points, plus some analysis of the webcast, go to Pat Allen’s “Personal Or Turnkey? This Must-Watch Video Presents 2 Very Different Approaches To Social Media.”