Paraplanner big day out

Three things that get in the way of writing clear, client friendly and compliant reports.

Last month I ran a session at the Paraplanner Assembly’s Big Day Out with Mel Holman from CATS on the “Three things that get in the way of writing clear, client friendly and compliant reports.”  I wanted to share what I have noticed whilst running my Communicate for Impact courses.

However, first I asked what the audience felt the barriers were. We could have gone on much longer, but here’s some of what was said:

  • Technical terms – they are often hard to spot because they’re used everyday.
  • Office speak – ie what’s deemed “professional”
  • Advisers and their preferences – especially if you work for an outsourced paraplanning agency as they’re your client
  • What you have to put in versus what you want to put in
  • Attitudes such as “that’s the way we’ve always done it”
  • Templated writing
  • Being compliance (rather than client) led
  • Knowing how to pitch the writing at the right level because there are so many varied clients and often we don’t attend the meeting
  • Time – it’s harder to write a concise report than a longer one.

Over the next series of posts, I’ll be addressing these challenges. I began with mindset because my background is psychology and I think everything starts there. When you adopt the right one, it’s much easier to communicate.

The first barrier that gets in the way of writing clear, client friendly and compliant reports is…

1.     Mindset – “I have to prove how much I know so that I build trust”

I notice this fairly frequently with paraplanners who are relatively early in their career. 

And I get it.

You’ve taken a lot of exams where you’re encouraged to show how much you know – it’s quite a gear change to then communicate in a different way – which is leaner and your audience isn’t an examiner but is a client

Very often this mindset is coming from a well-meaning place. You want the client to trust you. But trust is actually rarely unpacked into its constituents. What we know about trust is that it is made up of two important ingredients – competence and benevolence.  And very often paraplanners are only focused on the competence element and forget about the benevolence.

A couple of years ago, I was looking to buy a camper van. I’d done some research and then one came up on Gumtree. As I drove down to Dorset on my own, I thought this is a bad situation. I’m on my own, know NOTHING about engines, have no clue what I should be asking or looking at.  I am DEFINITELY going to get ripped off. And I was running through how I might give the impression that I did actually know all there was to know about VW vans and that I was not someone to mess with.

But as soon as I got there, he showed me the van and instantly went through all the things that were wrong with it, scratches, broken light, missing floor mat.  I couldn’t believe it. And instantly trusted him. Now you might be thinking that’s a good trick for a second-hand car sales man, who is out to swindle someone. But my instinct was that he was a good guy and I bought the van on the spot and haven’t had any trouble with it.

How else might you develop trust?

Another easy win is to use the client’s own words (COWS!). It demonstrates you’ve been listening and therefore the advice you give is much more likely to be suitable.

When we adopt this “I have to prove how much I know” mindset, we can end up including all kinds of complex information and jargon. We also risk making our client feel alienated and stupid.

So, what can we replace it with?

When writing your report: hold your client – especially what they care about –  in your mind.”

Many paraplanners will ask themselves, will my Mum (or Dad) understand this? And as Quiet Room say “Assume knowledge but not experience.”

Another way to catch it is to – ask yourself who am I writing this for – is it for the client? Or is it to impress/win approval? If you’re trying to explain something and think it’s getting overly complex – ask: “does my client care about this?”

There also can be an assumption that a long, complicated report delivers more value. It shows off your expertise and therefore there is proof that you’ve earnt your fees. NO IT DOESN’T!

Remember people care about results not process.

2.     A skill gap – writing in a clear, simple and meaningful way can be challenging.

It does take time and effort to write in a new way.

This is partly down to the “curse of knowledge”. We forget what it’s like not to know what we know, so we slip into using abstract terms that are commonplace for us but are not for clients.

I think it’s also sometimes due to concepts not being straight in the paraplanner’s mind.  Remember: Clear writing comes from clear thinking

Rules of thumb:

  • Keep sentences short. By short, I mean around 11 words – no more than 20.
  • Keep one idea per sentence. This means it’s much easier for your client to process and understand what you’re conveying.
  • Write from client’s perspective. A quick way to do this is to use “you” and “your” more often. Participants on the course notice, for example, if they put YOUR pension or YOUR investments into their email subject line, they get a much quicker response rate than if they left it out.  There’s more to it than that, but that’s certainly a quick win.

Every word has to earn its right to be on the page.

The Communicate for Impact programme has been designed to develop competence, not just knowledge, so you, as financial professionals, can make sure you’re writing clearly and clients understand the advice.

3.    A fear – “I’m worried about leaving something out, which means the client can’t make a fully-informed decision. And I run the risk of non compliance.”

Mel made the important point that from a compliance perspective you need to ensure that the client objectives, your recommendations and why they meet the objectives, disadvantages and costs are in there. There are some additional requirements around pensions but that’s pretty much it. 

However, she said that we need to be more concerned about complaints being made to and upheld by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). You might think that those who work at FOS have a diploma or other financial qualification but that is unlikely. It’s made up of a whole range of professionals from all walks of life: ballet dancers, opera singers and plumbers. And if they can’t understand the advice, then the complaint is likely to be upheld.  This means that your reports have got to be crystal clear.

For those of you who use templates – adjust the settings to make it more personal. When products are selected and it automatically populates the report with information – you don’t need to keep repeating that same information. You also don’t need to include information about them being married, age or where they live – unless that is related the suitability of the advice.  This doesn’t make for an impactful start or an engaging read. Reader’s attention is highest at the start of the document, don’t fritter it away, draw them in.

We’re running another session at the PFS Festival of Financial Planning on “How to write reports that clients want to read” on Tuesday 1st November at 12:20 . Hope to see you there!

Thanks to Pete Kelk for the image.

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