Friday, May 30, 2008

Should you use "Track Changes" as you edit articles?

Microsoft Word's "Track Changes" feature highlights insertions and deletions that different people make in your document. Should you use it as you get input on your article, white paper, investment commentary or other piece?

I like my clients to use Track Changes to show me their edits. But I prefer to turn it off on the versions I send them.

When my clients use Track Changes, I can study their changes to improve my insights into their topic as well as their likes and dislikes. Also, Track Changes shows me where to concentrate my scrutiny of their revisions. Sometimes clients inadvertently introduce typos, grammatical errors, or other problems.

If you become my client, I probably won't use Track Changes when I send my revisions to you. I believe it's easier for you to assess my work without the distraction of insertions and deletions in red. In addition, I don't want to bore you with the minutiae of whether "which" should replace "that." However, I'll alert you in my cover note--or using Word's "Comment" feature, if I have questions.

I'm writing about this topic because of an interview I heard on National Public Radio with the co-authors of a new book on the brain. One of the authors said something like this:
We made a rule that we weren't going to use Track Changes when we passed changes back and forth because if a change wasn't important enough to notice, then it wasn't important enough to complain about.
What's your preference about Track Changes? Why?

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How to get a portfolio manager's attention, and other email tips from an investment marketing consultant

It's not easy getting portfolio managers to open your emails. That's why investment marketing consultant Jen Dunning sometimes writes her email subject lines completely in capital letters.

"INVESTMENT COMMENTARY - PLEASE APPROVE BY JUNE 30" grabs the reader's attention where a meeker "Please approve by June 30" would not. Note that she puts her key action verb, "approve," and its object, "investment commentary," in the subject line. That also boosts her emails' effectiveness.

But limit your use of all-capitals subject lines to rare instances of pressing need with people who work for your own organization. You risk irritating your recipient if you use all-caps too often. It flouts the rules of email etiquette and is considered "shouting."

Some additional email tips from Dunning:
  • Save your pleasantries for the end of your email because busy readers want to get to the point right away
  • Before you attach an Excel file, name it and insert page breaks and headers and footers, including page numbers and total number of pages
_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Producing investment pitch books without losing your mind, and other advice from Margaret Patterson

Designer Margaret Patterson's posts about investment management pitch books were among the most popular on my previous blog. Her tips can make producing these important marketing materials less stressful.

Here are links to her posts.

Contact Margaret by posting a comment on this blog. Or, if you're a potential client, call her at 617-971-0328.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Writing Sample: "Don't Get Stuck Paying Extra Taxes"

The subject line "Don't Get Stuck Paying Extra Taxes" compelled me to open the e-mail.

That's the power of a subject line that tells the reader "what's in it for me."

I opened the latest e-newsletter from
Westchester Mortgage even though I was pretty sure I'm not making any dumb tax mistakes with my house. I was right. The article warned readers to be careful when using money from a retirement account to buy a house. Luckily, I don't have to worry about that. I've been in my house more than 15 years.

Try to put yourself in your readers' shoes when you compose an e-mail subject line. Your effort could increase your readership.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Is Spelling Overrated?"

Direct marketing guru Bob Bly recently asked "Is Spelling Overrated?" on his blog.

I don't think so. Good spelling won't win over new clients. But sentences rife with misspellings may make the reader wonder if you're similarly sloppy with their money.

It's one thing to have typos in the quick emails you send to your employees, as Bly points out. Quite another to tolerate them in formal communications to clients and prospects.

People often write "it's" where "its" should be. "It's" is short for "it is." "Its" is the possessive form of "it." This trips up many people because of the exception to the rule that you form a possessive by adding an apostrophe followed by the letter "s."

English is a challenging language for spellers. Get someone else to proofread your most important written communications.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tips for writing case studies

Case studies can be powerful tools for the wealth management professionals who're allowed to use them.

A case study typically starts with a presentation of a client problem--something that's causing the client pain. The problem is followed by the solution, and then the client results. When prospective clients recognize themselves in the problem, you've grabbed their attention.

In "How to Write a Case Study" (available for download without registering) consultant Toby Younis lays out the steps for writing a case study. If you'd like to try doing it yourself, you may find his list of questions on page 12 particularly helpful.

However, don't write an investment management case study. That falls under the SEC's prohibition against testimonials.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why baby boomers will NOT offer a gold mine for financial services

If your business strategy depends heavily on Baby Boomer-driven rapid growth in the number of retirees, it’s time to re-think your approach.

That's according to "The Baby Boomer Retirement Fallacy and What It Means to You," which appears on a blog on the Harvard Business Publishing website.

Over the next 25 years, the number of retirees will grow at a rate of zero to 4% per annum, according to Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne, the management consultants who coauthored the blog post. The Coynes say the hype around Baby Boomer retirement fails to take into account the fact that people are staying in the work force later in life.

They're selling versions of their study, "Smaller than You Thought: Estimates of the Future Size and Growth Rate of the Retirement Market in the United States" for prices ranging from $950 to $2,850.


_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Feeling emotionally connected to your client can cut both ways

Feeling a connection with your clients can be a double-edged sword. It can fuel your personal satisfaction. It can also lead to burnout.

This is according to"Financial Feeling: An Investigation of Emotion and Communication in the Workplace,"an academic study by Katherine I. Miller and Joy Koesten, which appeared in the Journal of Applied Communication Research. The article was based on a survey answered by almost 300 financial planners.

However, the study also found that "the most effective and satisfying relationships for financial planners came when they truly cared about the client and saw themselves in a relationship with the client. These connections--when genuine--did not cause burnout."

Here are the authors' tips to help you avoid burnout:
  • Understand that financial planning involves relationships as much as it involves numbers.
  • Try to understand the relational needs of your clients through active listening and taking the perspective of the other.
  • Develop a stance of empathic concern in your client relationships where you feel for the client but do not feel with the client.
  • Realize that relationships exist at different levels, and it is sometimes okay to "paste on a smile" if it helps to accomplish the goals of you and your client. At the same time, it is important to remain true to core convictions about your profession and your relationship with clients.
  • Work to understand norms of interaction in different organizational and national cultures, and interact in ways appropriate for those cultures.
  • Rely on others for social support when dealing with stress. Coworkers who understand your job are particularly good at giving advice or just providing a listening ear.


_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Writing sample: Nice short sentences from Wall Street Journal's "Ahead of the Tape"

A couple of short sentences can be a great way to draw a reader into your article or investment commentary.

I like how the Wall Street Journal's "Ahead of the Tape" column started yesterday.
Stocks have had a nice run these past couple of months. The downside: They may no longer be a bargain.
Notice also the nice conversational tone of the writing.


_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Six tips for listening better to your clients

In my last post, "The Client Relationship Autopsy," I wrote about how to analyze client relationships turned sour. But if you'd listened better to your clients, perhaps they'd still be with you.

Consider applying the six tips for better listening described in "What?" a New York Times blog post by Marci Alboher.

Tip number six may be especially challenging: "Do not interrupt, even if you think you’re going to forget what you want to say." Instead, jot down a note, so you can circle back to your idea, if it's still appropriate later.

One of the tips suggests nodding to show you're listening. Nodding was essential when I lived in Japan for that very reason. If I kept completely still and silent, my conversation partner would have stopped talking because she or he would have assumed I wasn't listening. But in the U.S., you should be careful about nodding. Here, nodding suggests that you agree with the speaker.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Did this New York Times columnist listen to me?

In "Passions Run High On Indexing," New York Times columnist Joe Nocera writes about the conflict between traditional and fundamental indexers that has been running in the Financial Analysts Journal. He does what I suggest in my investment commentary workshop. He picks a controversial topic from a professional journal, then explains it in non-technical terms.

Nocera's article is more about what he calls "an old-fashioned academic cat fight" than the indexing debate. If you tackle this topic for your clients, I suggest you focus on the latter rather than the former.

But Nocera does eventually express an opinion on the substance of the debate. He agrees with Jack Bogle that fundamental index funds are a form of active management. "... they ain't index funds, and they shouldn't be viewed as a replacement for index funds. Mr. Arnott and his allies would better serve investors by saying so out loud," writes Nocera.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The charitable trust that's best in a low-interest rate environment

Now is a great time to create a charitable lead trust, assuming it would further your client's estate planning goals.

That's according to Nadia Yassa, Director of Estate and Gift Planning for the Boston Foundation. She spoke on "Tax Benefits of Charitable Trusts" to the Boston Security Analysts Society on May 13.

Why now? Because when interest rates are low, the IRS will value the non-charitable remainder interest at a lower value, using the IRS discount rate in effect when the trust is established. That's regardless of what the actual value is when the transfer occurs. The bottom line:
Ultimately, more of your assets will reach your beneficiaries because any growth in the trust above the discount rate passes free of gift tax to heirs. As Yassa explained, "A low Section 7520 discount rate allows donors to 'freeze' estate and gift values to minimize overall transfer tax liability."

A non-grantor charitable lead trust provides income to one or more qualified charities for a preset period. At the end of that period, the assets of the trust transfer to non-charitable beneficiaries. People often use this kind of trust to contribute to charity, while ensuring that their assets end up with family members at a lower cost in taxes.

On the flip side, low interest rates mean this is the least favorable time for creating a charitable remainder trust. However, in any case, taxes should not be your only consideration when establishing a charitable trust.

Want to learn more about planned giving, including charitable trusts? Check out the Planned Giving Design Center, suggested Yassa. "It’s a free on-line resource sponsored by the Boston Foundation. Go to www.tbf.org and click on the Professional Advisors section/Planned Giving Design Center. Advisors can register and have access to technical outlines, articles, rulings, news reports, and receive periodic emails with legislative updates, as well as the Section 7520 rate as it is announced each month by the IRS."




_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

"The Client Relationship Autopsy"

You've probably lost at least one client. But rather than chalk it up as inevitable, try to learn why your client left you.

"The Client Relationship Autopsy" proposes a process consisting of:
  1. Talking to your team
  2. Talking to your client
  3. Preparing a report
"The process will help you choose wisely when it comes to adding new clients, and it will help you glean insights for improving existing client relationships," says Leo Bottary, the ad agency account director who wrote the article. He goes into detail with suggestions for each step.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thank you, Boston Women in Finance!

Members of Boston Women in Finance made my experience enjoyable when I presented my one-hour workshop on "How to Write What People Will Read about Investments" yesterday.

Here's some of their feedback on my presentation:
  • "Although brief, packed with very useful takeaways!"
  • "Susan was able to fit in an hour what people spend days learning in conferences"
  • "Susan reminded me to remember my audience and to listen to my ideas"
  • I learned "a new thought process for brainstorming" and "ways to make my market piece more direct and to the point"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Use personal stories in your communications

"In a sea of competition, you’ve got to capitalize on what makes you unlike anyone else."

This advice from "Feel Great Naked: Confidence Boosters for Getting Personal" is aimed at bloggers. The author urges them to share personal stories. But also applies to financial advisors, especially solo practitioners or small firms, when you communicate with your clients and prospects.

Sharing your personality--and even a bit of your personal story--can help you connect with your clients.

For example, in a sales letter, one salesman shared his story of how his family had suffered needlessly because of an estate planning mistake. That mistake fueled his passion for bringing new clients to his firm. After sharing that story, the letter shifted to discussing the benefits his firm could offer his prospects. I'll bet that personal story prevented some prospects from dropping his letter into their wastebaskets.

Don't focus your communications exclusively on yourself. Ultimately, your client or prospect will care more about the WIIFM ("what's in it for me"). But a bit of sharing can create a connection that goes deeper than dollar and cents.

Any financial advisor can heed this advice in one-on-one meetings. It's more challenging when you work for a large firm and you get into written communications. There'll probably be a company-wide communications policy that sets an impersonal tone. This gives an opening for advisors with smaller firms to outmaneuver their colleagues at larger firms.

Have you tried taking a personal tack? I'd like to learn what your experience has been.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Morningstar Market Barometer, 2003-2007

Want to show your clients how equity styles and sectors perform differently over time?

The newly released 2-page Market Barometer from Morningstar can help.


_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Does your auto mechanic communicate better than you?

"Nearly three-fourths of the 1,203 adults polled said their auto mechanic uses clearer English than their financial professionals," according to "Financial Jargon: You Just Don't Understand" by Cathie Gandel in AARP Bulletin Today.

Are you one of those confusing financial pros? And are your clients suffering as a result?

Learn more about the results of a survey
by AARP Financial about consumer understanding of financial jargon.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

"Interruption vs. Self-Service Marketing"

I'm following up my post on how financial advisors are using LinkedIn. Raising your visibility by using LinkedIn is an example of "self-service marketing," which I read about recently in "Interruption vs. Self-Service Marketing" on marketer Bob Bly's blog.

He quotes an article from DM News: " 'Self-service marketing is all about putting content where people will find it,' writes Rapsas. 'It makes sense to go where the customers are.' " Bly contrasts this with traditional marketing which interrupts people when they're not looking for it.

Bly makes an interesting point down in his comments:
"My rule of thumb: self-service marketing works with products which consumers actively search for information (including pricing) on — for instance, installing solar panels on the roof of your home. Interruption marketing works with products people want when they hear about but weren’t thinking about beforehand — e.g., designer handbags, a home-study course on becoming a locksmith."
It seems to me that people actively search for financial or investment advice, so maybe self-service marketing has a future in this field. What do you think?



_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Annuities gathering steam in professional journals

Annuities may be picking up steam among fee-only financial planners and investment advisors.

According to a press release from the Financial Planning Association:
Despite their tarnished reputation due to sleazy sales tactics, high expenses and weaker investment performance compared with mutual funds, popular variable annuities (VA) with “living benefit” riders may still be a sound choice for some retirees, concludes an article in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning, published monthly by the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®).

In his article, “A Context for Considering Variable Annuities with Living Benefit Riders,” John H. Robinson examines how the investment performance of a particular type of VA rider stacks up against an index mutual fund as each tries to weather two bear markets.
I've written earlier--in "
CFA Institute: Consider annuities, even variable annuities" and "Financial Analysts Journal article favoring annuities" about increasingly favorable coverage of annuities in the CFA Institute's Financial Analysts Journal and other venues. More recently, annuities received favorable mention in the inaugural issue of the CFA Institute's private wealth management e-newsletter.

The Journal of Financial Planning addressed this trend in "Variable Annuities: Emerging from the Dark Side?" by Nancy Opiela in March 2007.

But the barriers to acceptance by advisors remain, as "It'll be tough to sell advisors on longevity annuities" suggested.



_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

More options for mind mapping

Some of the participants in my "How to Write Investment Commentary that People Will Read" presentation say that learning mind mapping is one of the best parts of the program. It makes them feel they can organize their thoughts better before sitting down to write.

I recently learned about more web-based mind mapping tools that help you create and save an electronic version of a mind map. "Map your mind 2.0" by Rafe Needleman reviews Spinscape and devotes a paragraph apiece to competitors called MeadMap, Mindomo, MindMeister, and bubbl.us.

Needleman doesn't care for Spinscape, but he's not a fan of mind mapping. He seems to like MindMeister best.

I've written earlier about "Mindmapping for financial advisors."



_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

My new blog is coming soon!

When I launched my blog under the SusanCFA name, I wasn't sure if blogging was more than a flash in the pan. Now that it's here to stay, I'm re-launching my blog under a name that ties in with my website at InvestmentWriting.com.

What do you think of my new blog's look? Do you have suggestions for what I should write about? Let me know by leaving a comment or e-mailing me. I look forward to hearing from you.

_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter
for reports on recent investment presentations and useful tips on writing, marketing, and other topics.