Monday, June 30, 2008

Quants CAN communicate clearly

Sometimes my eyes glaze over when I attend quantitative presentations. That was not the case with a presentation by Jeff Brown, chief investment officer of Highstreet Asset Management.

When you click to see and hear Brown's "Art vs. Science," you'll be struck by how using examples from everyday life can make your investment approach come alive.

"Inspiring presenters are short on bullet points and big on graphics," according to "Deliver a Presentation like Steve Jobs" in BusinessWeek. Brown has taken that advice to heart.

By the way,
when I heard him speak at the Refining Wealth Management conference put on by the Edmonton CFA Society, Brown mentioned that he has worked with a presentation coach. More investment managers should follow his example.

_________________
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, June 27, 2008

"Tool: Google Trends"

Google Trends will help you figure out which of your key words are searched most frequently.

Learn more in "Tool: Google Trends" on Erik Sherman's Writer Biz blog.


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

Check out my website at http://www.investmentwriting.com/index.htm or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Advice from the SEC's expert on plain English

The SEC has tapped William Lutz to lead its "21st Century Disclosure Initiative."

In honor of his appointment, here's his "Rules for Writing Plain English: How You Can Write Plain Language by Just Following These 39 Steps."

Writing plain English isn't as easy as the title suggests.

For example, Step 5 is "Keep equivalent items parallel." Even if you understand what that means, I'll bet that many people don't. The article offers a good example of parallel structure. Each of the 39 steps begins with a verb in the same tense. Each uses an imperative verb--a verb that commands you to do something. Parallelism can involve more than just tense, as you'll see in the Online Writing Lab's explanation of parallel structures. Using parallel structure in lists makes it easier for your readers to understand you.

Generally, "less is more" applies to writing. But sometimes deleting words can land you in trouble. Lutz gives a good example of that with the "whiz-deletion" he describes at the bottom of his article.


_________________
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.

2008 World Wealth Report out from Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini

The 2008 edition of the annual World Wealth Report is now available.

If you're evaluating your firm's business strategy, the report's "Spotlight: Wealth Management Firms Adapt to Meet Unique Needs of Growth Markets" will interest 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.

E-mail tips from Seth Godin

The email checklist at Seth Godin's blog starts out with some good tips on slimming your email distribution list.

I also liked his suggestion of asking whether your email is important enough that you'd spend the price of a postage stamp on it.

I'm glad that Erika Dreifus' Practicing Writing blog sent me to this post.


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

Check out my website at http://www.investmentwriting.com/index.htm or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The changing world of mutual fund distribution

Mutual fund distribution sure has changed since my days as a staff reporter for Dalbar's Mutual Fund Market News (now Money Management Executive) back in the 1990s.

Darlene DeRemer's presentation on "U.S. Retail Distribution Trends" at the NICSA General Membership Meeting on June 23 drove home that point.

Here are some of the key changes impacting asset managers that I heard in the presentation by
DeRemer, partner and head of the advisory practice at Grail Partners LLC:
  • Financial intermediaries--especially fee-based intermediaries--are more important than ever with the rise of wrap programs, defined contribution platforms, and variable annuity and subadvisory platforms.
  • It's harder to know the ultimate client because of omnibus accounting
  • Fees are under pressure, yet revenue-sharing is costing 45 basis points or more
    • Distribution costs are coming out of fund sponsors' profits, rather than simply out of the fund expense ratio
    • There are new, lower cost share classes, such as W or P shares for wrap or platform shares with about 10 basis points of 12b-1 fees
  • Fund selection at broker/dealers is shifting from individual reps to the firms' fund selection units (see my other June 24, 2008 post for more on B/Ds' fund selection)

_________________
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, June 23, 2008

Shifting emphasis at mutual fund distributors

The rising importance of fund selection units at broker/dealers (B/Ds) was reflected in the June 23 NICSA General Membership Meeting's panel on "The Distribution Road Ahead and Back," chaired by Marty Griffin, director of sales operations for Pioneer Funds Distributor.

Mutual fund distributors are ramping up their efforts to satisfy those units. For example,
two-and-a-half years ago MFS Fund Distributors set up an Advisory Resources Group that's dedicated to servicing analyst teams performing due diligence at B/Ds, said Jim Jessee, president, MFS Fund Distributors. Jessee said, it used to be that reps had the most point-of-sale influence. But now, increasingly, that role is offloaded to the analytic group in the home office.

Eaton Vance is taking an approach similar to that of MFS, said Matt Witkos, president, Eaton Vance Distributors. Those B/D analyst teams are increasing in influence, he added.

Even smaller firms like Pax World Management Corp. are feeling the change. There's more of a need for communication through the home office, said Keith Bernard, senior vice president.

These mutual fund distribution executives' employee requirements are changing, too. Analytical skills are more important than 10 years ago. Jessee is hiring more people with the CIMA or CFP credential. He has even hired a couple with the CFA credential, "though I'm not sure how many have the stamina to tackle that one."


_________________
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.

One millionth CFA exam

The CFA Institute has administered its one millionth CFA exam, according to a recent email from its president. About 119,000 registered to take the exam on June 7.

The CFA Institute's reach sure has expanded since I took the exam. My CFA candidate number is under 12,000.

_________________
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, June 20, 2008

Your website's "About Us" page could make the sale

The company information in your website's "About Us" page could make the difference between winning or losing a new client.

"Although it might not solely make a purchase, a bad 'About Us' page can definitely stop a purchase from happening," according to "Why You Must Pay More Attention to Your ‘About Us’ Page" on the MarketingSherpa website.

Keep your "About Us" page up-to-date and filled with information that will convince your prospects' executives of your firm's reliability, advises MarketingSherpa.

_________________
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, June 18, 2008

"Lazy Bastards: How We Read Online"

"Lazy Bastards: How We Read Online," Michael Agger's article in Slate.com, gives some good tips for grabbing your online readers' attention.

He reinforces points I often make, including the value of using:
  • White space
  • Bullet points
  • Informative subheadings
Agger also sends you over to "Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy" by website usability guru Jakob Nielsen. Short articles beat long articles most of the time, says Nielsen, especially if you want to maximize your readership numbers.

On the other hand--and this is important for financial advisors--"If you want people who really need a solution, focus on comprehensive coverage. This is a good strategy if you sell highly targeted solutions to complicated problems."

Still, in Nielsen's example, "short" is defined as 700 words and "long" as 1,000 words.

_________________
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, June 16, 2008

Annuities keep gaining respectability as a retirement solution

Your 401(k) plan would be annuitized for two years upon retirement, if the authors of "Increasing Annuitization of 401(k) Plans with Automatic Trial Income" have their way.

"Workers could opt-out at retirement or after those 24 months. But the authors expect that few would," said the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman in "A New Annuity for 401(k)s." He concluded "the new scheme is a big improvement over what we have now" because it would provide a steady income stream similar to that from defined benefit plans.

Of course, noted Gleckman, post-retirement annuitization doesn't fix the problem that "all of the pre-retirement risk would be on workers, rather than their employers."

I've noted in "Annuities gathering steam in professional journals"
that annuities seem to be gaining respectability as a retirement solution.


_________________
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, June 13, 2008

SRI: A new requirement for fiduciaries?

Ten years from now, a fiduciary may feel bound to consider the tenets of socially responsible investing (SRI), predicted Peter Kinder, president, KLD Research & Analytics.

That may sound crazy. But back in the early 1800s, it seemed crazy for prudent investors to use common stocks in pension funds, noted Kinder.

Kinder co-presented with Cheryl Smith, executive vice president of Trillium Asset Management, on "The History and Future of Socially Responsible Investing" to the Boston Security Analysts Society on June 5.

Kinder qualified his remarks later, writing:

What I intended to say is that fiduciaries may have the duty to consider much the same factors as Social Investors have.

It is highly unlikely that fiduciaries will have to consider them as values (as social investors traditionally have). Rather, they will apply them among the data they bring to bear in an investment decision. This distinction also implies that fiduciaries may decide that other considerations outweigh the ESG criteria.

Put differently, analysis of social criteria by fiduciaries will not have the status of, say, fundamental analysis. Rather, it will take its place alongside cash flow analysis under the tenets of an analytical approach.


Smith noted that SRI's role is growing in investments by foundations, pension funds, 401(k) plans and individuals. About 6%-7% of high net worth investors use SRI methods. That number rises to 9%-10% for the ultra high net worth. She suggested that the trend toward SRI will trickle down to the less affluent.

The time will come when not evaluating a company in terms of SRI's criteria will be as inconceivable as not checking the company's balance sheet, said Smith.




_________________
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, June 12, 2008

Obama vs. McCain on tax policy

Looking for an analysis of Obama vs. McCain on tax policy?

The Tax Policy Center offers a "A Preliminary Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates' Tax Plans."

Having written about the alternative minimum tax (AMT), I was interested to see that both candidates would make the AMT "patch" permanent. By the way, I developed a lot of respect for the Tax Policy Center as a resource when I did research on the AMT. The center pulls together information that's not available elsewhere.

_________________
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.

P&I picks best financial blogs

According to the staff at Pensions & Investments magazine, the top three financial blogs are:
  1. The Big Picture
  2. DealBreaker
  3. Infectious Greed
That's according to to "Pensions & Investments' Best Blogs and how they got that way," which also lists some other top blogs.

But blogs get mixed reviews from P&I's audience. "Turns out some tout the virtues of having fresh and sometimes entertaining voices and unique perspectives not found in typical Wall Street research, while others eschew blogs as unnecessary," reported Drew Carter in "Ranking the blogs."

What do you think? Are blogs useful to 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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Investment industry in denial about ethics

There's a disconnect between what investment managers say about ethics and what they actually do, said Jim Ware of Focus Consulting Group in his presentation on "Ethical Leadership in the Investment Firm" to the Boston Security Analysts Society.

Investment firms ranked ethics as one of their top five values in surveys conducted by Focus Consulting. That's good. "We believe that ethics and integrity should be the spine of your organization for it to be sustainable," said Ware.

But, in practice, investment firms don't always take the high road when confronted with ethical challenges, both routine and extraordinary. In his presentation, Ware listed nine common ethical challenges that investment firms may fail. Many of them concern marketing, such as "putting the best spin on personnel changes" or "hiding the salient features of a product."

I wonder if there's an investment firm on earth that hasn't tried to spin personnel changes.

Read more about ethics in Ware's article, "Ethical Leadership in the Investment Firm."



_________________
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, June 10, 2008

Should you hyphenate "fixed income"?

It depends.

There are two schools of thoughts about whether to hyphenate compound adjectives, which is what "fixed income" becomes when you use it as an adjective. It's the "reader-friendly" vs. the "common usage" approach.


Reader-friendly

Let's talk about "fixed income investing." When you combine an adjective and noun and then use them to describe a second noun, you're creating a compound adjective.

You're also making it more difficult for your readers to interpret your text. They're used to thinking of "income" as a noun, so they may struggle for a moment before they realize that "fixed income" serves as an adjective in "fixed income investing." Following this line of thought, it's kinder to your reader to write "fixed-income investing."


Common usage

Opponents of writing "fixed-income investing" say "fixed income" is so commonly used as an adjective that a hyphen is unnecessary.


Your decision

Grammar Girl says that you should always consider whether a hyphen changes your meaning. As she points out:
  • A hot-water bottle is a bottle for holding hot water.
  • A hot water bottle is a water bottle that is hot.

The Wall Street Journal uses a hyphen when fixed-income is an adjective. What's your decision--fixed-income investing or fixed income investing?

Whichever approach you adopt, be consistent in your usage. That will help your readers know what to expect.

_________________
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, June 9, 2008

"Making Money Where Others Fail": Morningstar's knack for good titles

Who wouldn't want to read an article entitled "Making Money Where Others Fail"?

That was the title of a recent message from Morningstar's Fund Spy e-newsletter. I subscribe to Fund Spy partly to study their writing style. You can check out the Fund Spy archive.

_________________
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, June 6, 2008

"Pension Plans Say Thank You Subprime for Return to Overfunded "

The subprime crisis has an unexpected silver lining.

The resulting demand for high quality corporate bonds has improved the funding status of corporate pension plans. "The combined pensions of S&P 500 companies swung to a $63 billion surplus in 2007 after five years in the red, according to a May 19 report by Standard & Poor's," says Miles Weiss in "Pension Plans Say Thank You Subprime for Return to Overfunded. "


By the way, this news article suggests a technique you can apply to your investment commentary. Write about an unexpected implication of a widely discussed phenomenon.
_________________
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, June 5, 2008

OECD Economic Outlook as a resource for your investment commentary

If you haven't finished writing your second quarter investment commentary, check out the website of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for some useful statistics. The OECD publishes its economic outlook twice a year.

Its June 2008 outlook predicts weak growth and high inflation. Real GDP growth for the total OECD (see page 2) is estimated to run 1.8% in 2008 and 1.7% in 2009. Estimates are broken out for the U.S., Japan, and the Euro area.


The June outlook also discusses:
  • How deep is the impact of the recent oil and credit shocks on the productive potential of OECD economies? To what extent can structrual reforms help to soften it?
  • How should economic policies respond to the uncertainty created by these shocks?
_________________
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, June 4, 2008

"101 Five-Minute Fixes to Incrementally Improve Your Web Site"

"Stress benefits. Ensure that your copy always shows users exactly how your site will benefit them."

That's fix number 4 of "101 Five-Minute Fixes to Incrementally Improve Your Web Site"
and it's a good one. If the people who visit your website don't find benefits, rather than just features, they're likely to flee.

But fixing a website that's missing benefits is likely to take more than five minutes. It's often difficult for the website owner to put their business' benefits into words. Getting feedback from outsiders can often help ensure that you're on the right track.

_________________
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, June 3, 2008

Take the rancor out of divvying up an estate

You've probably seen family members fight or sulk over the disposition of personal possessions after a loved one passes away. Estate planning and elder law attorney Susan J. Shipley's article below describes a website that may reduce the pain.

Have you used eDivvyup.com? Please comment on your experience.


Web Site Aims to Take the Rancor Out of Dividing Up an Estate

Dividing up family heirlooms after the death of a loved one can be a difficult business. Wills often deal only with financial assets, not personal possessions. The resulting infighting between family members over who gets which personal item can damage relationships for years to come.

Now there is a web site that may help families avoid acrimony and make the process of dividing up possessions in an estate easier. The site, eDivvyup, allows family members (and friends of the deceased) to divide up a relative’s personal estate using an auction platform similar to eBay’s. The estate’s executor gives family members non-monetary points which they can use to bid on estate items that can be listed and pictured on the site. Bids reflect a family member’s desire to own an item. eDivvyup seems particularly well-suited for families that are geographically dispersed, as many are.

The cost of the service is $49 to list 50 items. Additional item listings can be purchased as needed. For more information, go to: www.eDivvyup.com.


_________________
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, June 2, 2008

Podcasts from CFA Institute Annual Conference

The CFA Institute's Annual Conference in Vancouver attracted record attendance. Now, you can listen to podcasts of some of the speakers, if you've paid for a Total Access membership in the CFA Institute.

As of May 29, you can listen to:

  • Building a Global Equity Portfolio by Lawrence S. Speidell
  • Prediction Markets: The Collective Knowledge of Market Participants by Justin Wolfers
  • From Beta to Exotic Beta to Alpha Behavioral Finance: What Good Is it? by Meir Statman, Arnold S. Wood, and Jason Zweig
  • Investment Opportunities in Energy by Henry Groppe
  • Investment Strategies to Exploit the Growth of China by Burton Malkiel
  • The Neuroeconomics of Surprise: How the Investing Brain Handles the Unexpected by Jason Zweig
  • Economic Prospects for the U.S. Economy from a Monetary Policymaker's Perspective by Janet L. Yellen
  • Nurturing Innovation in an Asset Management Firm by Blake R. Grossman
_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Investment Writing
Writing that's an investment in your success

Check out my website at http://www.investmentwriting.com/index.htm or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.