Thursday, April 30, 2009

Do your grammar and punctuation affect your credibility?

I believe that bad grammar and punctuation sabotage the credibility of the writer.  The same goes for the company that the writer represents.

For me, bad grammar and punctuation suggest a lack of education and attention to detail. I wonder if the writer's professional work displays similar weaknesses. Plus, I'm annoyed if poor writing makes me work harder to grasp the point the writer was trying to convey.

Marketing materials--especially long-lived forms such as websites and brochures--should hit high standards to put the firm's best foot forward.

I'm more forgiving of typos in quickly created, ephemeral communications, such as tweets on Twitter. I'm guilty of typos there and on my blog.

What about you? Does bad grammar and punctuation detract from your opinion of writers and their companies? 
Please answer the poll in the right-hand column of my blog. Also, feel free to leave your comment below.

I'll report on the poll results in a future issue of my newsletter. The poll will run until June 2009.

Jan. 20, 2013 note: I updated the title of this post after an anonymous commenter pointed out my grammatical mistake.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ways to dream up topics for financial articles

Sometimes you run out of ideas for your financial writing or blogging. Maybe it's time to brainstorm using approaches offered by freelance writer Susan Johnston in "50 Ways for Writers to Find Article Ideas."

I've selected several ideas from her list of 50
"3. Think about seasonal topics like holidays or national awareness months." The April 15 tax deadline is a classic hook for financial articles. But you can branch out. For example, Veteran's Day could inspire an article about benefits for those in the military service.
"7. Take a local story and figure out how to make it relevant to a national audience." The Madoff scandal may have affected only high net worth investors, but it has implications for everybody.
"24. Follow a forum to see what people are buzzing about." For example, AARP's Online Community or the personal finance and wealth management "Answers" section of LinkedIn.
"34. Fill in the blank: '10 Secrets of _______,' '8 Places to ____' or '5 Ways to __________.' " This reminds me of the MadLibs game, but some candidates include "10 Secrets of Saving for Retirement, "Eight Places to Find a Bargain on Insurance," and "Five Ways to Save for College."
"46. Take a myth and turn it on its head." For example, U.S. Treasuries are a safe investment.

Do you have tricks that you use to come up with fresh ideas? Please share them.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Monday, April 27, 2009

Financial services: An industry at odds with its clients

"Toward transparency and sustainability: Building a new financial order," a newly released study by the IBM Institute for Business Value raises some provocative questions about the relationship between financial services firms and their clients. 

Two big questions
1. Do financial services firms really put their clients' best interests first?
2.  Do financial services firms understand what their clients want?

Clients' best interests lose to financial services providers' 
"...providers offer products that serve their own best interests, rather than those of their clients," according to more than 60% of the institutional and retail investors and intermediaries surveyed by IBM.  

Almost half of the American industry executives surveyed--and about 40% of executives worldwide--agreed that providers' best interests get top priority. You can view graphs of the survey results on p. 10.

What do clients want? Financial services firms don't get it. 
Financial services firms think they know what clients want. Clients' top priorities are "best-in-class offerings" and "one-stop-shop," according to their survey results. They reckon that most clients would pay a 5%-15% premium for these characteristics.

But neither of these items cracks the top two in client survey results. In fact, in the IBM survey, clients rate "Unbiased quality advice/client service excellence" and "convenience" as their top priorities. Best-in-class offerings rank third and one-stop shopping comes in eighth. I do wonder if some survey participants may confuse "convenience" and "one-stop shop." I'm also curious about the make-up of the clients whom IBM surveyed.

You can view the providers' and clients' top 10 answers at the top of page 10. 

The survey results also lead IBM to suggest that financial services providers must segment their products accordng to how clients behave. "The ability to serve specific client clusters represents a major--and largely ignored--opportunity for the industry to make money," says the report.

"We have lost sight of the client in our own striving for outsized returns. We must get back to basics and focus to a far greater extent on our clients."--Global Head of Prime Brokerage, large U.S. bank

Related post: Research study: How financial services firms will make money in the future

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Research study: How financial services firms will make money in the future

The financial services industry can't continue to make money the way it used to. So the IBM Institute for Business Value tackled the challenge of answering the following questions:
*  Which forces are disrupting the industry? 
*  What will clients be willing to pay for?
*  How will the basis for competition change? 
*  And what steps should financial services firms take to prosper over the next three years?

Recommendations for a "new financial order"

You can read the researchers' answers in "Toward transparency and sustainability: Building a new financial order." As I see it, their answers boil down to a need for financial services firms to

1. Work with regulators to develop a system that hits the right balance between protecting investors and fostering financial creativity

2. Deliver on their promises to clients, including their promise "to focus on the interests of their clients"

3. Become more specialized, with a division between "beta transactors" and "alpha seekers"

On #1, the need for the right regulation, the executives surveyed by IBM anticipate "greater transparency and higher capital requirements,"IBM's analysis suggests seven elements for an appropriate solution (see p. 7).

As for #2 "... firms will need to become more cost-effective, manage risk more competently and move closer to their clients," says the report (p. 9). 

The specialization called for in #3 may result from unbundling. Although the industry executives surveyed by IBM favor the universal banking model,"the vast majority (89 percent) anticipate that overcapacity will ultimately result in some sort of unbundling" (p. 12).

Provocative ideas

"Most providers do not even realize what their clients actually want," says the report. So they'll struggle to meet their clients' needs.

Managing risk will require cutting costs because "the amount of risk [financial institutions] can underwrite relative to the capital they employ will be much lower.... Slashing headcount and closing business lines--the levers traditionally employed when the industry wants to save money--will not be enough" (p. 9). Companies must slash 20% beyond the savings they realize from divestitures and eliminating redundancies, according to IBM's analysis. It sounds as if firms have a lot more cutting to do.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ignore this advice--at least some of it

"10 Words to Use in Your Website Copywriting" gives you some great advice. But some of author Eric Brantner's suggestions need to be adjusted for investment management websites.

Eric lists 10 words that tug powerfully on human emotions. 

Can you guess which word I'd ban from your vocabulary? 

Yes, it's "guaranteed." Bandying about "guaranteed" can get you in trouble with the SEC.

I have my doubts about "new" when it comes to something as sensitive as your prospective client's money. I think they may prefer "proven."

As for "free," it may seem tacky to offer something free on an investment management website. Sure, you can offer a free report, but don't hype it like one of those late night TV commercials for a super duper chopping gadget.

"You" is my favorite word on Eric's list. But I know some firms consider it undignified. They prefer to talk about "clients" or "investors." What's your preference?

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Worth magazine relaunches

What's up with Worth magazine?
It's going to relaunch in May with an even more exclusive readership than before. To receive a free subscription, a household must "have a minimum net worth of $2 million, have at least $1 million of equity in their main residence and live in one of 11 major markets, including New York, Boston and San Francisco," according to an article in Advertising Age.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Friday, April 17, 2009

"The Current Financial Crisis: Why did it happen and what is being done?"

Look at a typical investment bank's balance sheet and you can understand how the collapse of housing prices took down those banks. 

That's the message I took away from "The Current Financial Crisis: Why did it happen and what is being done?",  an April 16 presentation by John Haigh, executive dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, to the Boston Security Analysts Society. Haigh said it didn't take much to explode the investment banks' model of highly leveraged balance sheets with lots of short-term debt.

I liked his simple diagram of the progress of the financial crisis.
"Home prices fall -->mortgages reset --> delinquencies --> foreclosures --> prices fall further --> mortgage equity withdrawals decrease --> consumer spend falls --> job market erodes --> recession"

Haigh made several statements that stuck with me.
* People are wrong about the rating agencies. "These are such fundamentally new financial instruments tht they don't know how to rate them." That's because ratings agencies typically rely on historical data--which didn't exist for the new financial instruments--to build models for rating.
* There's a "hot potato theory" that investment banks tossed the hot potatoes off to pension funds. But, in fact, pension funds that got AAA notes got the better assets. Investment banks were left holding the worst assets. They thought they had insured against losses in those assets through credit default swaps. That turned out to be wrong. "That why they went overnight from being investment banks to being commercial banks." Given their exposure, they needed the liquidity and support of the federal government.
* People tell me credit default swaps are like Las Vegas, except Las Vegas is regulated and credit default swaps aren't.

To fix the near-term crisis, Haigh said, we must
1. Recapitalize banks
2. Restart interbank lending
3. Absorb "toxic" assets
4. Prevent bank runs

More regulation of financial services is coming. Haigh is concerned that the pendulum may swing from too little regulation to too much. He referred to an April 6 presentation by Barney Frank at the Kennedy School that discussed regulation.  However, Haigh said, "You have very smart, thoughtful people in the Obama administration. I don't think you'll get insane regulation unless Congress gets out of control." 

You can email John Haigh for a copy of his slides, if you'd like to learn more.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Focus on benefits, not features, in your marketing

Focusing on the benefits your clients will receive from your financial services is much more effective than touting your firm's features. In other words, focus on you, the client--not us, the firm.

I found a great example of this when I looked for gyms near me.

Gym 1 said, "Gym 1 is a premiere fitness, athletics, and rehabilitation facility that features the highest caliber trainers, equipment..."

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? But does it get you excited about joining a gym?

Now read the beginning of Gym 2's ad. 
     We've helped our members: 
     -fit into their clothes 
     -make their exes jealous
     -look amazing at their wedding

Sure, some people would opt for Gym 1 over Gym 2. But clearly Gym 2 makes more of an emotional connection with the reader.

You can find similar contrasts in wealth management. For example, one firm says, "Our company has been in business for 60 years." Prospective clients may read that statement and ask "So what? Why should I care?" They might re-word that as "Your money will be managed by a firm that has weathered up-markets and down-markets for 60 years."

How would you re-write "Our company has been in business for 60 years?" It would be great to get your suggestions.

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

"Media Opportunities Are There for the Asking. Choose Your Niche."-- guest post by Lisbeth Wiley Chapman

With more than 20 years of industry experience, Lisbeth Wiley Chapman of Ink &Air knows how to get national exposure for financial advisors. Her MediaStar newsletter  features practical tips that’ll also boost your visibility. Here's her guest post on "Media Opportunities Are There for the Asking.  Choose Your Niche."

Advisors often dream of a client list full of like-minded people such as wooden boat enthusiasts, Ford Mustang collectors, or fellow Triathlon competitors.

Or they covet a regular column in a publication for a vertical market -- all the dry cleaners in the U.S., contractors in New Jersey, or all the civil engineering firms in New England.  Every group mentioned above has a publication.  You can access that publication.  It takes effort and time, but not money.

Just Ask!
You might be amazed at the results.

Here are four case studies of unlikely successes where advisors were able to get invitations to write for target market audiences in athletic and trade publications.  One caveat:  most opportunities in an economic downturn will be in a web-based publication.  Don't let that dissuade you.  You are still being presented to an audience of readers as an expert and you can easily send your clients a URL to access your clip.  It's your job and it's easy to make sure your clients, prospects and centers of influence know you were a trusted expert and served as a source.

We'll call him John Jones, the advisor I met at a meeting of financial advisors. He wanted to be the financial advisor of choice of all the construction companies in New Jersey.  he wrote the editor of the largest trade newspaper for contractors and suggested a column.  They said yes, and the rest is history.  His practice is made up almost entirely of owners of construction companies, large and small and his column did generate referrals.

How Can You Find More Clients Who Fit Your Profile?
Replicate your best ones.

Anne Barry, a client of Ink&Air, who consulted to small and medium 401(k) plans, wanted to multiply her best client, a civil engineering firm.  "They have a lot of chiefs and some Indians, and their 401(k) plans are relatively rich.  I called the editor of Civil Engineering Magazine, and he said he would never run a story about sorting through competitive 401(k) proposals in his magazine, which focused solely on the technical aspects of civil engineering.  As I was politely thanking him, he said, "But, our sister publication Management Engineering, would be very interested.  Here's the editor's number.  My client was able to get a full-page story and picture about what to look for when comparing 401(k) plan proposals.  Who knew?

Don't Believe the Experts.
Nothing is Impossible!

Jeff White heard me speak at the FPA national conference last fall and corrected me during my talk.  He said it was not "nearly impossible" to get small newspapers to run financial advice stories, and that he had done this successfully with 10 or 12 weekly newspapers in a New England state.  I had indicated during my talk that such publications did not have the space for personal finance and rarely covered it.  The advisor produced columns and sent five to eight at a time.  He made it entirely up to the publication as to when and whether he got his fully attributed columns into the newspapers and frequently there was space and his information ran.  He did get referrals from this effort.  Don't believe me, try it and see.

Follow Your Passion to Clients You Know, Like and Understand
But you have to ask for the opportunity...

Following your passion makes sense.  Ben Perry is  a financial advisor and triathlete who told me that his dream clientele would be other athletes who participate in triathlons.  I Googled "Triathlete Publications" and got a mish-mash of state-specific running publications.  I called one and was referred to the publisher of seven state running publications.  He was delighted that my client could offer a financial column for runners, written in terms that an athlete could understand.  I never expected a "yes" and should know by now that the most amazing things happen when you simply ask for an opportunity.

Related posts:

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Monday, April 13, 2009

Which social networking sites do you use to promote your business?

Investment and wealth managers, which social networking sites do you use to promote your business or your career? Please answer the poll that will run in the right-hand column of my blog until a date in May 2009.

If you're not familiar with the sites I've named, here are links to their home pages:
Are there other social networking sites that you'd recommend to investment and wealth managers? If so, please name them in a comment to this blog post. 

I've been using LinkedIn for awhile, but am a recent convert to Twitter. Initially, I hated Twitter. But I've been impressed by how many new connections Twitter has made for me. I mostly ignore the other social networking sites.

Related posts:

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Friday, April 10, 2009

"When Ad Budgets Are Down, Get the Word Out with PR," a guest post

Now is a great time to consider replacing advertising with PR, suggests Precision Marketing Group in a guest post, "When Ad Budgets Are Down, Get the Word Out with PR."

In a perfect world, your business would have enough money to advertise in relevant outlets and to sustain an ongoing public relations effort. But if you are like most companies, today your main focus is cutting expenses and generating sales so you can stay afloat and survive the recession.

Advertising vs. PR
Advertising and public relations provide visibility for a business. When you advertise, you pay a media outlet - a trade or business publication, newspaper, radio or TV station or an online company - to publish an ad. When you engage in PR efforts, your goal is to convince these media outlets to cover your business.

Advertising can be expensive. It is also never guaranteed to generate leads, and many firms are finding that it's not worth the financial investment. When budget discussions come up - as they do on a daily basis these days- many organizations are slashing their advertising line item.

PR, however, can serve a powerful role during tough economic times. Because the coverage you receive is free, you invest only your time or the money you'd pay an employee or outsourced expert to create and execute your plan. In addition, having a respected media outlet cover your business provides valuable third-party credibility to your company.

Social media is generating more opportunities than ever for pitching your company story, as the number of bloggers in every industry continues to rise - and these bloggers need topics to write about several times a week.

During a recession PR coverage keeps you visible and helps your company to project a stable, successful image. The worst thing to do when times get tough is to disappear!

Thanks to Marcia Goff, one of PMG's PR specialists, for contributing some great PR tips to this month's newsletter.

Leveraging PR in a Recession
So how can your business take advantage of the power of PR during this recession?

Keep your story simple.
It is always better to send several different, simple pitches than to bank on a single convoluted pitch that tries to fit too much in. A reporter will spend just a few seconds reviewing your pitch, so make it clear and compelling. Make sure it includes why the reporter's audience should care about it!

Use customers, supporters, and end users to help tell your story.
Reporters like to tell real life, relevant stories that focus on the benefits of what you are marketing. Can you share with the press how your key stakeholders are benefiting from your products and services in this economy? How does your product or service help to drive business, save money or address a void in the industry? In a recession, these benefits are more important than ever.

Back up your pitch with relevant, accurate data from trusted sources.

Make the reporter's job as easy as possible by providing reliable facts that support your pitch and show industry demand for your product or service. Example, if you are a wine distributor who has noticed that liquor stores are doing well in this economy, you could find out if the trend is consistent across your industry. Leverage information from industry experts, analysts at research firms, professional trade associations or other third parties that can reinforce your message and underscore the viability of your company.

Show how knowledgeable you are about your industry. 

Remember one of the goals is to position yourself as an industry expert and thought leader. Demonstrate that knowledge by discussing issues that customers and prospects are facing, specific pain points, etc. If a reporter can rely on the information you provide, you will quickly become a valuable resource - and your firm will receive more coverage.

Tie your story to a trend or current event. 

Latching onto a topic that everyone is talking about is a surefire way to get the media's attention. These days, you can't click onto a news site, open a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing a story about the economy - how it is affecting consumer's buying patterns and lifestyles, what businesses are doing to avoid layoffs, etc. Reporters are under pressure to come up with interesting, fresh stories about this ongoing story, so help them out with a unique pitch.

Understand the competitive landscape.
You should be able to articulate how you fit in your industry and how your offerings are different than other things out there. For example, "Competitive solutions/services are deficient in this type of economy because of A, B, C ...we are overcoming these obstacles by delivering A, B, C..."

Be careful about saying things like "We are the only company doing X." 

Make sure you have vetted that stand thoroughly so you're not caught by surprise. It's also important to avoid bashing your competition. When talking with a reporter, remember that everything is "on the record" and free game for a reporter to write about and quote you as saying. And with viral nature of the Internet, whatever you say is out there for good once you say it!

Target the right reporter and tie your story to what they have covered recently.
For example, you can say, "I see you have covered the increase in xxx, my company is delivering a solution/service to help address these very issues..." Keep in mind that your story/pitch may need to be adapted to focus more on technical elements, business issues, or end user trends, depending on the angle that a particular reporter likes to cover. Be flexible and accommodating with the press and you'll have a better chance of getting covered in a positive light.

About Precision Marketing Group
Precision Marketing Group is an outsourced marketing firm for entrepreneurial, B2B organizations. If your business is trying to do more with less, survive the recession and position itself for a strong rebound when the economy improves, call or email us today!

Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved