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Save the Shop Talk

Your clients think it’s gibberish.

Carl Richards, 09/29/2016

I attended a barbecue with a bunch of friends who happened to be emergency room doctors at a major hospital and research university. Other than a few of the spouses, I was the only other person who wasn’t a doctor. But that didn’t stop them from talking shop during dinner.

In graphic detail over chicken, I heard way more than I wanted to know about medical procedures. I was both amazed and more than a little sick. They didn’t even flinch. It was normal to them.

As financial professionals, we do something similar—but maybe not quite as gross. We have a bad habit of talking about our work that confuses everyone else. Think about the words we use. Annuity. Basis points. Alpha. Beta. Dollar-cost averaging. Volatility.

I mean, really, would you talk to your mother like that? It’s so bad I think nonfinancial people suspect we’re talking gibberish at best. For our clients, it’s not just nonsense. It’s a problem.

It ties into a complaint I hear from both clients and professionals all over the world. “I don’t know how to explain [complex topic] to clients,” and “I don’t understand when my advisor starts talking about [same complex topic].”

It’s tempting to tell both sides to try harder, but this advice ignores reality. The responsibility falls to us. Unless your clients are financial professionals, there’s little reason for them to understand what we can all agree is a complex system with overwhelming options. Instead, I believe advisors need to think more like their clients.

For the next few minutes, put on your client cap and ask yourself, “What do I want my mom to hear and know?” Yes, I’m pulling out the mom card, and I know it sounds simple, but stick with me.

The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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