hands writing: valuable professional habit

Why Writing is The Most Valuable Professional Habit of an Advisor

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.”

-William Faulkner

It is the one-year anniversary of my commitment to the most valuable professional habit benefitting clients: Writing. It took 15 years to figure out, but consistently writing and sharing may be the most important thing I do for our clients, our team, and myself. If an advisor’s job description includes helping people make sense of the world around them and manage their money accordingly, then written communication should be near the top of the list of skills for anyone in my role. After all, wouldn’t it be valuable for someone who works with investors each day to turn around and communicate what he or she has learned through that experience?  One would think, but it doesn’t often happen.

Why Advisors don’t communicate

  • Advisory firms, especially large brokerages, place restrictions on what their advisors can write. It would be a compliance nightmare to monitor what thousands of advisors are distributing to their clients, so the best option is to limit communication to the company line. This often results in clients receiving the thoughts and opinions of someone they likely have never met instead of the unique insights of their personal advisor. The advisors are left to argue “our experts are better than their experts.” In my opinion, it leads to the intellectual atrophy of many brokerage firms.
  • We as advisors write the way we think financial people are supposed to write. I know I have fallen into the trap of writing about corporate earnings, wonky statistics, and global interest rates in a way that bores a reader to sleep. Our clients don’t want us to regurgitate what we saw on CNBC that day. They want us to read from diverse sources, seek out differing opinions, and share, in a language our clients understand, why all of this matters to them.
  • Writing is hard work. Staring at a blank page is daunting. Here is a difficult question to answer when reading about money and investing: “What do I strongly believe about this financial subject and how can I improve someone’s understanding of it?” It is challenging, but the effort put forth to answer this question on a regular basis may be the most valuable professional habit an advisor develops for the families he or she serves.

What I have learned from this valuable professional habit

I have published 38 blog entries in the last year, and dozens of others never saw the light of day.  Finding my voice has been a process of learning, thinking, and relating.  A process paralleling that of investing, requiring patience and understanding while always allowing room for improvement.  When I started writing, I thought it might be useful for our clients.  Over the past year, I have discovered an even more powerful “Why” behind these regular communications:

  • If one person is thinking it there are hundreds more wondering the same thing. So many questions go unasked due to fear, confusion, or uncertainty.  That question you never thought to ask your advisor? Someone just asked me the same thing and if I can share my answer with an audience, then maybe it makes everyone more inclined to speak openly and ask more questions.
  • Writing means accountability. It shows that I have taken the time to learn, think, and relate.  I am never 100% right (which is why I am allergic to any kind of predictions) but I find discussing a matter, whether it be simple or complex in nature, to be an important process for learning, growing, and making myself accountable to the people I serve.  I am putting myself on the record.
  • It’s not just about the numbers. Financial success is about sound principles, but the financial industry would have you believe it is about percentages, indexes, and data points. An advisor should take the raw data of the world and tie it back to the principles that guide a family’s financial plan. The process of writing helps me to define and challenge those principles every day.

I have been asked several times if I write all of my blogs, and if it takes time?  The answers are yes, and yes. Writing is a demonstration that I am continuing the process of learning, thinking, and relating. It is a time commitment, but so is golf. Unfortunately, the financial industry is filled with good golfers and poor communicators. I don’t want that to be the experience of our clients. As I get better at writing I know that our client experience will improve, the knowledge of our team will deepen, and we will achieve our goal of building a community.

There are great writers emerging in the independent advisor space and they are helping change the way investors think about their relationship with money.  I am by no means in their company as a good writer, but I aspire to be. I am thousands of words closer to that goal than I was a year ago.