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It’s time to join the culture club or fall out of fashion

by Anna Lane, CEO |

The FCA’s Business Plan 2020/21 slipped out last month almost unnoticed.  With COVID-19 turning even the best-laid plans upside down, it was perhaps no great surprise to hear that the regulator needs more time to reflect on what the current crisis might mean for long-term strategy and the shape of the organisation. When the new CEO is finally appointed, they will certainly have a long to do list for their 100-day plan.

It was telling that, in the limited space available, the FCA hammered home their medium-term priorities, putting both customer outcomes and culture front and centre. It reads like a final wake-up call for any management team holding out against the inevitable tide of change.

The FCA want to see firms embracing business models and strategies that minimise potential harm to customers. They call out four key drivers of culture – purpose, leadership, approach to rewarding and managing people, and governance. Interestingly for an organisation that many customers don’t even know exists, this approach perfectly encapsulates the emerging zeitgeist and reflects our own conversations with investors. While 2019 was the year the world woke up to the climate emergency, 2020 is being increasingly dominated by talk of the need for social reform. A defined purpose and clear cultural values are no longer a nice to have – they will be essential for firms that want to survive (and even thrive) in a post-pandemic world.

In our latest survey of UK retail investors, a significant majority (70%) told us they will consider a company’s behaviour during the pandemic in their future investment decisions. This rises to 81% amongst Millennials. As a member of the Wise Society puts it:

“I think this crisis should serve as a wake-up call, to government, businesses up and down the country and people should look deeply into how they operate as a company.”

This extends not just to the companies sitting inside portfolios, but also to the firms that consumers trust to manage their money. It will come as no surprise that we have tested a few assessment of value reports recently. What has become apparent is that investors don’t just want to read about the outcomes of the assessment, they want to get a sense of what the company stands for. How do you behave as a business? Company attitudes towards their employees, their customers, wider society, and the environment will have a direct impact on future commercial success.

The focus on culture isn’t just a passing fad – companies that fail to sit up and take note will be consigned to the history books.

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Communicating in a crisis – TWC’s top tips

by Dawn Hyams, Head of Investor Insight and Governance

Communicating clearly with investors is more critical than ever with markets gyrating at a moment’s notice – but what does this really mean in practice? In these uncertain times, we know firms have been working hard to ensure their investors are updated and reassured as soon as possible, however it is important that any efforts to reach out do not confuse (or even worry) investors.

Here at The Wisdom Council, we regularly help our clients with content that will engage investors, always keeping in mind the regulator’s focus on clear communications and the link with corporate culture. Based on this experience we have pulled together our top tips for communicating with your customers in a crisis:

1. Think about what a customer wants to know and address their concerns directly: be open and clear with investors and don’t shy away from telling them how it is – be authentic and they will thank you for it in the long run.

2. Tell a coherent story – does it flow, is it logical?

3. Keep messages straightforward, concise and consistent.

4. Clearly signpost what you are presenting and what it is designed to convey.

5. Break it down – filter out information that isn’t relevant and it is more likely that the important stuff will land.

6. Use pictures or metaphors to guide clients through information where it is complex or could be open to interpretation – but remember to label graphics clearly.

7. Don’t be afraid to use a Q&A format as the best way to present information for your audience – either in written content or better still in a live format that people can watch. For once, you might find that people have the time to click on links!

8. Take ownership of what is happening in terms of strategy or fund trades. Don’t talk in the third person. Not ‘The Fund has moved underweight…’ but ‘we have decided to sell xyz and here’s why’. Customers are looking for reassurance.

9. AVOID JARGON – At times like this, it is even more important that communications are clear and easily understood. With investment updates talking about ‘market dislocations’, ‘deep discounts’ and ‘fundamentals reasserting themselves’ it all feels predictably opaque.

Is your distribution mainly B2B? If it is, it’s important to still remember to ‘write for the customer first’ (as the FCA constantly reminds us). We know that time is of the essence when markets are crashing and you’re under pressure to communicate with multiple audiences. Think clearly about the needs of each audience. Depending on what time and resource you have available to pull content together, it might be better to focus on nailing customer customer communications first. This often helps you to focus on the key messages you are trying to get across. Then you can build out from there for advisers.

The Wisdom Council has significant expertise in delivering effective communications, applying what we learn through talking to customers and their advisers about all things investing. Just some of the services that you might find useful:

  • Editing or creating customer content – particularly useful if the team that normally generates content is understaffed or under additional pressure. Within team TWC we have experienced writers and editors who can help.
  • If you are building content but would like it reviewed by investors before you press send – TWC can offer a range of research and testing options with quick turnarounds.
  • Where more of your teams are getting involved in writing/approving customer communications and need guidance/training on what is and isn’t appropriate language. We can easily set up online training sessions and tailor them as needed.

We would be happy to discuss the full range of services that we offer, so please do get in touch if you think we can help.