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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.

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The first value assessment reports are out – how is the industry doing so far?

by Dawn Hyams, Head of Investor Insight and Governance

It was Andrew Bailey, now heading the Bank of England but formerly CEO at the FCA, who said “The effectiveness of communication with consumers is…a test of culture”.

The FCA’s request that fund management firms assess the value that they are delivering to investors in their funds has given rise to a flurry of activity across the industry. Combined with the arrival of iNEDs on fund boards and the fact that the assessment of value is called out as a formal responsibility under the Senior Managers’ regime, firms should be (and from what we can see many are) treating this as more than just a box-ticking exercise. In fact, from our perspective, conversations around delivery of value are prompting interesting and often challenging debates on value (and values), as well as the longer-term shape of the fund industry.

It would seem from the FCA’s recent ‘Dear CEO letter’ to fund boards, however, that they feel the need to reiterate the importance of the thought process behind the report – and expect to see evidence of challenge from the iNEDs.

It is certainly true that there are still some ‘pockets of resistance’, reluctant to embrace the cultural change that the FCA is calling for. Firms are also tackling value assessment in something of a vacuum – so it is reasonably difficult to get a handle on what ‘good’ looks like, given that there is no set format for reporting or the process behind it and that any guidance that has come from the FCA is open to interpretation. We keep coming back to the fact that this requirement fell out of the Asset Management Market Study and was prompted by the FCA’s view that too many funds were charging too much money for delivering close to benchmark performance to customers. The aim was to ‘out’ closet trackers and their close relations (again, a timely reminder on this in the FCA’s letter). The flipside, is that this can be seen as an opportunity for active managers to set out their stall and demonstrate the value they are adding.

Our observations so far on what good looks like…

Firms that are doing this well have genuinely considered customers as part of the process:

  • What do customers value?
  • What do customers understand about the fees they pay and what they get in return?
  • Is there a robust process behind the report to customers?
  • What was the quality of internal debate and how involved were the NEDs?
  • Do they understand your value assessment reporting?
  • Were the NEDs given enough information and time to be able to challenge the process effectively?
  • What are the remedial actions falling out of the process and how do these impact customers and their advisers?
  • How do you talk to customers about value assessment in a way that is meaningful to them?

Some of the reports that have been issued so far have completely missed the mark in our view – jargon-filled and with little context or explanation that will help customers understand why they should even pick up the report or care about what is inside. Will the FCA be more concerned with the internal process and debate? Yes, of course. For us, it comes back to whether or not the way you talk to your customers is a reflection of your culture. How seriously have you taken this process if you can’t even be bothered to report to customers in a language they understand?

Get in touch to find out how.