For years, David Haas prepared a 10-page market commentary every quarter and mailed it to all of his clients. It took about 20 hours to write.
Haas, a certified financial planner at Cereus Financial Advisors in Franklin Lakes, NJ, began to question whether he should have continued to invest so much time and effort into these reports. Then, in 2020, he inserted a line near the end: “Anyone reading this, I’ll give you a $25 Amazon gift card if you contact me.”
“I only had to give away one gift card,” Haas said. “So I stopped writing these comments.”
He realized that most of his clients aren’t particularly interested in reading his lengthy analysis of the economy and markets. They trust their advisor to know these things, “so there’s no need to keep proving it” by writing lengthy comments, he says.
Yet many advisors are market pundits who enjoy sharing their thoughts on everything from hot and cold stock sectors to the Federal Reserve’s latest moves. They think that providing regular market updates to clients differentiates them from their peers.
If you’re going to be writing market reviews, how do you make sure they hit the mark? Will customers – and other recipients – find them useful or will they simply destroy them?
To attract readers, generate excitement with a clever headline and eye-catching graphics. Stimulate their curiosity early on so they’re more motivated to dive in rather than flip through pages and discard.
“The key is a catchy headline and images that captivate the reader,” said Tom Balcom, a certified financial planner at 1650 Wealth Management in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida. “We find that’s what piques their interest.”
Remove the fluff
From experience, consultants understand how to refine the market commentary process to deliver more value to readers. Ironically, even the most flaky advisors with a grasp of arcane market theories are at the greatest risk of wasting time.
Their passion for the subject may lead them to use technical jargon. Readers who don’t share their passion tend to ignore updates.
“Over time, I’ve learned to make them shorter,” said Ken Waltzer, a certified financial planner at Los Angeles-based KCS Wealth Advisory. He started writing quarterly market reports in 2004.
His latest quarterly report was about 2,750 words plus about 250 words of disclosure at the end. While some customers peruse it, others skim through it, he says.
As the first step in writing any report, Waltzer and his colleagues ask, “What are our customers worried about?”
“Let’s start with what they might be confused about,” he said. “It’s a way to keep our customers engaged and help them understand what’s going on with their money.”
To limit the word count, Waltzer proofread the draft twice. First, he looks for ways to revise the content to make it flow better. He then revisits the text a few hours later—or the next day—with the sole intention of cutting out extraneous words and phrases.
“You don’t need to go into a dissertation on any topic,” he said. He and his colleagues resist the urge to add details when an overview works just as well.
Choose the right headers to organize your content
Writing market updates becomes easier when you apply the same organizational structure to each one. That’s why some consultants develop a template and then push content into it.
For example, Waltzer organizes his market commentary into four parts: a review of what has happened in the markets since the last quarterly report, what factors have influenced recent market moves, what he and his colleagues think will happen in the next quarter and how they’re handling clients’ money accordingly.
Mike Caligiuri takes a similar approach. A certified financial planner at Caligiuri Financial in Dublin, Ohio, divides his quarterly market commentary into four headings: stocks, bonds, precious metals/bitcoins, and monetary policy/fiscal policy.
“Throughout the quarter, I’ve been collecting articles (on financial topics) that I feel are important to share with my clients,” Caligiuri said. “Once I have this huge list of items, I put them into one of these four sections.”
To improve his writing, Caligiuri says he likes to vary the structure of his sentences to avoid stringing together many long sentences. He also tries to anticipate what his clients, mostly doctors, want to know.
“I put myself in their shoes,” he said. “They may want to know what the Federal Reserve is doing and what the impacts are. I try to focus on teaching important and fundamental concepts.”
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