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Embracing the Unknown: Messaging Principles for Wealth Managers in the ‘New Now’

August 25, 2020
By: Bill Haynes

This article originally appeared in

When and how the world returns to some semblance of normal remains to be seen. But the uncertainty of the moment is the “new now” and could very well turn into the “new normal” even after wealth managers start heading back into their offices in the fall and start seeing clients face to face again. How can advisors— whose business models rely on conveying trust, reassurance, and a sense of steadiness at the wheel — remain relevant with messaging during such a tumultuous period?

How can advisors— whose business models rely on conveying trust, reassurance, and a sense of steadiness at the wheel — remain relevant with messaging during such a tumultuous period?

1. Social Listening Is More Important Than Ever 

Stepping up your company’s attention to broader conversations, beyond just financial matters, is critical. Even if events or issues in the outside world don’t seem directly relevant to your day-to-day business, they are likely impacting someone in your company’s ecosystem, be it your workers, clients, investors, or partners. This relates back to the Business Roundtable’s pronouncement last fall that corporations can no longer focus exclusively on their investors. They must also work “for the benefit of all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.”

Amid the wave of social justice protests that have spread across the globe, many financial companies have had to engage because their clients and employees demand it. Failure to do so risks appearing tone-deaf to the important social and economic discussions taking place around you.

2. You Can’t Always Wait for the Fog to Lift

Embracing uncertainty and being willing to comment before a situation is entirely clear might seem counterintuitive in financial services, where caution and judiciousness are core principles. Nevertheless, the economic and social disruptions taking place in the outside world are unfolding in unexpected — and unexpectedly swift — ways.

We once thought of “outdated” as last year. In 2020, outdated can be as soon as last week — or even yesterday. Fiduciary Trust Company understood this well. The 135-year-old private wealth manager and trust company in Boston normally communicates its observations on the markets once a quarter. But in February, amid the growing pandemic and shutdowns, FTC decided that it could not wait to update clients on its thinking about how COVID-19 would impact the financial markets. It released several mid-quarter communications in multiple formats, including text, video and podcasts, that served as a calming voice in a rapidly changing market.

3. Speak Your Truth

In stormy times, your mission and core values are the messaging anchors that will provide you ballast. No matter how unpredictable things get, you can always control what you say about who you are, what you do, and what you believe. 

For instance, when stocks sank into a bear market in the early stages of the COVID crisis in late February, Adams Funds, a closed-end fund company headquartered in Baltimore, used the moment to revisit and update its long-standing “Stay Invested” thought leadership campaign. To be sure, telling investors to ignore the noise and remain committed to stocks for the long run isn’t easy when equities are plunging. But Adams’ messaging worked because the company’s own history is so rooted in long-term, disciplined investing. Adams was founded in 1929, just before the Great Depression started. Adams has not only successfully navigated 15 recessions over the past 90 years, its own success embodies the lessons of its long-term thinking.

An added benefit to this approach: Reaffirming your company’s principles sends a steady, consistent message that reinforces authenticity to clients seeking reassurance in anxious times.

Bill Haynes is the founder and CEO of BackBay Communications, an integrated public relations, content marketing and branding firm focused on asset managers, fintech, impact investing and private equity clients.

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