What you write matters
I have recently been reading quite a few estate agents' descriptions of properties in West Wales. Yes, once again we are going through the process of contemplating the Rural Idyll, but don't hold your breath. We've been here before.
I was struck by the sheer awfulness of the kind of content you find on estate agents' websites, when describing the properties that they are allegedly attempting to sell. In one case, there was a photograph of a toilet. Not the room wherein the convenience resides, but rather the porcelain device itself - as if, in some strange parallel universe, that alone would suffice to sell the property. I could imagine the incredulous would-be purchaser calling for his wife, to marvel at the life-changing implications of a genuine, internal toilet. Certainly beats nocturnal trips down the garden to dig your own hole. Well, we've all been there.
One clicks on a property where the website boasts some 26 images, only to discover that nearly all of them are of the garden or of the recently refitted kitchen. You find yourself wondering how appalling the rest of the property must be, if the vendors apparently cannot bring themselves to illustrate it. One imagines the estate agent blocking the door exiting from the kitchen ("No! Please don't go there!"), because on the other side of it there is a kind of dungeon operated by the local satanist cult, and there's a human sacrifice in progress.
The selection of images may be eccentric, but frequently the wording beggars rational evaluation. How about "An internal inspection is recommended"? I suppose there might be certain property buyers who make their minds up via a kind of drive-buy viewing, or perhaps on the basis of that revelatory shot of a toilet seat, but they really do need some kind of medical help. Surely to goodness, you'd really want to see what a property is like inside before you shelled out a large sum of money for it?
What we write matters, and how we write it matters just as much.
This applies to our promotional materials, which set out our service, our values, what we are about and what sets us apart. And it applies to the documentation of advice. Years ago, as a Member of another network, we had a piece of software which did it all for you, robotically. It generated soulless verbiage which had one redeeming feature - it was compliant. Other than that, it had no positive quality whatsoever. Even the act of signing the printed copy, as the adviser, felt icky. I used to imagine the poor client receiving it, and the subsequent collapse of their self-worth, and their will to exist. The kind of writing which is designed to tick boxes, rather than communicate issues of life-changing value, should be the kind of thing that we would feel ashamed of - my own participation in a literary act which drags down people's aspirations says a great deal (negatively) about what I believe my role to be.
OK, so ValidPath do have that kind of software too, as a resource for our Members. We are well aware of its limitations, and we know it's there more as a kind of insurance for the adviser than anything else. But the resource is not there to replace your 'voice', your own natural creativity - it is there to supplement it by including the regulatory essentials that may easily be forgotten. How you communicate, in print, tells the client a great deal about your own values. If the client, and his/her financial wellbeing is genuinely important to you, that'll come out in the text. If you are genuinely concerned about the risks they may face, or are currently facing (if they fail to act), that will become apparent too. Whether your client flourishes financially, or relapses into a period of decline should matter a great deal to motivated financial-planners, because we are the ones with the tools, ideas and disciplines to make a real difference. It is for this reason that financial-planners who operate on the basis of conviction, will have little truck with insistent clients.
And that should become obvious when we put pen to paper.