How to capture investment client questions when you lack access?

Tuesday, Jun. 23rd 2015

Investment commentary writers who lack direct access to clients may struggle to understand what’s on those clients’ minds. This makes it difficult for the writers tohands reaching through bars address those clients’ concerns in their commentary. What can you do in this situation?

I have some potential solutions to this challenge, which came up in a Q&A session for my presentation on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

1. Ask for feedback from the people with client contact

“What questions are your clients asking you?” This is a great question to ask the people who enjoy direct contact with the investor who use your company’s products or services. Open-ended questions like this may uncover totally new areas of interest and concern.

On the other hand, the question may be too vague to spark a memory among individuals who don’t routinely note client questions. Try asking more specific questions, such as what are your clients asking you about

  • Where to invest
  • Investments that worry them
  • Asset allocation
  • The economy
  • The effect of new taxes

When you get more specific, consider focusing on timely topics and your firm’s topical strengths.

2. Demonstrate the value of sharing information with you

What if the people in the middle aren’t communicative? A participant in one of my investment commentary programs said, “we ask our financial advisors but they won’t tell us.”

First, asking more specific questions, as I suggest above, may spur better responses.

Second, consider recruiting one person with client contact who can serve as an example of the value of sharing information. I imagine that you can find one person who’ll agree to help, especially when they understand that they’re not one of many people whom you’re asking for help. After all, they may have assumed that other people were feeding information to you.

Warning: If you take this approach, you should commit to following through on writing about at least one of your contact’s topics even if the client questions don’t seem worthy of incorporation in your next commentary.

For example, a client may ask a complex question about an investment strategy that accounts for a minuscule portion of your assets. Unless you can tie the answer to broader themes, it’s probably not worthy of incorporation in your commentary. However, the question rates an answer via phone or email. If the answer potentially has broader applications, you can share in on your website or a Q&A document.

Assuming you turn up a great client question, incorporate it in your commentary and give credit to the person who reported the question, assuming it’s okay with the reporter. Good behavior is contagious as Chip Heath says in Switch. If you highlight and reward good behavior, more should follow.

3. Find opportunities to hear directly from clients

If you can sit in meetings with individual clients, that’s great. If that’s not possible, then look for opportunities to listen in group settings.

For example, you may send a strategist or asset class specialist to speak at events attended by users of your firm’s products or services. Ask if you can send a second person to attend the event. Observers can record client questions. They can also observe what parts of the presentation most intrigue or perplex the audience. That’s valuable information.

YOUR suggestions?

If you’ve successfully tackled this challenge, I’d like to hear from you. Please share your solution.


Image courtesy of sakhorn38 at


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in client communication | No Comments »

Use personal stories to make your content pop!

Thursday, Jun. 18th 2015

“How can I make my content stand out, especially when I’m competing with companies with big names?” Participants in my writing workshops often ask me that busquestion when I survey them as part of my preparation. You may grapple with the same challenge.

Your personal stories are unique and can make even the dullest topic come alive.

As an example, I share below my tips for snaring a seat on a commuter bus, which originally appeared in The Boston Globe. I don’t know anyone else who could have tackled the topic as I did.

Strategy is key, at the bus stop and in the market

By Susan B. Weiner

Most folks who know us think my husband and I work hard at our jobs in Boston’s financial services industry. And we do. But they haven’t seen true concentration until they have watched us jockey for seats on the express bus heading home during rush hour.

Our bus stop on Federal Street is a major hub of commuter activity. There’s ample room for six buses to pull up along the curb of the spacious plaza, which fronts the headquarters of one of Boston’s largest financial institutions. A big crowd clusters there during the evening rush, each weary worker hoping that his or her bus is the one gliding up to the curb.

It’s then that my investment management training comes into play. When our bus arrives, we don’t just board it. I’ve worked with my husband, Allan, to create a plan to achieve our goals, just as an investment counselor would work with clients. Short term, we want a double seat on the bus so we can talk side-by-side on the ride home. Our long-term goal? A happy marriage. Presumably our onboard talks about the day’s work will contribute to a close partnership.

Risk tolerance? High for achieving the first goal, low for the second. Assets? We’re both analytical and determined. Liabilities? We’re both nearsighted and short. We can’t count on spying our bus ahead of the, crowd. Nor do we have the bodies or faces to scare potential competitors out of our path. My curlyhaired, rosy-cheeked husband is more likely to crack jokes than to scowl.

As in investing, strategy is key. If l arrive first at the bus stop, I ponder the situation as intently as a securities analyst looks at her industry. My mission: to figure out where the next bus will pull up, so I can position myself. I want to be the first person on the bus, so I can grab a double seat, a prize almost as delectable as a double-digit increase in stock price.

When my husband arrives, he knows that he should look for me not at a fixed meeting spot, but where we reckon the next express bus for Waltham will open its doors.

It’s not easy to figure. That downtown corner is the assembly point for half a dozen express buses that travel the Massachusetts Turnpike. The buses come in no particular order. Some financial commentators complain that sector rotation in the stock market is vicious—financial stocks win one week, consumer staples another. But they haven’t seen anything like the random nature of bus arrivals. It’s Newton Corner…Newton Corner…Brighton…Watertown…Riverside. Often it feels as if the Waltham bus I’ve placed my stake on doesn’t come often enough.

The buses pull in at different spots along the curb. Sometimes they’ll stop only to roll on their “out of service” signs and cut their engines, because they’re early. Just as stock prices can’t rise without a catalyst,a bus driver can’t leave ahead of schedule. At least not without special dispensation from a dispatcher.

On occasion, I catch a clue from the dispatcher as he waves a hand to direct a bus. A dispatcher’s gesture can move the crowd, just as an upgrade from an influential analyst might spark a run-up in a stock.

Other times, there’s only one opening on the block, so the bus’s destination is obvious. On other occasions, I’ll analyze the bus as it angles toward the curb. I think of that as the bus world’s equivalent of technical analysis of stocks—both involve the velocity and directional pattern of the subject.

But just when I think I’ve perfected my analytical skills, a bus driver will fake me out by parking in an unexpected spot. It’s as unpleasant as a negative earnings surprise by a company that’s overweighted in my portfolio. As they say in mutual fund advertisements, “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”

When Allan finally shows up at the bus stop, there’s only time for a quick kiss. “I’ll wait behind this bus. You go back there,” he’ll say. We split up to improve the odds of getting first crack at seats together. My husband calls this “diversifying our assets.” We both know that diversification increases rewards while reducing risk.

“There it is!” I’ll yell sometimes, if enthusiasm gets the best of me upon spotting my quarry. But just as the highest rewards go to the first investors in a stock gathering momentum, the best seat goes to the bus analyst who discreetly signals, using a raised hand or a mere wink.

Allan tries to join me without alerting our fellow commuters. Once the bus is spotted, others will pile in, as investors piled into the dot-com stocks of the 1990s. I persevere. I’ve become adept at twisting my body to fit into openings without jostling my competitors. Sometimes I reach the hard blue plastic seats before my husband can get on the bus. Like any investor, I work hard to lock in my gains. Placing a bulging briefcase on the seat next to me will often be enough. Otherwise, I repeat my mantra to those who ask if the seat is taken: “My husband is sitting there; my husband is sitting there.” Soon enough he’ll appear.

Actively managed stock portfolios struggle to beat the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. The level of competition for double seats at rush hour runs just as high. It feels terrific when Allan and I succeed. I’m flushed with excitement as my husband drops happily into the seat next to me. Finally, I can relax.

Image courtesy of Adam Hickmott at


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Writing tip: Make your point like The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, Jun. 16th 2015

pouring water“Water is hot and diet soda is not.” An introductory sentence like this will stick with the reader of your article, blog post, or investment commentary. It grabbed my attention when I read “Soft Drinks Hit 10th Year of Decline” by Mike Esterl in The Wall Street Journal (March 27, 2015).

Why this sentence works

This sentence works because it briefly sums up the article. Short sentences are easier for your reader’s brain to absorb.

I also like the rhyming of “hot” and “not.” It makes the sentence more memorable than “Water is trending up, while diet soda declines.”

How to write your short sentence

Writing short, catchy sentences like this is easier said than done. A dollop of inspiration helps.

However, if you’re short on inspiration, try the following techniques to find your sentence:

  1. Walk away from the page. Sometimes letting your piece marinate in your mind for a day or two helps you find inspiration.
  2. Try freewriting. Take 15 minutes to write whatever comes into your head as you think about your article topic. Review what you’ve written, looking for a short, catchy summary.
  3. Draw a mind map of your topic. The visual nature of a mind map may help you to develop a fresh perspective on your topic. Don’t know how to create a mind map? I give step-by-step instructions in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Once you’ve found your first sentence, look at shortening it and making it punchier. Take the flab out by deleting unnecessary words. Replace Latinate words with simpler words.

More writing lessons from this article

Esterl’s soft drinks article gave me more ideas for your writing. Consider using his overall article structure, which I see as the following:

  1. Lead sentence
  2. Supporting statistics for the lead sentence—water first, soft drinks second—the same order as in the lead sentence
  3. More information about the main point of the article—the decline of soft drinks
  4. Related information that’s less critical to the main point—the rise in water’s popularity

This isn’t the only structure that’ll work. It’s just one option for organizing your article in a reader-friendly way.

By the way, Esterl’s writing abides by the advice I give “Financial writers, lead with your message, not your source.” I hope you’ll do the same.


Have you succeeded in creating catchy lead sentences? Please share your favorite lead sentence in the comments.


Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin at


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Can YOU simplify investment commentary better than this?

Tuesday, Jun. 9th 2015

I am not perfect. I don’t have all of the answers for how to best simplify the complex sentences that abound in investment commentary and related publications. However, we would all blue pencilbenefit if the smart investment professionals could communicate more clearly and economically.

To spur conversation, I’m posting some before-and-after versions of sentences inspired by what I’ve read in online and printed investment pieces. Most of my tweaks are minor. They don’t dramatically ratchet up the sentences’ effectiveness. However, their simplicity means that they demonstrate techniques that would be easy for anyone to implement.

If you’re trying to improve your writing skills, I hope that you’ll find some inspiration. If you’re a veteran writer or editor, perhaps you can suggest better alternatives.

Investment writing before-and-after examples

Example 1

Before: An important point to make is that rising interest rates do not necessarily have a negative impact for bond investors as often perceived.
After: Contrary to what many think, rising interest rates don’t necessarily hurt bond investors.
Note: “Show, don’t tell” is standard writing advice. Instead of saying that something is important, convey its significance simply and quickly.

Example 2

Before: What are the things that matter most to members of the portfolio management team?
After: What matters most to the portfolio management team?
Note: Deleting unnecessary words makes it easier for readers to grasp your message. The “after” version might be simplified further to “What matters most to the portfolio managers?” or even, depending on context, “What matters most to the portfolio?”

Example 3

Before: The Fed’s statement will be illustrative in highlighting the Fed’s future plans.
After: The Fed’s statement will highlight its plans.
Note: This is one of several examples showing how replacing forms of the verb “to be” strengthens your sentences. Also, “illustrative” and “future” aren’t necessary in this sentence. Readers grasp them from the context.

Example 4

Before: Bank of America has a sound capital position and a management team that is well regarded.
After: Bank of America has a sound capital position and a well-regarded management team.
Note: Converting phrases such as “that is well regarded” into adjectives can streamline your sentences. Just don’t pile up too many adjectives in a row. You’ll overwhelm your readers. Some adjectives are valuable. However, I like what Mark Twain said about them: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.” 

Example 5

Before: One third of S&P 500 earnings are derived from foreign sales.
After: One-third of S&P 500 earnings come from foreign sales.
Note: This is another example of how you can streamline sentences by eliminating forms of “to be.”

Example 6

Before: Our current expectation is that foreign bond buying will prevent longer-term rates from increasing significantly in 2015.
After: We expect that longer-term rates will not increase significantly in 2015, due to foreign bond buying.
Note:  Using “I”  or “we” will enliven “to be” phrases like the “before” version of this sentence. I also suggest that you put the most important part of your sentence in the beginning. I thought the writer’s interest rate expectations were more important than the foreign bond buying.

Example 7

Before: This technique improved returns without a dramatic increase in risk.
After: This technique improved returns without dramatically increasing risk.
Note: Verbs are more powerful than nouns.

Your thoughts?

I welcome your thoughts about how to improve these sample sentences or how to improve investment-related writing in general. Please comment.


Update on July 2, 2015: Oops, I edited the title of this post after realizing that it violated a traditional grammar rule favoring “Can you simplify investment commentary better than I” instead of “than me.” Garner’s American Usage says “I” is the traditional right answer, but “me” is okay for a deliberately relaxed, colloquial tone. After sharing this topic with friends, I changed the title because I realized that passions run high on this issue. By the way, I realized that I’ve been caught on this issue before, as you’ll see if you read “Are you as compulsive as me or I?

Image courtesy of thaikrit at


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | 2 Comments »

Work smarter, not harder, on your blog

Tuesday, Jun. 2nd 2015
book cover: Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients

My book can help you to work smarter, not harder, on your blog. See what happy readers say on Amazon:

You’re a busy professional. You don’t have unlimited time to devote to your investment or financial planning blog. However, if you’re blogging without a strategy or plan, you’re wasting time. Advance preparation, as I explain below, will allow you to work smarter, not harder, on your blog.

Step 1. Know your goals.

Do as I say, not as I do, when it comes to blogging. I wasted time on two earlier blogs until I found my focus in helping financial marketing professionals learn to write better.

You’ll achieve better results if you start by identifying your target audience and your topic areas. Both should align with your business focus. For example, if you offer financial planning to divorced women in their fifties or older, don’t write blog posts for Millennials about how to start saving in a Roth IRA account.

Step 2. Pick the right blogging frequency

Consistency counts when you blog. Your clients won’t be impressed if you blog twice a day for one month, quarterly for a year, and then sporadically thereafter. They’ll worry that you bring the same lack of commitment to your main business, as I discussed in “Woody Allen’s wisdom for successful financial bloggers.”

Pick a posting frequency that you can stick with. Not sure how often you can post? Create a cache of posts that aren’t time-sensitive before you go public with your blog.

Step 3. Develop a process

When you develop a repeatable process for your blog, you’ll invest less energy in creating each post. This is why my book, Financial Blogging: How To Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients gives you step-by-step instructions for the following topics:

  1. Brainstorming ideas
  2. Organizing your thoughts before you write
  3. Writing your first draft
  4. Making “big picture” edits
  5. Making smaller edits

The book also discusses compliance, marketing, and time management.

After you develop a process that works for you, your blog posts will take shape more quickly and easily.

Step 4. Learn your blogging personality

Different approaches to blogging work best for different people. Pay attention to what works best for you, so you can do more of those things.

For example, some people enjoy writing to a detailed editorial calendar, as I described in “How to manage a group blog: Financial advisor edition.” But that approach would be like torture for me. I need some inspiration to write.

I’ve identified some techniques that work well for me. For example

Don’t force yourself to use techniques you don’t enjoy—especially when better alternatives exist.

Step 5. Get help

You don’t have to do it all yourself. For example, Sheri Iannetta Cupo of Sage Advisory Group, LLC uses the help of Wendy Vissar to create customized images for her blog, as explained in “Boost your blog with original photos: The SAGE Advisory example.” Rick Kahler of Kahler Financial uses an editor. Some advisors have used the services of Wired Advisor to help with the design and development of their blogs. You can use my Financial Blogging book as a source of ideas for how to overcome common challenges for bloggers.

I’m not a big fan of hiring a ghost blogger. You’ll do better by letting your personality shine through in something you’ve written. You can adapt your posts to suit your skills and preferences. For example, you can write very short, opinionated pieces. Or you can create podcasts or videos.

If you’re determined to use content written by others, check out the resources in “Ready-to-use content for financial advisors.”

It’s rare for me to take on ghost-blogging outside of ongoing relationships with larger companies. However, you can hire me to critique one of your blog posts so you can learn to improve future posts.

What are YOUR best tips?

I’d like to see your best tips for working smarter, not harder, on your blog.


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in blog | No Comments »

Reader question: How to get writers to follow style guidelines?

Monday, Jun. 1st 2015

Marketing and communications professionals at financial firms face a challenge. They understand the importance of well-written content that follows style headacheguidelines to be reader-friendly. However, they often depend on experts outside the marketing department to generate that content. Investment and wealth management professionals may not know or care about style guidelines. When they fail to abide by style guidelines, they create headaches for their readers and their colleagues.

How can marketers get cleaner copy from their colleagues? This is essentially what one reader asked me in the following message:

How can we implement and maintain style guidelines across a company, generating and maintaining buy-in and compliance?

I brainstormed with some colleagues and took inspiration from Switch, a book by Chip and Dan Heath, to suggest steps to improve your colleagues’ compliance with style guidelines.

1. Offer style guide training

Ignorance is bliss. At least, that may be true for your colleagues. They can’t abide by guidelines of which they’re unaware.

Provide training on your style guidelines. A short session focused on the most important guidelines will probably attract the greatest attendance and get the best results.

Consider folding your discussion of guidelines into a broader discussion of how to write better or faster. The topic of style guidelines doesn’t excite most people. However, improving one’s skills as a writer helps to build the student’s ability to influence people and advance his or her career.

Hiring an outsider to deliver training can spare the marketing department from playing a bad guy role as an enforcer. Plus, you can exploit the authority of an outsider who knows your industry. Check out my training options, including my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

2. Make your style guide easily accessible

Make it easy for employees to find your firm’s style guide. This may mean putting it on a shared drive so everyone can access the most recent version.

If you lack a shared drive, consider regularly circulating the most current version with a note highlighting the guidelines that are most important to your firm.

3. Provide different levels of detail, depending on the audience

Your typical financial professional will not use a long style guide that the marketing department views as an essential tool. It’s too much information. It’s overwhelming.

Instead, give your firm’s financial professionals a short document that highlights your most important style guidelines.

Another possibility is to offer them a checklist for reviewing their work before handing it in. My Financial Blogging book includes a checklist that can be customized to an individual writer’s needs.

4. Provide templates that follow style guidelines

If your colleagues make mistakes on standardized documents, then provide templates for them. For example, let’s say that you want them to use the ® mark on their first reference to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Provide a template that includes “Standard & Poor’s® 500 Index” to spare them from thinking about the correct usage. Alternatively, you can ask them to start their new document from a cleaned-up version of the previous document.

5. Start a buddy system

It’s hard for most writers to catch their own mistakes. Consider starting a buddy system, where your financial professional’s check one another’s text before submitting it to marketing. Of course, during busy periods, such as quarterly reporting crunches, it may be hard for them to make time for this.

6. Offer “carrots”

Can you offer a reward to employees who improve their writing or meet certain standards? The reward could be something as simple as recognition in your employee newsletter.

7. Explain how style mistakes affect client service and acquisition

Your firm’s financial professionals may not understand how their mistakes affect your firm’s relationships with clients and prospects. Tell them.

First, if you let mistake-riddled work reach clients and prospects, you undermine your firm’s credibility. A firm that doesn’t care about blatant typos may show a similar disregard for the details of their portfolio accounting or financial plans. That worries clients and prospects.

Second, the need for extensive proofreading and copyediting delays the publication of your firm’s content. A relatively clean piece of content from a writer who consistently observes style guidelines can quickly earn the marketing department’s approval. On the other hand, a piece that’s riddled with errors requires more time and possibly multiple reviews, as editors struggle to fix it. This delays content from reaching the firm’s audience.

8. Use techniques from Switch

In Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors tackle a similar kind of problem, how to get employees to file their expense reports on time. The Heaths note that nagging emails don’t work. They may even reinforce the perception that everyone ignores the style guidelines. However, they have some suggestions. which I gathered from the end of their “Script the Critical Moves” chapter.

Learn from success stories

The Heaths suggest that instead you look at the people who are doing things right. What are they doing differently? In the expense example, “Maybe they’ve handcrafted a set of techniques for logging expenses as they occur, so there’s not a big pile left at the end of the month,” say the Heaths. “Get them to share their system with others.”

Make it easy for people to comply

Another tip: “Script the critical moves” to remove ambiguity that paralyzes people. This can be tough with issues of style. Perhaps it means that the marketing department asks writers to observe some clear rules, while tackling the tough rules itself during the proofreading process. Giving employees a simple checklist might achieve this.

Provide motivation

“Find the feeling,” suggest the Heaths. That could mean trading on your employees’ feelings for their colleagues. In the expense report example, the Heaths suggest telling people how their actions prevent a colleague from meeting her deadlines. “It may be easy to rationalize missing an administrative deadline, but it’s harder to rationalize letting down a co-worker who’s counting on you,” say the Heaths.

With style guidelines, employee lapses may handicap client services and sales personnel, in addition to marketing staff.

Highlight compliance

“Rally the herd,” say the Heaths, because “people are sensitive to social norms.” If you highlight employees’ compliance with guidelines, you’ll encourage others to follow. As they say, “No one likes to hear they’re underperforming their peers.”

9. Be realistic

You can’t achieve 100% compliance with your style guidelines. Your financial professionals have lots of other demands on their time. Also, it’s hard for most people to catch errors in their own work. A smart marketing department will proofread its writers’ work.

However, you can boost the quality of your colleague’s work by applying some of the tips discussed above.

What are YOUR best tips?

If you’ve tackled this challenge, please share your tips. I’m also interested in hearing from financial professionals about how marketers can make it easier for you to create high quality materials.


If you’re a marketer, you may also enjoy “Reader question: How can communicators manage difficult portfolio managers?

 Image courtesy of stockimages at

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Reader question: How do we get people to read to the end?

Thursday, May. 28th 2015

“How do we get people to read to the end of our newsletter articles and blog posts?” This question came up in one of my writing coins

I share some ideas in this article. I also suggest that you complement this goal by asking “How can we ensure that people who don’t read to the end—or who don’t read every paragraph—still grasp our main points?”

1. Write in a reader-friendly way

To attract and retain your readers throughout your articles, write in a reader-friendly way.

This starts with clearly identifying your topic and how it’ll help your reader. Do this in your introduction to snare readers.

Next, write headings that guide your reader through your article. These should show how your article will deliver on the promises made in your introduction.

Observe other good writing practices, such as strong topic sentences and clear, concise writing. Clunky writing discourages readers.

2. Use “gold coins”

Readers tend to bail out of reading online after less than two minutes. That’s the point where Poynter’s Eyetrack research suggests “establishing a ‘gold coin’ like a simple pullout quote or visual element that keeps the reader engaged about halfway through a long story.” This could be a provocative quote, graph, or photograph. Or it could be “a telling detail, a bit of description, an apt phrase, a moving anecdote,” as Dr. Ink says in “Dr. Ink Discovers the Sixth ‘W’.” As Dr. Ink says, “If these are spaced strategically in the story, the logic goes, the reader will have incentive to move down the path. As soon as the gold coins run out, the reader leaves the forest.”

Bonus: Capture readers who skim

It’s not realistic to get every reader to finish each of your articles. However, if you observe the tips listed above, you’ll get more mileage out of your articles. This is because you’ll communicate well with those who only skim. They can still grasp the gist of your articles.

Image courtesy of foto76 at


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in blog, newsletter, writing | No Comments »

Are you crediting your OECD data properly?

Tuesday, May. 26th 2015

You can’t simply grab data for use in your white papers, articles, and blog posts. You may not have the right to use as much of the information as you like, as I’ve explained in “Legal business datadanger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.” Assuming it’s okay to use the data, you need to give the proper credit for it. Some data providers ask for more than others, as I discovered when I looked at the website of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD data is often cited in white papers of investment and wealth management firms.

In this post, I describe some steps you can take to use OECD data according to its guidelines. Please check directly with the organization if you have questions. They’re the authority on the use of their data.

1. Check to see if you need permission

Below is what I found on the OECD website about using its data:

You can copy, download or print content for your own use, and you can also include excerpts from OECD publications, databases and multimedia products in your own documents, presentations, blogs, websites and teaching materials, provided that suitable acknowledgment of OECD as source and copyright owner is given. You should cite the Title of the material, © OECD, publication year (if available) and page number or URL (uniform resource locator) as applicable.

All requests for commercial use and translation rights should be submitted to

This description is vague enough that I wondered if you can use OECD data in a white paper without paying a fee. After all, white papers seems like commercial use to me. I found a pretty broad definition of commercial use on My philosophy about using copyrighted data is “When in doubt, ask for permission.” I emailed the OECD to ask if it’s okay to use its data in a white paper with attribution.

2. Work within the OECD’s constraints

Here’s the part of the reply I received from an individual in the OECD’s rights area.

Thank you for your message. There are no objections concerning the reproduction of OECD data (values) to create your own graphs/tables/charts provided that suitable acknowledgment of OECD as source and copyright owner is given. The material should be cited as follows : Based on data from OECD, title of the dataset, title of the database, friendly url, date of access

It seems as if you are free to cite some data in your text and even to create your own graphs, tables, and charts using the OECD’s data. Make sure those exhibits are truly your own. You can’t simply reproduce OECD exhibits.

Make sure you give proper credit in your exhibits based on OECD data. I’m guessing that the OECD’s preferred citation, “Based on data from OECD, title of the dataset, title of the database, friendly url, date of access,” goes into more detail than many writers commonly provide. However, you probably should have those details available anyhow to keep your firm’s compliance professionals happy.

3. Contact the OECD if you seek to reproduce materials or make commercial use

Found a great OECD graph, chart, or document that you’d like to reproduce? Play it safe by  contacting the OECD for permission. Here’s what the OECD told me about rights requests.

Should you wish to use OECD data/reproduce OECD published material for commercial purposes, please send us more information about your intended use by completing the following form:

About the OECD material you want to reproduce:
Full title:
Publication date:
Internet address (if applicable):
Exact pages / charts / data to be reproduced:
Will you translate the material? If yes, into which language?

About you:
Full address:

About your work:
Number of pages*:
Planned publication date :
Publisher’s name, address:
Print Run*:
Public Price*:
If published online:
Number of subscribers*:
Price of the subscription*:

* even if approximate

Comments (if any):


Stay safe by following the rules when you cite other people’s data! Contact the OECD if you have any questions.

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in compliance, white paper | No Comments »

Help employees write financial content for publication

Thursday, May. 21st 2015

Publishing investment and financial content isn’t just for the big names any more. In the old days, only chief investment officers and senior executives put their top of pyramidnames on articles published by investment, wealth management, and financial planning firms. This was true even when junior employees, marketing communications staff, or freelancers did the writing. Today, the needs of search engine optimization, social media and blogging, plus the demand for more personal, less bland content are changing the rules. Firms are asking more employees to write for their blogs, newsletters, and other publications.

This creates challenges, as well as opportunities, for financial firms. How can they engage more employees in writing for publication? How can they ensure that the content is good enough?

Most financial services employees aren’t hired for their writing skills. Some are gifted idea generators and wordsmiths. Others don’t enjoy writing and haven’t been trained to write well.

I have suggestions on how to inspire your employees to write more and better. If you need practical help right away, send your employees to my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” scheduled for June 22, 2015 (Early Bird rate ends June 3).

1. Set a good example at the top

Employees notice senior executives’ actions. When your executives publish regularly, they set a good example for the rest of the firm.employee social media sharing stats byNeal Schaffer

Senior management can also help by recognizing the contributions of their juniors. Recognition can take many forms:

  • Sharing content on social media—by the way, don’t underestimate the value of you and your employees sharing on social media, as my photo from social media expert Neal Schaffer’s May 7, 2015 presentation shows.
  • Praising individuals for their contributions
  • Featuring contributions by junior employees, as well as senior management, in a newsletter or blog
  • Including writing as part of job descriptions and performance reviews

2. Offer ideas to jumpstart employee writing

Some people, even veteran writers, get stuck at the stage of generating ideas or starting to put words on the page. You can help them by suggesting topics or providing models for their pieces.

A. Suggest specific topics

When you suggest topics, try to be as specific as possible, especially if you’re helping a new writer. Instead of suggesting the broad topic of “market timing,” you might suggest

  • Why market timing isn’t right for retirees
  • Market timing or buy-and-hold—which is best?
  • Three reasons why market timing doesn’t work
  • Research shows benefits of market timing

A narrower suggestion gives your direction to your newbie writer. Of course, it requires you to have some knowledge of the topic so you don’t steer them wrong.

B. Provide models

Facing a blank page can intimidate writers at all levels of experience. To relieve their stress, provide your writers with models to follow. Give them examples of articles that you like. The examples can be from your firm or elsewhere. I provide one fill-in-the-blanks model on my blog.

3. Train your employees to write

Investment commentary webinar June 22, 2015

Click on image to register

Training can help your employees to overcome their fear of writing and to write better and faster. I train corporate clients and members of professional societies to write better. However, any kind of writing class, even at a local education program can help. I got much of my early training in programs offered by the Boston, Cambridge and Newton adult ed programs.

If you’d like online training, check out my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

It’s also good to provide training about compliance rules. For example, writers can’t guarantee returns or promise that certain things will happen. Also, some topics, especially discussion of specific products, may demand disclosures. Consider providing your employees with compliance checklists so they avoid violating compliance rules.

4. Provide editing and proofreading

Typos and other mistakes undercut the credibility of your content. It’s hard for most writers to proofread themselves. This is why I suggest you use a proofreader-copy editor.

If your budget permits, hire a professional proofreader-copy editor. This could be someone in your marketing department or a freelancer. If it’s a freelancer, think about whether you want someone with financial expertise who can catch content problems. If your budget is tight, go for someone who only knows grammar and usage.

5. Reward participation

Employees like to do things that are rewarded and praised. When you recognize the contributions of your employee-writers, you’ll encourage more participation.

YOUR thoughts

How do you encourage your investment or wealth management professionals to write? Please tell me.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Changing your instructions is risky

Tuesday, May. 19th 2015

My long-suffering husband has a communications lesson for you. Recognize that your first message is most easily absorbed by your listeners. If you change your message midstream, give better instructionsyour listeners may not hear you. To make sure your message gets across, ask them to confirm their understanding of the new message.

“Park your car outside the garage tomorrow, so I can get my tires,” said my husband on a Thursday morning. Okay, I said. We spoke a bit more. I guess my attention strayed because I ran into trouble the next day.

On Friday, I parked where my husband had indicated. However, when my husband arrived home, he asked “Why did you park there?”

Me: “Because you asked me to.”

Husband: “No, I told you that you didn’t have to park there after all.”

Me: “You did?” Apparently my husband’s changed instructions hadn’t registered in my head. Perhaps I was trying to make up for my poor performance that I described in “Instructions for a bad wife.” I should have confirmed my understanding at the end of our conversation. I’ll do that next time. At least, I’ll try. I seem to have a blind spot for my husband’s parking instructions.

What’s the lesson for you?

If you change your mind after giving initial instructions, don’t count on your listeners absorbing the new information. This might apply, for example, if you start by suggesting selling one fund, but then switch to another recommendation.

What can you do to reinforce your change?

  1. Repeat your new instructions.
  2. Explain why you changed your mind.
  3. Ask your listeners, “Do you understand my new instructions?”
  4. Consider putting your instructions in writing.

This may be overkill, if your listeners are more attentive than me with my husband. However, if the new instructions are important, you’ll be glad you took extra steps to ensure your listeners’ comprehension.



Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in communication | No Comments »