Tallying quantities of topic mentions in daily financial news feeds can reflect what’s on the minds of investors and industry professionals.
- Exhibit A: regular coverage of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.
- Exhibit B: regular coverage of robo-advisors.
- Exhibit C supports the theory in reverse: little news and, likely, little mindshare, though it deserves more attention. There is a fundamental change taking place in the way investment products are assessed, which is evolving the product ecosystem as well as how financial services market research firms explore those products.
I was recently explaining the idea of an in-home interview to my husband. “You would never let someone into the house!” he replied, knowing that I would be skeptical, at best, if invited to participate in one. However, I would agree to participate in this type of immersive research. Even though I am unabashedly, undeniably and thoroughly biased, I believe that helps me understand why some of the busiest professionals working in some of the most sensitive and regulated industries agree to do the same.
Yes, financial advisors are busy. Yes, doctors have to be careful about what they say and share. Yet both are willing to meet with us at their offices and talk for rather lengthy periods of time. There are certain industries—financial services and healthcare being two prominent examples—where compliance concerns, traditional thinking and precedent can falsely limit the qualitative method possibilities.
I hadn’t paid much attention to John Oliver until he lambasted US retirement plans in a clip that spoke directly to my clients and me with its relevance, comedy and mix of truths, half-truths and misperceptions. This led me to pay attention more quickly when my Facebook feed promoted a new Oliver piece about the Republican National Convention and the idea that feelings can…ahem…trump facts. I encourage you to have a listen (particularly at the 3:13 and 5:56 minute marks), though now is a good time to caution that there is foul language. It’s also important to note that the opinions shared in this video do not represent those of Market Strategies, though perhaps not only for the obvious reason that we do not support a political party or any opinions for or against Antonio Sabato Jr.
Four tips for communicating clearly with investors
I started writing school papers in the third grade. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had become a pro at stretching 100 words of substance into elaborately-worded essays to meet the 750-word minimum assignment. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college—when my philosophy professor forced us to write about hefty “meaning of life” subjects in no more than one, single-spaced, 10-point font page—that I started focusing on writing clearly and succinctly.
This same writing baggage hinders some communicators in the financial services industry, in particular those speaking to end investors. Innovation can be a tricky goal, especially as it applies to financial product development; however, being innovative with your communication can lead to refreshingly clear and understandable language.
It is the glory month for people like me: Type A, perfectionist and other less-appealing descriptors. I will exercise more. I will eat better. I will perfect things that I thought I might have perfected last year, only to realize more perfection was possible. My tendencies don’t drop away completely after January, but fortunately the fire isn’t always fanned by countless articles emphasizing ways to do better. Unfortunately, not everyone has this reprieve after January, and a recent experience reminded me of the goal-setting perspective I aspire to this year.
It took two conversations with caregivers of terminal brain cancer patients for me to learn years ago that I wasn’t built for some healthcare research and that I admire those who do that good work. Happily, I’ve found my groove in financial services research. Although my days are not filled researching life-saving treatments in the literal sense, painful and heartfelt comments from older investors about not being prepared for retirement is just one of the ways finances are intimately tied to the very real human experiences of worry, joy, health and livelihood.
In the financial services world, whether you label your target audience “customer,” “investor,” “advisor,” “portfolio manager” or something else, they are all living in a world where it’s no longer impossible for the sixth largest bank in the US to collapse and for the DJIA to swing over 1,000 points in a single day. There is an ever-expanding list of responsibilities—from following new regulations to learning about new products—but not an expanding day. Some investors have lowered their retirement standards all the way to “not eating cat food.” News stories these days are more hopeful than a few years ago but offer regular doses of caution. It is not uncommon for a participant to enter a focus group room wearing her worry, with hunched shoulders and deep creases.
As researchers, we value what we learn from these participants and, in return, we owe them a respectful research experience that makes them feel heard and appreciated. Aside from common courtesy, every industry comes with its own participant sensitivities—understanding these is the path toward more respectful research, especially in the qualitative space. Consider these five tips as you conduct financial services research to ensure you are creating healthy interactions that help you, them and the market research industry as a whole.
This is not a plug for Emily Oster’s book, Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong, though anyone who talked to me late in my pregnancy–we’ll call that “AE” for after Emily–knows that I reveled in the clarity it brought to health decisions that were, until that point, seemingly backed up by very little. Finally, research-driven decisions!
It will surprise no one that I’ve always been research-driven, and I expected this business of raising a baby to be no different. Given the massive amount of information and “information” (otherwise known as strongly-stated opinions), child rearing continues to feel like one of the largest synthesis activities ever known. Lately I’ve started weighing when to make a research-driven decision versus when to factor in other inputs, just like the business leaders who consume our research. Research is a very strong input and often provides parameters for my decision, but the decision itself can rest elsewhere.
Why an Investor Should Want to Be Treated Like One of Many
After six middle and high school years of writing an honor pledge at the end of every paper and test, I entered the working world thinking that everything I created needed to be built from scratch. It took a single project for my boss to hammer home the idea that leveraging templates is smart, not stealing. (I’m sure the crude visualizations from a PowerPoint newbie tipped him off.)
Fast-forward to today and I’m struck by how often we see the intelligent use of templates, especially among the financial professionals we interview. From advisors’ model investment portfolios and risk assessment surveys to DC plan sponsors’ consideration of investment options, professionals use templates for economies of scale…and clients would be foolish to want it any other way. Continue reading
The royal baby is here. The name has been revealed. Even Prince William was quoted as saying, “I hope you guys can get back to normal now.” But for many of us, normal means moving on to the next big guess. The National Post noted that so many people participated in royal baby betting, even with small denominations, because they “wanted to be involved.” It’s the same push that leads me to complete a March Madness bracket every year even though my alma mater is never in the running and my knowledge is slim, or to try and determine the culprit 10 minutes into an episode of Law and Order.
To guess is to open yourself up to a thrill. You could be right, which makes you feel smart and proud. You could be stupendously wrong, and the thrill is still there. To illustrate, I compare the royal baby name poll to our own personal one, which is ongoing: Continue reading
Two surprising things happened when I introduced tracking research into my marriage (a move I don’t generally endorse):
1. My husband introduced the “mute button.”
2. I willfully accepted this concept and now try my best to honor it—for the data.
Let me explain. For Christmas, I gave my husband the Jawbone UP, a wristband and app that tracks your sleep, activity and food. I’ve been thrilled to see him enjoy using it as much as I enjoy amassing a dataset about health habits. Already, we have hypotheses around how certain foods and types of exercise affect the amount of deep sleep he gets in a night. Most importantly, it’s been a great example of being able to manage what you can measure. I think my husband and I would agree that this new knowledge is leading to positive changes.