Do you speak "corporate" or "human"?

Empathy and clear communication are vital parts of a financial planner's role. But when "corporate" speak kicks in, we can loose our audience faster than you can say "mumbo jumbo".



My first job after university was working in the superannuation administration team of a large corporate super fund. I had always been pretty good at writing, but the simple task of writing letters to super fund members always had me itching to get back to processing contributions and calculating surcharge tax.

It wasn't because I didn't like writing or didn't know the answers to the questions the super fund members were asking.

I simply didn't know how to speak "corporate".

In the end I simply copied from my colleagues, and ended up with something like this:

"Dear Mr/Mrs <Surname>

In response to your query dated <day> <month> <year>, please be advised that....<insert answer here>.

Our records show that....<insert supporting evidence here>.

Yours sincerely

Susie Munro"

What you talkin bout financial planner

I had learned to speak corporate.

Over time I became more proficient at "corporate" language. It came more naturally, and flowed easily.

Now, all I want to do is unlearn it.

In fact, I still slip into "corporate" mode sometimes.

When I do so, I seem less human, less empathetic, and put more distance between me and the person or people I'm communicating with.

It's ineffective. It's cold.

And it's not just me.

The Commonwealth Bank

Today the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) released a statement from their CEO, Ian Narev, with an apology and action plan regarding the behaviour of some their financial planners.

Narev said he, "unreservedly apologise(s) to all customers affected".

A human might say, "I'm so incredibly sorry...".

Which sounds more genuine, heart-felt, and real?

As part of their solution, the CBA "specialist team will share the information it has available with the customer and will invite the customer to provide information that the customer has available".

I'm sorry, what?

You mean they'll talk openly.

At least I think that's what they mean.


At the same time, the Financial Planning Association (FPA) is calling for a "summit", chaired by an "eminent, independent figure", with a "clear and independent charter".


In this type of communication, if what you are trying to say is not immediately clear, you may as well not say it at all.

99.9%* of SoAs

What about your SoAs (Statements of Advice)?

How confident are you that your clients read the advice documents you provide them?



Or is it more like 30%, or 20%?

My guess is it's abysmal.

So much for ASIC's guidelines which state that SoAs must be "clear and concise".

Maybe your cover letter sounds like a massive compliance blurb written by lawyer folk.

Maybe you have walls of text where bullet points, diagrams and tables would tell the story better.

Maybe your documents just haven't been reviewed for years, when communication standards were a little different.

Action step

This week, I challenge you to take at least one page of a document you use with clients, and look at it critically to see if "corporate" speak has crept in.

Read it out loud and check how it sounds.

Is it rubbish?

Rewrite it.

Start by writing how you speak.

Yes, you might need to edit it a little to make it clear and cohesive, but if you wouldn't say it face to face, don't write it in a document.

Remember, there's always a person at the other end of your communication, even if they are part of a larger organisation.

Do that once a week to all your standard documents, letters and emails, and you'll be on your way to speaking less "corporate" and more "human" in no time.

Good bye mumbo jumbo.

Hello human.