Sue BerginSue Bergin

Buzzwords, jargon, and clichés have gotten a bum rap.  They can actually be useful communication shortcuts. So why do they aggravate people so much?  If we can say, “If you have a guaranteed lifetime annuity, you can sleep well at night knowing that you will always have a paycheck,” why go any further?

The problem is that the clients have heard “you’ll sleep better at night” from every product ranging from home security systems, to baby monitors, to long-term care insurance.

Every cliché, jargony phrase or buzzword probably started out as fresh and compelling.  Overuse, however, has rendered them impotent. Your client might instantly know what you mean, but the terms fall flat and feel like a shallow promise.  These phrases don’t conjure up riveting insights or evoke any depth or emotion whatsoever, except maybe mistrust.

When an investor becomes accustomed to his or her advisor’s buzzwords, does the investor picture a worry-free future? Probably not.

It’s unlikely that offerings like, “a holistic approach to financial planning”,best-of-breed investment solutions” and “objective advice that give clients peace of mind,” give clients much confidence, yet countless advisors use such sentences.

Some people think that buzzwords exist for the sole purpose of allowing their users to hide.  They feel that buzzwords and clichés can confuse the audience or act as an enabling device for the communicator to avoid an issue.  Others feel that these phrases are mere fluff.  These sentiments are born out in AARP’s study of how Americans felt about financial services communications. 73% of survey respondents ranked financial professionals higher than car mechanics in their use of jargon; 52% said financial professionals use even more jargon than doctors.

  • 54% believe jargon is used instead of simpler terms to distract people from focusing on fees.
  • 63% say jargon is used to make products or services seem more impressive.
  • 49% believe jargon is used is to make consumers feel less confident that they can handle their own finances.[1]

Clichés are easy, and often come with a regulatory stamp of approval.  We’ve used them before on compliance-approved marketing materials, so we know we can use them again.  They’re safe.  We don’t have to put a lot of thought in them.  The problem is, clients don’t put a lot of weight in them either.

15 of the most over-used phrases by advisors.

  1. Sleep at night
  2. Peace of mind
  3. Holistic approach
  4. Full transparency
  5. Put clients’ interests first
  6. Objective advice
  7. Financial quarterback
  8. Best of breed (investment platform)
  9. Best-in-class
  10. Cutting edge technology
  11. Bleeding edge technology
  12. Thorough due diligence
  13. Client-focused
  14. Client-centric approach
  15. Bottom line oriented

Just for fun, run your web content through the BlaBla meter.  This gimmicky tool rates the amount of fluff that is contained in text.  A high score, such as the 76 that I got when I put a randomly selected advisor’s home page through the tool, generated the following feedback:

“This reeks (of BS). I bet you’re a PR-Expert, Politician, Consultant or Scientist.  If there is a message, it’s unlikely it will reach anyone.”

The tool is easily dismissed.  Its methodology isn’t spelled out anywhere, and it was not designed for specific use by the financial services industry.  It might be crass.  Then again, it might be on to something.

[1] AARP, April 17, 2008.

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