The importance of communicating in difficult times

In amongst the recent media commentary about government policies and current economic and financial challenges, there has been criticism of the quality and volume of communication from those at the top explaining what’s happening and what actions are being taken.


‘There was just no communication’

When we’re caught up in anything out of our control that affects our daily lives or wellbeing, everything feels much worse when we’re being kept in the dark. ‘There was just no communication’ is a common complaint when these things happen, with many people feeling that their experience would have been improved immeasurably had they just been provided with some updates. Whether it’s delays at an airport or a hold up on a motorway, accusations that ‘they’ should do more to inform about what is happening are commonplace.


Who are ‘they’?

It’s often not clear who ‘they’ are, though – we just think of them as ‘those responsible’. In difficult times, however much you communicate, people will always think there’s more they should have been told. And those who are most concerned or affected by the situation will need the most communication and reassurance. Interestingly, over-communication is rarely a complaint at such times. It’s like when we’re awaiting news about a loved one undergoing medical treatment – the updates just can’t come frequently enough.

In the current economic situation, ‘they’ are easier to identify – a mixture of politicians, economists, civil servants and others. In addition, the media has been thrown into the mix as it does its best to interpret and explain the decisions that are being made. Nonetheless, when national and international events affect clients’ investments and savings, they turn not to those responsible, but to somebody they trust – their financial adviser – for communication and advice.


What to say?

There are no rigid rules about what to say or how to communicate during difficult times, only guidelines and suggestions – but of course, having a plan in place helps.

At TOMD, we witnessed the volume of communication by the firms we work with – in the form of general updates to all their clients – increase significantly during the pandemic. Usage of our email facility (through which firms can send out professionally designed and branded emails to their clients) saw a three-fold increase – an indication that firms felt an increased need to keep in touch with clients at an unprecedented and uncertain time.

Obviously, advisers knew no more than anyone else about what course the pandemic would take, nor could they be sure sure about its likely impact on stock markets. Even so – and quite rightly – they felt the need to communicate regularly with clients, in order to reassure them they were working from home and still contactable, to urge them not panic, and to reinforce the importance of taking a long-term investment approach.

Taking our email facility – which is used by hundreds of firms – as a barometer, the level of communication from financial advisers to their clients reduced as the pandemic eased, but settled at a higher level than before COVID. Unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have seen another increase.


A hard balance to strike

Knowing how often to communicate is tricky. The better you know your clients, the easier it is to decide. Interestingly, the pandemic also prompted an increase in segmentation – splitting your database into different groups based on certain characteristics – with more firms tweaking the messaging of their communications depending on the segment in question or, in some cases, not including certain segments at all.

Writing a communication with a defined audience in mind is much simpler than drafting a generic one that could cover people in very different circumstances, e.g. people about to retire, people with fixed-rate mortgages about to end, and people who have recently invested a large lump sum. They all need a different type of communication.

Direct communications by email can be supplemented with a ‘library’ of regularly updated content on your website – such as news articles, economic updates and blogs – as long as you remind clients to visit the library! Social media also has a role to play, allowing firms to communicate promptly with their followers about the latest developments.


‘They’ don’t communicate – but you do!    

The ideal scenario from an adviser’s point of view is that you’re seen to be communicating with clients and reassuring them, even if those responsible (‘they’) aren’t.

Remember, even if you don’t have all the answers, the very act of communicating can provide your clients with some reassurance and comfort during difficult times.

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