I know, this is a shameless plug but, please, hear me out. We’ve just started a new podcast at Iress and I’ve become an avid listener. A particular episode even inspired this blog post.

In it, Charlie Corbett, director at the plain speaking institute and Julia Newbold, former editor of Money Magazine Australia, explore why the language we use in financial services is so complicated, vague and even nonsensical.

It piqued my interest as I’ve always felt that we as an industry have a culture of overcomplicating things and, out of regulatory necessity, vagueness is par for the course. As Charlie Corbett puts it “Financial Services is a prisoner of its own vague generalities…everyone’s got an innovative (XY or Z) and if everyone’s innovative, then no one is.”

If everyone’s innovative, then no one is.

And he’s right, but on the other hand there’s a danger of too much differentiation too. Take mortgages for example. All mortgages involve an identical journey for the applicant - initial application, decision in principle, and so on. The problem is we and other companies who offer similar products to us have different names for each of these stages, and that can be an absolute nightmare for the adviser and the customer. We’ve had a go at fixing this with our Mortgage Connectivity tool.

I think what we lack is clarity of language. In this industry we don’t speak the way normal human beings do. When I cook dinner for my wife I simply cook dinner. I don’t create an innovative food-based energy replenishment and relationship facilitation solution. Yet when I go to work that’s exactly the kind of language I’m expected to use. And, when you think about it, that’s ridiculous. Financial services is designed to help people accomplish their goals, be it to afford private school for their kids, retire early, buy their first house, or save for retirement. Yet we make it hugely complicated for the people we’re supposed to be helping to understand what we’re doing. Dense walls of text (yes, the irony isn’t lost on me), all the acronyms, long sentences made up of words that don’t mean anything, all this serves only to obfuscate exactly the benefits the products we sell can bring.

But why is this? Well clearly most written pieces in this industry are written by committee. Legal, marketing, sales all have things they want to get into a blog, opinion piece or sales document. And regulation plays a huge role in the kind of language we use. We can’t say or write anything that may be construed as investment advice, or a promise of returns, or that inadvertently promises something that we can’t do. It’s here that we lose the simplicity of message and replace it with that vagueness.

And while we can’t (and absolutely shouldn’t) do away with regulatory frameworks, we must at least try and be clear. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes - would they understand what you’re trying to say? Better yet, would a member of your family understand? After all, how can financial services be of benefit to the person on the street if they can’t understand a word we’re saying?

Listen now to the Upfront episode ‘Mind your language' Wherever you get your podcasts