How to Hire a Financial Writer
It sounds simple, but hiring a financial writer for a corporate job in the financial services industry is complex.
The reason is that many corporate hiring managers don’t have a realistic idea of what a financial writer is supposed to do.
Are they going to write speeches, quarterly market commentaries, marketing materials, shareholder newsletters, webcasts, work with RIAs and others who sell the firm’s investment products, or produce newsletters or RFPs.
Plus, there are times when a writer is being hired for a newly created position and the hiring manager really does not have a solid idea of what skills they are looking for.
Unfortunately, I have seen all of these situations first-hand. This led me to conclude that many corporate hiring managers, who aren’t writers, really don’t understand how writers work, where they get their ideas, and what they really need.
What to Look For When Hiring a Financial Writer
- Be realistic about what you want. If you think your new financial writer will be the next Peter Bernstein, Burton Malkiel or Peter Lynch, forget it. Your corporate firm probably does not need that type of heavy output nor would they be able to handle some of the more delicate political positions that any modern description of the financial industry or firm requires.
- Many hiring managers also don’t realize that writing is a process that has a lot of down time. If they were asked, many writers will tell you that they are bored in their jobs. For any experienced writer, especially those with a journalistic background, the corporate pace is too slow (especially adding revisions by many people, plus compliance) and there is not enough breaking news to reformulate into the proper corporate message. It may be hard to admit, but most firms don’t require a full-time writer unless the job is well-defined and the firm has enough corporate and market news events to generate effective, interesting materials.
- Look for someone who is flexible, creative and can meet deadlines. If a position or assignment is well-defined and you hire a writer, make sure they are flexible. A good writer can suggest the right form, length, tone and even the best medium to deliver the message. When I was asked to write quarterly fund performance reports, it quickly became evident that I was not given the right tools for the job (a Bloomberg machine, for instance), plus I was located in a different city than the portfolio managers , so getting the most basic fund and market communications was an unnecessary hassle. Add to this the hard deadline it required and the reluctance of the portfolio managers to be interviewed. I suggested the quarterly reports be written by the portfolio managers themselves, with a macro-economic view combined with tabular materials produced by marketing department and the process worked much better.
- Writers should also know what communications are valuable to each audience the investment firm touches. Consultants, for instance, prefer to read about new research, case studies and novel solutions used in the industry. Institutional investors want to be assured of the firm’s consistent investment process, performance details, compliance and social record, and personnel stability. It’s also important to provide institutional clients and prospects with a regular stream and variety of timely communications to maintain or develop the relationship. This is because most institutional sales take up to two years to complete, so keeping communications channels open is essential.
- Hire a writer who knows the most appropriate media. While a lot of emphasis today is on electronic communications, seminars and other in-person public events still have a major role in the financial services industry. A writer should know what messages should accompany these events and even how to create the agenda and recommend speakers. The financial industry is still print (as opposed to video) reliant, so hiring a formally-trained print writer still carries the weight since it generates the main messages for the other media (web and video).
- Good writers can make a firm look bigger and more credible than it really is. If a writer understands the role of good writing and choosing the right messages and media, the end result will get noted more regularly, even against larger firms with more assets under management, a larger marketing budget and more personnel. I saw this when I worked at a nation fund company and needed something more to keep me busy. I suggested we produce a quarterly, four-page, broadsheet newsletter aimed at advisors who sold the company’s funds, as well as prospective advisors. I did not get any assistance aside from a copyeditor and an outside graphics firm, but I used my journalistic background to develop the stories. During the time I edited and wrote the newsletter, it won first place awards from the Mutual Fund Education Alliance (a trade group of mutual fund companies) in the large fund category. This meant the newsletter was ranked in the same category as Fidelity and Vanguard, which both had teams of writers and support staff and much bigger budgets.
- Good writers often have a liberal arts background. This may sound simple, but most firms today employ people with a solid business or financial education, not liberal arts. The person with this general liberal arts background will look at the industry differently and this is a good thing. This allows a different approach to problem solving or message development. It also means the hiring manager should know that a person trained in liberal arts should not be writing messages involve a complex strategy. I interviewed for a position at a large quant investment firm where the fund managers were all PhDs in physics and advanced math. Their quant approach should not have been diluted, but the hiring manager asked if I could write white papers on their method. Maybe it was a leading question, but I suggested that was something only they should write. I didn’t get the job, which was for the better.
Communicating at a Pivotal Time
This is a pivotal time in the financial services industry, as well as in the American political scene. The financial industry has spent millions in lobbying money to curtail or repeal the fiduciary standard, at the same time that millions of Americans do not have enough to retire and wage growth has stagnated. This is happening at the same time that some billion-dollar banks and firms have been cited as working to deceive their own investors.
Should a good writer or investment firm ignore these facts?
Effective writers reflect their times and do not ignore the prevailing currents shaping history. Good investment firms, RIAs and fund companies should also stop ignoring what their own customers already know. This is why a good writer for a job in the investment industry today should be chosen because they are truthful, creative, flexible, innovative and fact-based. They should also be confident and honest in what they can, and cannot, do.
Despite what I heard from financial and investment people over the last four decades, ranging from senior investment and marketing executives to mutual fund wholesalers, financial communications should not be considered an emotional event, unless the client’s investment account lost or made a huge amount of money.
It is not that type of industry. Few investment firms generate the popular, warm following of a Warren Buffett. While the HR departments of the global firms try hard to make it otherwise, the Gordon Gekko image of the industry has yet to be replaced.
So be realistic about what you expect from the writer you hire. Don’t expect miracles or to be entertained. At best, just expect the truth presented in a novel, readable, intelligent format. The rest will take care of itself.
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