How to Hire a Financial Writer

0
936

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.

Will they 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 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 don’t understand how writers work, where they get their ideas, or 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 it 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 downtime. Many writers would tell you that they were bored in their jobs if they were asked. For any experienced writer, especially those with a journalistic background, the corporate pace is too slow (especially with the addition of 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 practical, exciting materials.
  • Look for someone flexible, creative, and can meet deadlines. If a position or assignment is well-defined and you hire a writer, ensure they are adaptable. A good writer can suggest the correct 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), I was located in a different city than the portfolio managers, so getting the most basic fund and market communications was an unnecessary hassle. In addition to this, the hard deadline required and the reluctance of the portfolio managers to be interviewed were also added. I suggested the quarterly reports be written by the portfolio managers themselves, with a macroeconomic view combined with tabular materials produced by the 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 essential 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 much emphasis is placed on electronic communications today, seminars and other in-person public events still have a significant role in the financial services industry. A writer should know what messages should accompany these events, how to create the agenda and recommend speakers. The financial sector is still print (as opposed to video) reliant, so hiring a formally-trained print writer still carries weight since it generates the main messages for the other media (web and video).
  • Good writers can make a firm look more extensive and more credible than it is. Suppose a writer understands the role of good writing and chooses the right messages and media. In that case, the result will be 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 national 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 and prospective advisors. Aside from being a copyeditor and an outside graphics firm, I got no assistance, but I used my journalistic background to develop the stories. When 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, with 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. A person with this general liberal arts background will look at the industry differently, which 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 involving a complex strategy. I interviewed for a position at a sizeable quant investment firm where the fund managers were all physics and advanced math PhDs. Their quantitative 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 it was something they should write only. 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 and the American political scene. The financial industry has spent millions in lobbying money to curtail or repeal the fiduciary standard, while millions of Americans do not have enough to retire, and wage growth has stagnated. 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?

Influential writers reflect on 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. 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 about 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 considerable money.

It is not that type of industry. Few investment firms generate the popular, warm following of Warren Buffett. While the HR departments of 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, I hope the truth will be presented in a novel, readable, intelligent format.  The rest will take care of itself.

 

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here