Don’t Just Check the Box! Tips for Effective COVID-19 Investor Communications
By now, your inbox is already full of coronavirus-related emails from seemingly every company you’ve ever interacted with or bought a product from. Clearly, we don’t need to know how Netflix or the company that printed our 2016 family Christmas card is dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But investors do need to know how their asset managers and financial advisors are responding to the crisis and safeguarding their resources.
While coronavirus communications may be check-the-box exercises for many companies, such an approach is unacceptable for financial services firms, particularly those in the asset management and wealth management industries. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been busy helping our clients build effective communications strategies for COVID-19. Obviously, every client’s situation is different, but here are some high-level tips we like to share with all of our clients.
1. Don’t just check the box.
You aren’t a media company, and your clients aren’t expecting you to deliver breaking news or aggregate all of the latest information about the pandemic. What they are expecting is your unique perspective on how the pandemic is shaping the investment landscape and how you are responding in terms of portfolio management. At WFC, we always encourage our clients to advance the conversation no matter what content they are producing; in crisis situations, this tenet is especially important.
When your clients read your coronavirus-related updates, they should come away from such communications with a knowledge of your unique perspective and approach. Some ways to advance the conversation include:
- Remind your clients that the fundamentals of your investment approach haven’t changed. You are still applying the same process and philosophy that you always use, even if the opportunity set has shifted with the recent volatility. Give enough specifics on your approach to avoid sounding like every other manager, and be transparent.
- Provide unique insights about areas of the market you are watching closely and how they may be creating additional opportunities or challenges in the near-term. Don’t try to predict the future or make aggressive calls on the direction things are heading, but illustrate your investment expertise by providing interesting insights on what is occurring.
- Inform you clients about the steps you are taking to enable your business to continue operating during this challenging time. It’s important that your clients are reassured that you have planned for business continuity and that you aren’t simply making up your response on the fly.
2. Have a communications plan – and communicate that plan.
Don’t simply wait until there is some major news to comment on. The news is coming so fast that it’s impossible to keep up with. Taking a reactive approach will make it seem that you aren’t prepared, and could exacerbate the sense of alarm your clients are already feeling. Similarly, don’t wait until the dust has settled somewhat and the uncertainty dies down before you begin communicating with clients about investment strategy. If you truly want to be seen as a thought leader, you need to be willing to wade into the uncertainty and not wait until it’s safe to begin sharing your ideas.
Determine the right cadence for sharing your views about the virus and its impact on the markets and the economy. For some firms the right cadence will be daily messages to clients. For others it will be weekly or every other week. Once you’ve determined the plan that works best for your firm, share that plan with your clients so they know when they can expect to hear from you. Setting the right expectations can go a long way in reducing anxiety for your clients.
3. Be empathetic.
Just like volatility is a fact of life in investing, so is dealing with emotions. It’s natural for people to be scared or concerned about an event that has the potential to affect their health and their wealth. Don’t try to minimize those feelings or try to give advice as to why people shouldn’t be concerned. Instead, explain that you understand those fears and acknowledge that it is a normal response. Even if you think some of the reactions by health officials, businesses, and investors are too extreme, don’t try to invalidate the anxiety and concern your clients are feeling throughout a crisis.
While this point applies most directly to communicating with private wealth clients, it applies to institutional clients as well. The investment professionals who work at pension funds, endowments, and consultants are dealing with the same sorts of emotions in terms of what the pandemic means for their careers and for the constituents they serve. In some cases, investment professionals may be feeling even more anxiety than people who don’t work in the industry.
4. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
It would be nice if we knew how long the COVID-19 scare would last or how long the market turmoil will continue, but the truth is that you don’t know. No one knows. Don’t avoid questions that you don’t know the answer to, and don’t try to act as if you do have all of the answers.
A good approach in your investor communications is to make a list: here’s what we know, and here’s what we don’t know. For the things you don’t know, explain what information you’re tracking to learn more as the situation comes into focus. Being transparent about the knowns and the unknowns will help your clients to make better sense of the situation. And that should give them some comfort.
This is a tough, scary situation for everyone. And for investment professionals, we know you have a tough challenge. Not only must you deal with your own concerns, but you also need to help your clients manage their fears. We hope these tips can help you to do that.
If you need help creating your coronavirus communication plan or crafting regular and timely updates to your clients, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at Wentworth Financial Communications.
About the Author Scott Wentworth is the founder and head financial writer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Scott and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.