Discussing retirement is complicated. It’s a subject rife with acronyms, which are mostly understood fully by those in the industry. The challenge is overcoming such obstacles to effectively communicate with clients. 

That can be accomplished by avoiding industry jargon, no matter who’s on the other end of the phone, J.J. McKinney said Monday during a workshop at the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries’ annual conference at National Harbor, Md. Using acronyms can confuse a client, he said, and might be viewed as condescending. “Know your audience and their state of mind,” said McKinney, COO at Retirement Strategies, Inc. in Augusta, Ga., and one of three industry experts who used role playing to discuss best practices for communicating the often murky topics related to retirement. 

Selecting the best medium of communication is important, said Adam Pozek, partner and plan design expert at DWC ERISA Consultants in Salem, N.H. Bad news should be delivered in person or on the phone, he said. Email works for technically astute clients, but isn’t the best form of communication for those who are less computer savvy. “Participants are not made equal, clients are not made equal,” added Yannis Koumantaros, managing director of client engagements at Spectrum Pension Consultants in Tacoma, Wash.

Problems with email

Email poses some problems, McKinney warned, like misspellings and misused words. Prior to sending it, he suggested reading an email out loud and having another person proofread it. “Always review, review, review,” McKinney said. Emails should be brief and have a clear focus, he added. “Streamline your communications and stick to the point,” McKinney said. Don’t rely on spellcheck, Pozek added, and “reply to all is not always your friend.”

Keeping all parties involved in a project informed is also critical. If working with another adviser, Pozek said, they can help deliver less-than-favorable news to a client and also share the credit for positive outcomes. Perhaps the most important thing is respecting everyone and their time, McKinney said. Arriving late to a meeting “sends a message that actually dives pretty deep,” he said. That’s why you should always call to let a client know if you’re running late, Pozek added.

Communication doesn’t always have to be formal, Pozek said, and a gesture such as sending a client a birthday card reinforces their value. “It shows that you care,” he said. 

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