March 19, 2020 What we’ve learnt from writing for finance

By Melinda Jennings

close-up photo of assorted coins

On the surface level, writing for finance may not be the most stimulating topic. That being said, finance is a vital aspect of most people’s lives. From your first savings account (remember Dollarmites?!), to being able to buy your first car or home with a loan, our lives are peppered with milestones that are enabled with money. 

Being such a prolific subject matter, writing for finance carries a sense of importance with it. Coupled with the fact that it can be a complex and private topic, the stakes for a finance writer are upped even more.

At Avion Communications, we’ve been lucky enough to work for a number of companies in the finance world throughout the years. In doing so, we’ve been able to pick up some expertise for writing for the finance industry, and how to do it very well.

1. Understand your topic

It might sound obvious, but you need to comprehensively understand your subject matter before you start writing on it. Unfortunately, a lot of resources currently available to finance writers are quite… how do put this delicately? They’re boring.

That’s where our job comes in, as people who can interpret sleep-inducing policy documents, or a research paper garnished with legal jargon (this even has its own name: legalese), and turn it into something that’s not only readable, but engaging.

Become a (semi) expert in finance

The best way to tackle a complex topic is first stripping it right back to the basics. Get a ground-level understanding of whatever it is you’re trying to understand. By doing this, you’ll most likely start to identify gaps that exist.

Did it take you half an hour to understand what lenders mortgage insurance is and why it’s so important? Maybe the internet is just waiting for you to fix that with a well-written blog post.

Don’t be afraid to log off to learn more

While you’re becoming a mini expert in finance, you don’t have to just rely on Google. No, we don’t mean hopping over to Bing as well. It might be hard to believe, but there are people in this world who understand stuff about finance. Like, off the top of their head.

Sit down and chat to these people – who are often known as subject matter experts (SMEs). Ask them the basic questions. You may find that hearing it out loud, and having your questions explained by a real human, might be even more impactful than reading information off a screen.

2. Exercise a bit of empathy

Quick question: how much do you make every year? You don’t want to answer that? Ok then, what about how much savings you have in your bank account?

Most people don’t like to talk about their finances. It can be a tricky and sensitive subject, especially when many of us perceive our identity and self-worth to be intrinsically tied to money.

Finances can also be a huge source of stress. Spaceship, an online financial services company, ran a survey last year that found nearly 40% of Aussies lose sleep over money stress. More than 60% of us also admitted to frequently feeling stressed over the state of our bank accounts.

Talking dollars with cents-itivity

It’s important you approach writing for finance with a sense of empathy and understanding. Realise that people reading your words may already feel a sense of anguish, or even vulnerability over their current monetary situation.

It will depend on the audience you’re writing for of course; readers of the Yacht & Gold Bullion Collectors Club are probably in a comfortable position, or are at least feeling aspirational. But most of the time, when writing for your run-of-the-mill, ‘please help me with my savings goals’ readership, try to apply some tact to your copy.

3. Compliance is key

Whenever you’re writing, no matter what the subject matter is, it’s essential that what you say is factual and not misleading. In the finance industry, where leading someone astray can have a very tangible and sometimes dire effect on their life, accuracy is even more critical.

When writing for finance in Australia, it’s vital that you’re aware of and abide by several regulatory guidelines, such as those set by ASIC about giving financial product advice. Having written for many clients in the insurance, banking and super industries of the years, we know these guidelines inside out.

We saw the impact that the 2019 Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry had. One of the key outcomes of this was that many financial providers were misleading customers, whether intentionally or not, by not following the rules and guidelines around compliance.

Don’t make people dig for answers

What this means, in simple terms, is that it’s essential for banks, superannuation providers, and other companies in the finance sector to communicate effectively. Consumers have a right to understand what they’re getting into, whether they’re doing something relatively simple like opening a bank account, or something more complex like setting up a self-managed super fund.

Simply having that information available somewhere, hidden in policy documents, isn’t good enough. Those writing for finance have an incredible opportunity to bring important information to light, and help customers make more informed and smart decisions.

4. Use plain English

In the same vein of being responsible and compliant communicators, writers need to use plain English to get the message across. This goes for any sector, but is particularly the case when someone’s money is at stake.

According to the 2016 Census from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 49% of Australians were either born overseas themselves, or have one or both parents born overseas. This means that a significant amount of people reading your words may not speak English as their first language. Focus on using words that will connect with people, and that they can actually understand.

5. Don’t assume prior knowledge

One of the great things about the internet is that we can find answers fairly quickly. You no longer have to wait until the credits of a movie to find out who that actor is. And you don’t have to stare wistfully out the window trying to figure out what the weather will be like.

It also means we can sometimes assume someone has knowledge on a topic. Just because someone can find the answers themselves, doesn’t mean you should force their hand to click away from your website in search of them.

Explaining without being draining

If you’re writing for something as complicated as certain financial topics, be sure to give audiences the full low down. Don’t skimp on the details just because you can’t be bothered to explain, or because you’ve researched it so well that it all seems painfully obvious to you. 

You don’t have to go overboard (a 200-word paragraph describing how money can be exchanged for goods is likely overkill), but there’s no harm in having a quick explanation of more complicated terms.

Having someone else review your work is also a great idea. Have them specifically look out for anything they don’t understand, or potentially could benefit from a refresher on.

6. People love to compare

In a society continually connected by social media and driven by globally shared knowledge, it’s pretty easy to make comparisons to others. The same goes for finances. Whether it’s to better understand our own identity and place in the world, or just to feel better about the state of our bank accounts, people love to know where they sit on the spectrum.

How do your finances compare?

Google is rampant with searches like “how much superannuation should I have for my age?”, or “what’s a normal amount of savings to have?” By understanding our audiences’ drive to see themselves through the lens of what’s ‘normal’, or at least what others within their demographic are doing, we become more effective writers.

It allows us to choose better topics and write in more targeted ways. We can understand the fears readers have – that their bank account isn’t up to scratch, or they’re missing the mark on how much super they should have. We can also help alleviate those fears by equipping readers with tools to help them to save more, invest more, budget better, and so on.

Be a responsible and effective finance writer

At the end of the day, writing for finance isn’t rocket science. It can be complicated, and dry, and you may not always be writing about the ‘sexiest’ of topics. But at the end of the day, it’s something most people can relate to, and even want to understand better.

The best finance writing involves understanding your topic and your audience, and translating what can be quite jargon-heavy rhetoric into something that, dare we say it, is enjoyable to read.

To get the expert finance writers on the case, get in contact with Avion Communications. We apply our experience, knowledge, and empathy to create compelling financial writing that informs and engages readers.