How to Speak Your Clients' Language

Written by: Rick Bragg

Last summer, my wife and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary by traveling to Europe. We visited Ireland, Germany, France, and Spain during our month-long holiday and didn’t have any language difficulties in three of those countries. Four years of high school Spanish made Spain fairly simple to navigate. Living two years in Germany in the ’90s, combined with an online refresher course prior to the trip, helped us during our ten days in Germany. And, of course, English is spoken in Ireland, so no problem there.

Then there was France.

Neither my wife or I speak French, so the barriers to communication were constant. This became especially apparent at a restaurant in Montpellier where I ordered a chef salad for my meal and the waiter brought me a pizza. We all laughed when we recognized the miscommunication. I can’t say I was too upset. The salad would have been the healthier choice, of course, but it ended up being one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had!

And so it goes.

Failure to speak the language doesn’t always end with such positive or inconsequential results. I recently attended a financial seminar at a local credit union where the speaker addressed Social Security benefits

“Your best thirty-five years will be used to calculate your PIA. And your spouse can claim half your PIA, so you might want to wait until you achieve your FRA.”

I might as well have been back in France.

To be fair, the speaker addressed every acronym he used during his talk, so I soon became aware that PIA is Primary Insurance Amount and FRA is Full Retirement Age. Even then, while I understood what the acronym meant, I had no idea how the PIA and FRA were fully calculated.

The speaker continued his lecture and went on to say that the PIA and FRA vary from individual to individual and began sharing an example. Before he could finish, hands shot up around the room and people began peppering him with questions about their personal PIA and FRA.

Fortunately, he had done this before and knew this was coming. He told us it would be impossible to address the specific financial concerns of the sixty people in the room since there would be at least sixty, if not more, possible answers.

He went on to say that everyone should consult with their personal financial advisor to factor the details of their situation into their strategy plan for retirement.

The lecturer then continued with his example:

  • A couple are both at their FRA: 66 years old.
  • The husband has a PIA of $3,000 per month.
  • The wife has a PIA of $1,000 a month.
  • Under the Social Security rules for spouses, the wife can either claim her PIA of $1,000, or opt to take half of her spouse’s PIA, which would be $1,500.
  • The room erupted in sidebar discussions! Anyone with fourth-grade math skills had already calculated the $6,000 annual increase in Social Security benefits. Extrapolating that figure over twenty years would mean an additional $120,000 in increased income.

    So how did the lecturer know about this claim benefit? The answer is simple. He spoke the Social Security language. He was a well trained financial advisor who had immersed himself in the complex syntax and sometimes illogical rules of Social Security. He also stays informed about the ever-shifting rules in Social Security, such as the suspension of the “file and suspend” loophole.

    At the end of the one-hour session, I came to a stark conclusion: I need an interpreter. I need a trained financial advisor who speaks the Social Security language and fully understands the potential pitfalls of not filing claim benefits correctly, but can still speak my language so I know what’s going on.

    Is your marketing content full of industry-speak or are you serving as an “interpreter” for your clients? If not, will they know to come to you before they make decisions about filing? Are you publishing content in their language that helps educate them on this extremely important topic?

    People are looking for help and you have answers. They don’t want to get pizza when they order chef salad, so they need content created with them in mind. As the financial pro, it’s important to make sure you’re translating your extensive knowledge of complex financial concepts into communication your prospects and clients can easily understand, whether it’s on your website or in a face-to-face meeting.