Ignore this trait of success at your peril
Imagine being the founder of one of the most significant fields in science, and having no idea about it. That’s what happened to Gregor Mendel, widely credited as the founder of modern genetics.
Mendel was an Augustinian friar who quietly conducted experiments on pea plants in his secluded monastery garden between 1856 and 1863. He spent seven years patiently crossbreeding peas in different combinations and recording the outcomes.
He published his work in 1866, describing the phenomenon of “recessive” and “dominant” factors - or what we now call genes. Although Mendel only studied peas, his findings have allowed scientists to identify, understand, and treat genetic diseases.
Mendel didn’t receive any recognition during his lifetime for his research. Why? Several reasons, but one is that he didn’t promote his work. When it was referenced, it was misunderstood. It appears Mendel didn’t challenge these misrepresentations of his work, and it wasn’t until 1900 that a trio of scientists rediscovered his work, and the rest is history.
Mendel was an unfortunate communicator. He was clearly passionate about his scientific work, which was technical and important, but he failed to communicate it widely enough to the people who mattered.
Advisers today aren’t promoting groundbreaking scientific laws but they struggle with similar problems. They have technical expertise and innovative business models, but they struggle to share the benefits to their target audience.
The significance of this problem cannot be overstated. Morgan Housel has written an excellent piece making the case that communication is the most overlooked trait in investing success.
The whole article is worth reading, but one point that stood out for me was his summary of what good client communication looks like:
“Clear and honest communication that ensures clients know what you’re doing, what to expect, and addresses the psychological barriers that pushes them away from adhering to good advice.”
Housel is talking about translating the investing experience into a way that places the client’s concerns at the centre of the conversation. This requires empathy from the adviser. Advisers may read books on market theories with their breakfast. Most clients aren’t interested. They’re thinking about immediate and long-term goals in their life, such as saving for retirement, which are emotional topics for them and their families.
So advisers need to work to embrace this. Housel suggests communicating “the softer and emotional side of investing. A knowledge of market history. An acceptance of volatility as a normal part of investing. That you can be wrong on half your investments and still do well over time.”
In essence, it’s about educating clients so they can understand what you’re doing, what it means for them, and why.
The key point here is that if you’ve done most of the hard work in building a modern client-centred advisory firm, treat your marketing and communication plan as importantly as any other part of the business. If you don’t, you’ll be consigned to obscurity. By the time people discover you after it’s all over, it’ll be too late for you to know the true impact you could have had — just like Gregor Mendel.