Never Answer an Anonymous Letter

As post-season baseball commences (Go Cubs!), the baseball community has sadly lost one of its most legendary personalities in Yogi Berra. Berra was not only an exceptional baseball player, but was seen by many as a source of wisdom, a personality that in some way feels like it changed baseball, although you’re not quite sure how. I think Allen Barra put it best — “…these famed Yogi-isms as ‘distilled bits of wisdom which, like good country songs and old John Wayne movies, get to the truth in a hurry.”

One of those famous ‘Yogi-isms’ spoke to me as I sat down to author this blog post.

Never answer an anonymous letter,” -Yogi Berra.

What rings most true to me in the five word quote is that Berra simply expressed that personal engagement – i.e. effort, responding or engaging in something – requires a personal connection. One cannot respond to anonymity. This is obvious. But when you look at how wealth management companies, and even most financial services companies, communicate with their clients, it appears this truth is lost. Sure the standard form letter has a signature at the bottom and logo at top (not truly anonymous). The standard table of numbers sent to clients is specific to an account. But the reality is that a significant percentage of communication to clients today is basically anonymous (the second definition on Google: “having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features; unremarkable or impersonal”).

This is a problem. Wealth management is a service business. Clients depend on advisors, and to some extent, digital advisory services, to help them manage what is arguably one of the most important facets of their life: their finances. The relationship requires trust. Trust in the competency of their advisor or service provider and trust in the integrity of their service.

In tandem with trust, the relationship also requires a personal connection (whether that be human or digital). To many wealth management firms that means solving the puzzle of personalized communication at scale. In fact, the issue of scaling client services and satisfaction is emerging as one of the strongest drivers in setting wealth management IT priorities in 2015-16. I believe technology will help solve this problem.

In fact, it already is. Wealth management firms are using AI-powered natural language generation (NLG) technology to prepare for client meetings by automatically generating investment portfolio reviews in the form of easy-to-read discussion points, freeing up advisors’ time to conduct in-depth analysis ahead of the meeting. A major wealth firm we work with at Narrative Science is using the technology to correspond directly with clients, through letters and mobile messages that clearly explain clients’ progress towards goals.

The idea of bringing transparency to financial services reporting and personalization to its communication efforts is why I work at Narrative Science. And for wealth management specifically, I believe that the integration of data aggregation, portfolio management, and natural language generation technologies is the future. Ironically, this concept of automating personalization is how the industry will avoid being anonymous in a digital world.

NarrativeScience is a technology company based in Chicago, IL. Our patented advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) platform, Quill™, is helping companies more effectively use their data to improve decision-making, increase operational efficiency and provide a better customer experience – all through the power of storytelling.


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