From my financial-sector experience, regulations are often what cause companies to do the right thing long before their sense of values moves them. I think the changes in diversity have been minor in the grand scheme of things. What has to change is the attitude men bring with them into the workplace and that takes much more time than changing behavior.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D. Deborah is the Founder and Principal at The Plain Language Group. A long-time believer that good writing is good business, she has spent the past 20 years helping corporations create written information that is easy for people to understand and use. Deborah works primarily with Fortune 100/500 companies. Deborah has given more than 100 presentations to business, government, and non-profit organizations in the U.S., Mexico, England, Spain, Ireland, Germany, and France. She is the co-author of three books and the author of more than two dozen articles on issues related to clear communication.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
I am a plain language expert who works primarily in the financial sector. My expertise is in helping companies meet regulatory requirements for clear and conspicuous disclosures — while creating content that their customers can understand.
My first foray into the field of finance occurred while I was a tenured professor of technical writing, before I started The Plain Language Group, I was contacted by a bank that has since been scooped up twice and landed in Wells Fargo. The Director of their Capital Markets Group wanted me to help their marketers write proposals to sell more hedge funds. I worked as a consultant with them for three years. At that point I realized that I love working with financial corporations, because doing so is like being an anthropologist: learning tribal rituals, understanding the politics, deciphering language, studying behavior patterns, etc. From that experience and many others, I left academia, and TPLG now has worked with almost every large bank in the U.S.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One day during a meeting with the head of Capital Markets, he thanked me for all the plain language training I had provided and their resulting increase in successful proposals. He then said to me, “Deborah, you must be the only English professor in the US who understands how hedge funds work.” Of course, in order to teach them to write better proposals, I had to learn about the products they were selling. But I never forgot what he said, because it taught me an important lesson: Say “yes” to what you have never done and then figure it out.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working with one of the largest banks in Canada to accomplish two goals for them:
1) meet the regulatory needs for plain language as prescribed by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. This entity takes very seriously the requirement to make financial information easy for customers to understand.
2) improve customer experience and trust by making information clear, concise, and understandable.
I believe that people have the right to understand information that affects them. In addition to their health, people must be able to make informed decisions about their financial lives. We cannot do so if we don’t understand financial information.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Plain Language Group offers a breadth of services to our clients. We “translate” complex financial information into plain language. We train employees to be better writers by customizing lessons. And we conduct usability testing on written content to hear the customer’s response and voice.
Occasionally when we conduct training, we find that attendees are not happy about spending time to learn to write better. On one particular occasion, I was working with the heads of all the departments for New York City. After the training, the head of one department came up to me and said, “I hated the fact that I was going to have to spend a day listening to someone talk about writing, but this has been so instructive that now I wish we had another day to learn more.” So I think one of our outstanding characteristics is to show people how important it is to produce readable content and that everyone can learn to do so.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I would love to say it’s because men on Wall Street now recognize the value women and other minorities bring. But, I suspect the change has more to do with improved requirements and an emphasis on diversity. However, from my financial-sector experience, regulations are often what cause companies to do the right thing long before their sense of values moves them. I think the changes in diversity have been minor in the grand scheme of things. What has to change is the attitude men bring with them into the workplace and that takes much more time than changing behavior.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, fewer than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
1) Ask for a higher salary when negotiating for a job. Our value is, in part, determined by how much the industry pays us. Women are far behind men in asking for more money.
2) Find the truly good guys in your work environment and encourage them to speak up for equality. All too often the lack of parity becomes women’s problem to change. I think men who believe in what women bring to the table have an obligation to champion that attitude at their workplace.
3) Support what other women say during meetings. A client of mine once had a great strategy between the women on how to support each other. During a meeting, when one woman made a point, the next woman to speak would say something like, “As Ann suggested earlier…” or, “I want to expand on what Diane said…” I thought that strategy was brilliant in reminding the group that the women have spoken individually while giving everyone credit for an idea.
1) Mean it. Paying lip service to equity and equality is easy, but the proof is in the actual numbers of women who companies hire, listen to, and promote. The term “woke washing” has even emerged, because so many companies seemingly talk the talk of moral change but fall short of walking the walk.
2) Be innovators of change. Just as companies worked to improve culture, work-life balance, and competitive compensation, leaders can put energy toward equity and leverage for minorities. A lot of that conversation starts easily: by listening to minorities.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
One of the underlying problems with a focus on financial literacy is that often it appears as if the industry is blaming the less financially educated. If financial information were easier to understand, some literacy issues would be alleviated. We should put our energy into fighting for regulatory and legislative changes that could positively affect consumers of all ages by shifting responsibility to the industry. As regulations requiring plain language content and are enforced (which currently rarely happens), our financial literacy needs also would evolve.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The first teaching job I had was at a small, private university. I was teaching Freshman Composition in the English Department. A tenured professor of Business Communication asked me if I’d be interested in teaching the topic in the College of Business. Having led a less-than-normal life as a poet/bookbinder prior to teaching, I wasn’t sure “business” was the place for me. However, I realized that clear communication decreases chaos — which was a worthy goal. So, I said yes. After one semester, I was hooked on the idea of teaching practical writing skills: Ones that students would rely on after graduating. From that experience, I decided to get my doctorate and teach business and technical writing. My entire career began the moment she asked me to teach that class and the moment I said “yes.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ihave two quotes that guide me:
1) Be brave, and mighty forces will come to your aid. Basil King
2) Say “yes” to what you have never done, and then figure it out. Me
I think my ability to jump over fear and take that first consulting job working with hedge funds taught me that both quotes can carry me to success.
First, I believe that opportunity comes with preparation and the universe manifests what we need even if it comes in forms we don’t expect. In particular, women need bravery, and the forces that help often come from other women (or men) who recognize our value and talent. I read an interesting article recently about the difference between a mentor (who gives advice) and a supporter (who opens doors). A supporter is one type of “force” that comes to our aid.
Second, as a former tenured professor, I spent my earlier professional life teaching students how to write by giving them assignments they had never encountered before. If they can do something new and learn how to do it well, then certainly I can do the same. The challenge of learning keeps us vital.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
For me and millions of other customers and citizens, I think one of the most important movements is the plain language movement. As I shared earlier, people have a right to understand the information that affects their lives. Far too often, financial attorneys push complexity that makes it almost impossible for us to understand critical information and to make informed decisions: Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policies, Customer Account Agreements, Mortgage Disclosures, Loan Contracts, Arbitration/Dispute Clauses, and more.
In fact, the Edelman Trust Index of 2018 lists that the #1 factor in trusting a bank is being able to understand information we receive from them. Perhaps financial institutions would stop creating such unnecessarily complex content if their people truly understood that creating clear, understandable information:
· improves their brand,
· increases profits,
· increases customer loyalty,
· decreases wasted time and money, and
· gives people the ability to make informed decisions.
I do understand the need for compliance and legal to protect an institution, but information can be both legal and clear at the same time. Only when that happens will customers and citizens be able to make truly informed decisions about their finances.
Thank you for all of these great insights!