Corporate Communication Collection

Debbie D . DuFrene, Editor

The Essential

Guide to Business

Communication

for Finance

Professionals

Jason L. Snyder

Lisa A.C. Frank

The Essential Guide to

Business Communication

for Finance Professionals

The Essential Guide to

Business Communication

for Finance Professionals

Jason L. Snyder and Lisa A.C. Frank

The Essential Guide to Business Communication for Finance Professionals

Copyright © Business Expert Press, LLC, 2016.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any

means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy , recording, or any other

except for brief quotations, not to exceed 400 words, without the prior

permission of the publisher .

First published in 2016 by

Business Expert Press, LLC

222 East 46th Street, New York, NY 10017

www .businessexpertpress.com

ISBN-13: 978-1-63157-353-8 (paperback)

ISBN-13: 978-1-63157-354-5 (e-book)

Business Expert Press Corporate Communication Collection

Collection ISSN: 2156-8162 (print)

Collection ISSN: 2156-8170 (electronic)

Cover and interior design by Exeter Premedia Services Private Ltd.,

Chennai, India

First edition: 2016

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America.

Abstract

Communication skills are a competitive advantage for today ’ s finance

professionals. It is truly the cave dweller who still believes that math skills

are the only requirement for success in the finance industry . Savvy professionals

know that employers want and need employees with excellent

relationship building, writing, and presentation skills. They also understand

that the market demand for exceptional communication skills is

going unmet. The Essential Guide to Business Communication for Finance

Professionals asks its readers to adopt the “ communicate or die ” philosophy

in their approach to their careers. Two business professors with years

of experience in finance and communication offer advice and tips for

approaching some of the most common business communication situations

faced by today ’ s finance professionals. Readers will walk away from

this book with tools that can be applied immediately to manage their

professional image and reputation. The advice and tips are enhanced

through the use of real-world examples and quotes from professionals

working in the finance field.

Keywords

business communication, business messages, business presentations,

business writing, career advice, communication, finance, managerial

communication, relationship building

Contents

Foreword�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ix

Acknowledgments.................................................................................... xi

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Embracing the “Communicate or Die ” Philosophy

in Finance.......................................................................... 1

Using the Secrets of Effective Business

Communication............................................................... 11

Taking Personal Responsibility for Communication

Failure.............................................................................. 31

Understanding the Writing Process for Finance

Professionals..................................................................... 51

Preparing Common Business Documents Used in

Finance............................................................................ 81

Preparing and Delivering Finance Presentations with

Maximum Impact............................................................ 93

Notes ..................................................................................................123

References ...........................................................................................127

Index�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������133

Foreword

Are you ready to launch your career by taking advantage of a skills gap in

the finance field? Employers believe that relationship building, writing,

and speaking skills are sorely lacking among today ’ s young finance

professionals. In this book, we endeavor to give you the tools you need

to build your professional reputation and demonstrate your communication

skills. We ask you to adopt the “ communicate or die ” philosophy

to business communication and take personal responsibility for your

professional image and career trajectory . In a few short hours, you will

learn how to (a)enhance your professional relationships, (b) apply the

secrets of effective business communicators, (c) overcome the barriers to

effective business communication, (d) become a more disciplined writer ,

and (e) demonstrate the traits of a virtuous presenter . If you start reading

the book now , you will be able to put what you learn to use before the

end of the day .

Acknowledgments

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those people who helped us turn our

vision for this book into a reality . In particular , we would like to thank

those individuals who responded to our interview questions about their

communication experiences in the finance profession. Their input added

context and credibility to this book. Their responses and experiences are

what make this book one that is truly directed at finance professionals

rather than yet another broad-brush approach to professional communication

. Our sincere thanks go to Vincent Finelli, Constance Myles,

Rob Casella, Eric Bergenn, Peter Bianco, Matthew House, and Jennifer

Savini. In addition, we owe a special thank you to Michael Hammerslag

who offered his assistance in a number of ways and who acted as a

consultant on this project.

CHAPTER 1

Embracing the

“Communicate or Die”

Philosophy in Finance

The good news is that we certainly don ’ t think you ’ ll literally die if you

don ’ t embrace the communication lessons we share with you in this book.

To torture a phrase from Shakespeare ’ s Hamlet, however , you may shuffle

off your professional coil if you close this book now without taking heed

of the advice we are about to share. We hope that for the sake of your

career you will forge ahead!

This book is intended for finance professionals in the early stages of

their careers. Even if you ’ re not in that demographic, we promise that

you will learn a few new tricks. If you are in our target audience, then the

publisher has done a good job of marketing this book. We hope you ’ re

asking yourself why you should be reading this book. After all, you ’ re a

professional in a data-driven, number-crunching profession who has also

most likely taken English composition and public speaking in college.

Why read a book on professional communication? What ’ s the point? We

look forward to answering those questions in this chapter .

Jason, who holds a PhD in Communication Science, has taught communication

courses for nearly 15 years on topics such as organizational

communication, managerial communication, and (ahem) public speaking

. Lisa brings a dozen years of professional finance experience and a

PhD in Finance to the classroom, where she has, for nearly 15 years, been

teaching finance to undergraduate and graduate students. Between the

two of us, we have heard your questions hundreds—if not thousands—of

times. So, let ’ s spend some time here in Chapter 1 addressing those questions

. By the end of the chapter , we hope you ’ ll come to understand that

professional communication skills:

2 THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO BUSINESS COMMUNICATION

• Include more than basic composition and public speaking

• Are in low supply and high demand in the finance industry

• Will give you a competitive advantage throughout your career

English Composition and Public Speaking

Are Not Enough

As we said before, you ’ ve probably taken one or two English composition

classes while you were in college. In fact, before you started your career ,

you probably wrote a number of papers for your college classes. If you

haven ’ t started your professional career , then we have a secret to share with

you. College writing is not the same thing as writing for a professional

audience. Many of the lessons you learned about writing simply don ’ t

apply . Those of you with more work experience may have already figured

that out. That said, we do not advise you fire off an angry missive to your

former professors for wasting your time. They taught you a number of

valuable lessons about writing. We argue that the factors highlighted in

Table 1.1 constitute major differences between the writing you did in

college and the writing you should do in your career . The best business

communicators understand these factors.

The writing you produced in college was written for a professor . Not

all professors are the same. So, one valuable lesson you learned from those

writing experiences is that you have to always put your audience first. You

know that you need to make your audience happy . That ’ s a lesson you

should carry with you throughout your career and a point we come back

to repeatedly throughout this book.

Table 1.1 Major differences between compositional and professional

writing

Compositional

Professional

Primary audience Professor Varies, depending on situation

Voice Passive Active

Tone Formal Conversational

Length Longer Shorter

Purpose

Demonstrate knowledge and

thinking

Inform and persuade

Embracing the “Communicate or Die” Philosophy in Finance 3

In business writing, however , you usually communicate to busy professionals

whose jobs don ’ t typically include evaluating your writing skills

(although that doesn ’ t mean they don ’ t judge you). These professionals

need you to get to the point so they can move on with their days. In

many cases, you are not writing for a single audience. You are also writing

for secondary audiences. The people who write annual reports are not

writing for an individual, but for a number of audiences, including investors

and regulators. Financial planners help clients with their financial

affairs. Their audience often includes people with very limited knowledge

of finance. In large organizations, internal memos and reports must be

written for multiple audiences within the organization who have varying

degrees of expertise in finance. Although you must always make your

audience happy , that task can be substantially more difficult in business

because your audience is often fragmented and diverse.

Don ’ t just take our word for it. Vincent Finelli is a 26-year-old finance

professional who holds an MBA and has two years ’ experience as a risk

analyst for a global commodities trading firm. He talked with us about

the importance of understanding his audience. In his work, he communicates

with colleagues from around the globe. As a result, it is critical for

him to avoid jargon, slang, and idioms in his communications because he

needs to be sensitive to language and cultural differences. Additionally ,

his job places highly private financial information at his disposal. As a

result, he has to be aware of his audience because oversharing this information

in the trading environment is accompanied by business and legal

Vincent Finelli

Risk Analyst

Global Commodities Trading Firm

4 THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO BUSINESS COMMUNICATION

implications. There are few one-size-fits-all communication scenarios he

faces because his audience is always so diverse. His heightened awareness

of these communication issues has allowed him to tailor his communications

. Communicating in a diverse environment where language

and cultural differences exist were not part of his undergraduate writing

experience.1

Because your audience is different in business than that in college,

the tone of your messages will be affected. Compositional writing taught

in college usually stresses passive voice and formal tone. Business writing

prefers active voice and conversational tone. We describe passive voice in

greater detail later in the book. For now , suffice it to say that passive voice

follows an object–verb–subject pattern. Active voice follows the subject–

verb–object pattern. In other words, active voice sentences tell us who did

what to whom (or what). Active voice sentences are generally clearer and

easier to understand.

Consider the following simple example: Lisa ran a half marathon.

As some of you may know , running a half marathon is not easy . In this

case, our author Lisa has actually run a half marathon. That ’ s a major

accomplishment for which she deserves credit. The active sentence places

emphasis on the subject (Lisa), gives her credit, and makes it easy for the

reader to know who did what to whom (or what). If we write the same

sentence in passive voice, it would read one of two ways:

• A half marathon was run by Lisa.

• A half marathon was run.

Both passive sentences place the emphasis on the object (half marathon

). The second passive sentence excludes the subject (Lisa). Given how

hard she worked to train for and run a half marathon, Lisa would not be

happy losing the credit for her accomplishment.

Your college professors wanted you to demonstrate the quality and

depth of your thinking when writing essays and reports. That usually

resulted in long papers. Remember how they always asked you for—

sigh—page minimums? That approach served its purpose. However , your

professional audiences don ’ t have that kind of time. They want you to

provide the necessary information, make your request, or provide your

Embracing the “Communicate or Die” Philosophy in Finance 5

recommendation. As long as you can demonstrate that you ’ ve done your

research, this audience prefers that you get to the point sooner , rather

than later . In fact, Jason ’ s assignments to his managerial communication

students have page maximums, because if you can ’ t make your point succinctly

, then your audience won ’ t care to finish reading your tome. Save

the thesis for the classroom.

Composition classes are not sufficient for making you an effective

business writer , and public speaking classes are not sufficient for making

you an effective business presenter . Why isn ’ t a public speaking class

sufficient for developing the presentation skills you need for your career?

In public speaking, you learned—we hope—about organizing your

thoughts, supporting points with evidence, and the importance of an

extemporaneous style (i.e., not reading your presentation from notes).

Those are all valuable lessons. However , for most of us, the vast majority

of our professional presentations will be delivered to small audiences,

often fewer than 10 people. Public speaking courses do not prepare you

for delivering a presentation to a small audience in a boardroom. They do

not prepare you for the unique challenges of the business context, including

presenting financial statements to managers, making budget recommendations

, participating in quarterly report calls to investors, selling a

new product, pitching a product to investors, defending an unpopular

decision to employees, or teaching nonfinancial managers how to explain

financial data to lay audiences.

The point here is that you need to approach writing and speaking in a

different way than you have in the past. This book will help you develop

the skills you need to be an effective business communicator . The next

thing we have to do, however , is to explain to you why you should care

about being an effective business communicator .

Business Communication Skills and Your Career

People believe they are effective communicators. It makes sense. We all

communicate all day long for our entire lives. We all have years of experience

. Unfortunately , having lots of experience does not always make

you better . If you do something wrong a million times, you ’ re still doing

it wrong.

6 THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO BUSINESS COMMUNICATION

Most of your peers believe they are already effective communicators

and will never seek the guidance necessary to go from bad to good or

good to great. As a result, those people are presenting you with a competitive

advantage. Let ’ s take a closer look at the advantage they ’ re providing

you and on which you are now capitalizing. You ’ re finance people, so we

should probably show you some numbers now .

How many of your peers believe they are effective communicators?

The Hart Research Associates, on behalf of the Association of American

Colleges and Universities, recently conducted a nationwide study of more

than 400 large employers and more than 600 recent college graduates

about career readiness. When those graduates were asked if they were well

prepared for work in terms of their communication skills, do you know

what they said? Not surprisingly , they reported feeling prepared. In fact,

62% felt their oral communication skills were adequate and 65% felt the

same way about their writing skills.

Although we ’ re college professors and would love to take this opportunity

to pat ourselves on the back, that would be premature. In the same

study , employers were asked about the preparedness of recent college

graduates. Their outlook on the situation was less rosy . A mere 28% of

employers reported that recent college graduates have adequate oral communication

skills, and 27% felt that way about written communication

skills.2

Do you see the disconnect? Young professionals tend to believe they

are good communicators. Their employers disagree. How do you feel

about your written and oral communication skills? How do you think

your employer feels? How much do written and oral communication

skills matter , anyway? We ’ re glad you asked. Here ’ s a hint, we wrote a

book about the importance of communication skills for young finance

professionals.

Employers do, in fact, care about your communication skills. According

to its 2015 survey of employers, the National Association of Colleges

and Employers (NACE) found that 85% of employers said oral

communication skills were sought in recent graduates, although 73% of

employers indicated that written communication skills were important. 3

Moreover , the NACE college graduate career readiness task force, comprising

representatives from major employers and universities, cited oral

Embracing the “Communicate or Die” Philosophy in Finance 7

and written communication skills as one of seven competencies that prepare

students for a successful transition from school to work. 4 Employers

in the Hart Research Associates study nearly universally agreed that skills

including communication, critical thinking, and problem solving are

more important to career success than is a student ’ s major .5

A 2015 USA Today article reported on a CareerBuilder survey of

employers. Their findings should lend even more kindling to the fire we

hope is beginning to build inside you about capitalizing on the competitive

advantage gained through focus on communication skills. Of the

top five soft skills cited in the CareerBuilder study , oral communication

skills ranked #3 and written communication skills ranked #5. The article ’ s

author reports that

while many companies have open positions and are eager to hire,

they report having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill those

positions. Twenty-one percent of employers surveyed by Career-

Builder said they didn ’ t feel that colleges were doing enough to

prepare students for the working world. … employers are troubled

by graduates ’ lack of soft skills.6

And this advice applies to professionals from all fields , including finance .

In fact , a recent article on finance job skills made the case for the importance

of communication skills in the finance industry . The authors argued :

Finance jobs require skills in communicating policies and procedures

to other employees and customers. Finance professionals

should be able to present the budget to staff members and

explain why there is a profit or loss. Finance positions in a bank

or investment firm include communicating with customers on a

regular basis and answering questions about financial transactions.

During meetings and conferences, executive finance professionals

make presentations on the financial health of a company to other

staff, board members and potential clients.7

Written and oral communication skills are important for helping you

be effective in your work, but the benefits of effective communication