Aesthetics in financial planning may seem like a trivial topic, but it isn’t. A lot of bad investment decisions are the direct result of bad document design, especially in disclosure and planning documents. By “design”, I mean the layout, typeface, and graphic elements of the documents.
The bad design of these documents results in client incomprehension and disinterest. This can only lead to problems for both clients and their advisors down the road.
Disinterested clients miss important details about costs, risks, and tax consequences, to name a few. In many family situations, poorly designed documents result in the less financially savvy partner checking out and deferring to the other.
The outcome of this is generally uninformed (or uneven) consent, and frequently, just trusting the advisor. When things turn out differently than expected, the advisor can lose the client, or worse, face litigation.
SEC Plain Writing Initiative
The SEC is well aware of the impenetrable nature of most disclosure documents and has responded with a Plain Writing Initiative that suggests many ways to improve document writing and design.
In the preface to the SEC’s “A Plain English Handbook”, Warren Buffett wrote:
For more than forty years, I’ve studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I’ve been unable to decipher just what is being said, or worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said.
Perhaps the most common problem… is that a well-intentioned and informed writer simply fails to get the message across to an intelligent, interested reader. In that case, stilted jargon and complex constructions are usually the villains.
I would only add that they design elements are equally to blame.
Bantam’s Aesthetics in Financial Planning – Document Design
Bantam prides itself on having professionally designed documents and high production values of our reports and Family Strategy Books.
This is not about the inclusion of excessive charts, tables, and design frills. It is more about minimalism and leaving out what is extraneous. Most importantly, it is about having our highly readable text presented in a way that is pleasing to the eye and draws the reader into the document.
Only highly crafted writing, presented in a beautiful layout, can effectively convey the full meaning of the writer. This should be self-evident. Only truly engaged readers can understand and appreciate the recommendations, engage in meaningful dialogue, and then make fully informed decisions.
 See An Ill Wind Blows Through Municipal Finance; Jack Duval; 2017; For a discussion on informed consent. Available at: http://bant.am/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/An-Ill-Wind-Blows-Through-Municipal-Finance-Jack-Duval.pdf.