According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, asset management firms and financial services organizations make up the least trusted industry globally. And we’re not seeing much improvement.

VisibleThread conducted research on over 60 of the largest asset management firms’ websites in Q2 2018 and again one year later to assess clarity and transparency. They evaluated these financial services websites with the goal of answering the question, “What can asset management firms do to improve customer trust?”

Using their AI solutions, VisibleThread reviewed 6000 web pages and more than 5.8 million words to measure and benchmark content clarity. Their findings were published in their 2019 Asset Management Website Clarity Index. Here are five key takeaways from the report.

1. There is a great need for more transparency to improve customer trust

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the financial services sector gained two points in trust this year, but it’s still the least trusted industry in the world. Additionally, VisibleThread didn’t observe any noticeable difference in transparency in the 60 websites between 2018 and 2019. They explain that low trust levels and poor customer loyalty cause firms to spend more money to attract and retain customers. And these customers are asking for more transparency from firms.

When it comes to digital content, industry trust will begin with client awareness. An understanding of client perspectives and an awareness of how content is being perceived is key. More specifically, it’s crucial to keep the reader in mind when writing content and ask, “How would they receive this information?” This involves shifting from writing copy that is inwardly focused to copy that is client benefit-oriented and audience-focused. Instead of touting firm accomplishments and writing in a way that makes your firm look good, the main goal of content is to be useful for your audience. This shift in mindset will pave the way to client trust.

2. A sophisticated audience doesn’t necessitate sophisticated language

One aspect of the websites’ content that VisibleThread measured is readability, which is a measure of reading ease. The higher the score, the easier the content is to understand. The average readability score of the 60 firms’ websites was 37, while the book Moby Dick scores 58 on this scale. That means that asset management firms’ websites are often more difficult to read than Moby Dick.

There is a misconception in the industry that customers are more sophisticated, and therefore they can easily understand complex content—or might even be offended by simple language. But this simply isn’t true. Even if customers can read content at a college level, they lead busy lives and do not have the time and mental capacity to spend closely digesting difficult content.

Readers appreciate clear and concise information void of jargon, and most experts recommend aiming for a readability score of 60 when writing for the American consumer. When writing website content, it’s helpful to put yourself in the reader’s position and try not to assume that complexity is what they’re looking for, or even that they’re a licensed financial professional. And in an increasingly global audience, remember that English may not be the first language of many clients and prospects, so clarity of information and everyday language is important.

3. Be wary of passive voice

There is a significant overuse of passive voice in the financial services industry. VisibleThread found that 58/60 websites communicate using an academic tone with overuse of passive voice. The average level of passive voice for all of these websites is 12%, which is three times the recommended amount. In an industry where customer trust is a major issue, using passive voice can come across as a way of distancing the firm from all the industry activity that can’t be controlled, which can lead to a feeling of a lack of transparency. Despite the unknowns, firms can be clear about their processes and how they help their clients, while also focusing on guiding them and providing a sense of confidence and clarity in content.

4. Simplicity as a point of differentiation

In a landscape of complex language, passive voice, long sentence use, and high complex word density, simplicity can be a point of differentiation in the industry. The ability to communicate complex information in an understandable way is highly valued. It demonstrates to the reader that you care about them, you know what you’re talking about, and you can convey it in a way they can easily understand. This demonstrates expertise and a command of the subject in a way that complex language and industry jargon does not. With greater clarity and transparency comes trust and reliance as a valued source of information for your firm’s audience.

5. Subject matter experts aren’t professional writers

VisibleThread points out that asset management firms have such a large volume of content to produce that it’s hard to maintain quality. Additionally, this content is usually written by subject matter experts. These people are an extremely valuable resource for producing content but are not necessarily professional writers, so it can be difficult for technical experts to write content in layman’s terms. Having an editor or someone who isn’t as technically-focused work with subject experts to craft and revise content is a helpful strategy. Although compliance departments edit content, their focus is not necessarily on simplicity or readability. This is why an outsider’s perspective can be particularly beneficial.

Treat it as a conversation

In general, treat all website copy like a conversation. Write with the reader in mind, as if you are speaking to them. In a one-on-one meeting with a client, you wouldn’t just throw a mass of complex data and information at them, so don’t do that on your website either. Use shorter sentences and an active voice. Incorporate stories and metaphors to demonstrate points in a relatable way. The more your audience feels like they’re interacting with or reading something from a real person, the more trustworthy they will find you.