Finance Needs Better Teachers

What makes someone a good teacher? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I don’t mean teacher in the traditional chalkboard and apple sense. We’re all teachers. We all have to explains things we understand to others who don’t.

So what makes someone particularly good at that?

Empathy.

The best teachers remember what it’s like to not understand. They remember the questions they were too embarrassed to ask. They remember the sticking points.

The best teachers make you feel like they’re in the thick of it with you. They talk to you, not down to you. They make it okay to be exactly where you are.

The finance industry needs better teachers.

There are plenty of advisors, writers, and bloggers who know their stuff but aren’t great teachers. They assume this baseline financial literacy that, let’s face it, most of us don’t have. (Looking at you, education system.) Sometimes it feels like they’re just catering to other finance nerds. But what about everyone else? What about the people they claim they’re trying to serve?

By using fancy words to explain other fancy words, it creates an environment where it’s really hard to stick your hand up and say, “I don’t get it.”

And that, my friends, is dangerous. That’s how we get gaps. That’s how we get ‘us’ versus ‘them’. When this happens, we all lose.

Nowhere is this gap more obvious than at the cocktail hours advisors throw to get new clients (yes, I go to those for kicks). You can literally see it widen with every PowerPoint slide. No one’s going to interrupt Cindy mid-pitch and ask for clarification on, “Wait, where did that number come from?” because that would be embarrassing.

I don’t think it’s intentional (not always at least). I think they honestly forget what it’s like to not understand annuities because to them it’s second nature. But if you want to build trust and lasting relationships, you’ve got to know your audience so that you know where to start.

“RRSP contributions will lower your taxable income!” isn’t a selling point to someone that doesn’t know what taxable income is.

Do you see what I mean here? Just because it makes sense to you explained like that doesn’t mean it makes sense to someone else. You’ve got to be conscious of who you’re talking to (or rather, who you want to be talking to) and use language that makes sense to them.

Remember what it’s like to not understand.

That kind of empathy is really, I mean really, powerful.


P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took in Chinatown, New York. Note Mr T. He knows a thing or two about teaching…

About the author

Kate Smalley

Kate is a marketer, maker, and freelancer living in Toronto. She works with small businesses to help them narrow in on their purpose, share their ideas, and tell their story.

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