Yesterday, my wife and I received the following letter from a company that manages some of our investments:
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is responsible for the oversight of financial services companies acting as broker-dealers to ensure investment recommendations are suitable. Any company that has registered representatives working as financial advisors soliciting investment and insurance products based on the financial status and investment objectives of its clients is classified as a broker-dealer. [Company Name], Inc. is considered a broker-dealer acting n this capacity and is therefore required to confirm certain information to you at least every three years or when information listed on the attached form changes.
The enclosed Confidential Data form contains information specific to you. Please be assured this information is kept in strict confidence and used only for the required maintenance of our records. If any information is incomplete or inaccurate, please add or update the information and return it in the enclosed envelope.
Note: No action is required on your part if the information is correct.
Please direct any inquiries and/or concerns to X-XXX-XXX-XXXX or write to the address below:
[Company Name and Address]
Client Services Division
OK, Gentle Reader, take out a clean sheet of paper and a Number 2 pencil. What do you think is the biggest problem with this letter? Share your answer in the Comments.
UPDATE 19 September 2007: Ray Ward, of the (New) Legal Writer blog, nails it:
You have to do an awful lot of reading before you find out why they’re writing you. The first mention of “you,” and what this letter has to do with “you,” doesn’t come until the 75th word. If I got this letter, I might have stopped reading before I found out what its point was.
Exactly. I’m guessing that the response rate for this letter is close to zero. Most people are going to read the first line or two, and then say to themselves “This is just some more of the legal mumbo-jumbo that these people send out all the time. I don’t have time to decypher this.”
Remember the inverted pyramid? Use it. It’s vital in business communication like this letter to let the reader know immediately why they’re getting a letter. In this case, something like this:
Please check the information on the enclosed Confidential Data form. If any of it is wrong, missing, or out of date, note the corrections or additions on the form and return it in the enclosed envelope. If it is all correct, you don’t have to do anything.
From there, the letter can go on to explain that the information is kept confidential, and that the SEC requires them to verify this type of information periodically.
Put the main point at the beginning. This really isn’t hard to do, which makes me wonder why so few companies do it.