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Setting Your OOO Message: Best Practices

Your out-of-office (OOO) message is a simple communication tool that’s essential to use every time you won’t be answering calls or emails promptly. Whether your normal response time is a few hours or a business day, you need to alert those who contact you when that time has changed. If there’s an unexplained delay, clients may wonder what’s wrong, asking themselves, “Is he sick?” or “Did something bad happen?” After all, you’re usually so attentive. By immediately informing callers and emailers that you’re unavailable, you’ll prevent any confusion or disappointment when you don’t respond as quickly as expected.

Whether your OOO message is received by clients, prospects, business associates or others, it’s always a great opportunity to reinforce your image as a highly responsive and attentive adviser. But what exactly should you say? Your message should represent your authentic self, while keeping the following best practices in mind.

What Should You Say?

The best messages are clear, short and simple. Here’s a good example:

Hi, this is <NAME>. I’m out of the office until <MONTH DATE> and will be responding to messages on <MONTH DATE>. If you have an urgent need, please contact <NAME> at <XXX.XXX.XXXX> or <EMAIL ADDRESS>. Thank you for your message. I look forward to connecting soon.

A straightforward response like this works well for callers and emailers who have a business need. And, remember, if you’re recording a message for phone calls, speak articulately so those contacting you don’t have to replay your message. If necessary, spell out the email address of your contact person.

If you’d like to elaborate on your message, here are several options, along with some caveats, to consider:

  • Conveying your personality. Perhaps you’d like to mention where you’ll be (e.g., I’m hiking Mount Kilimanjaro!) or add a clever tie-in regarding an upcoming marketing event or newsletter distribution. If that’s in character, it can work. But if a “cute” message isn’t you, just keep things simple and authentic.
  • Adding industry info. If you’re away at an industry conference to keep up with the latest regulations, investment ideas or trends, a brief explanation may be useful. By doing so, you’ll let clients know that your unavailability is for their benefit.
  • Giving advance notice. If you’re going on “sabbatical” of four or more weeks, it’s best to tell clients well in advance. Let your clients know when you’ll be gone and whether you’ll be in communication or not. Ask them to think about any issue that may come up, so you can handle it proactively or alert your team to be ready. And, of course, you’ll want to reassure clients that someone will always be in the office to help them and be in touch as needed.
  • Working from a different location. This situation is increasingly common for advisers, given that technology typically permits seamless communication. If, however, your location does present technological challenges and/or a time difference is in play, it’s best to prepare clients. Use your OOO to convey the reality of when you’ll be responding to messages or not answering calls.

And while I’m on the subject, if you’re taking a vacation, take a vacation! If you answer phone calls and return messages while on vacation or don’t want clients to know you’re gone, think twice. That’s not a great long-term strategy for either you or your clients.

Remember Your OOO!

Your OOO message is a courtesy to clients—and even your staff members (who will need to respond to client queries). It’s also an opportunity to prevent any dings to your credibility. When you’re back in the office, make returning messages your top priority even if your staff assures you that all issues have been resolved. And, finally, remember to turn off your OOO and change the message on your phone as needed.

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Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.


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Helping Clients Manage Life Transitions—With Credit Intact

Divorce, widowhood and other life events can be as much a financial hardship as an emotional one. Here are some strategies to help your clients minimize potentially negative impacts to a credit score after experiencing a life transition.

A question that often comes up when I speak with clients who are going through these situations is, “How can getting divorced or becoming widowed affect my credit score?” Not surprisingly, these life transitions can have a significant impact on a client’s financial well-being.

Transitioning from a two-person household to one requires making major lifestyle adjustments, and credit scores are often overlooked in the midst of this turmoil. To help a client avoid making hasty decisions that could affect their financial security, here are four strategies to help minimize the impact to their credit scores.

1.) Get organized.

Before you attempt to address the credit question, it is imperative to have a clear picture of a client’s current overall financial situation. Start by gathering documents related to financial obligations as well as insurance, taxes, retirement accounts, banking, investments and legal matters. Ideally, a client will have taken this step before the life transition event has occurred as part of their ongoing financial planning, but be prepared to perform at least some level of document gathering and organization.

2.) Make sure your client understands the importance of credit scores and credit reports.

Credit scores may take a hit during a life transition, typically due to a drop in income or an increase in expenses that are no longer being split with a spouse.

In some situations, creditworthiness may have been built under the name of only one spouse; in that case, your client may need to start building a credit history in order to meet the minimum standards required to establish a credit score. (The FICO scoring formula requires at least one recently-reported account opened more than six months ago.)

Additionally, lower credit scores may result in denied loan applications or having to pay high interest rates and extra fees—all of which can derail a client’s financial goals. Obtaining a current credit report is the best way to properly assess the situation. Remind clients that they can obtain one free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) every 12 months.

3.) Pay bills on time.

A third of one’s credit score is based on whether an individual pays bills on time, and all it takes is one missed payment to make a credit score drop. Work with your client to help ensure all their bills continue to be paid in a timely fashion. If an ex-spouse is responsible for a debt, it is beneficial to include an indemnity clause in the settlement, in the event of default.

4.) Make rational decisions about the family home.

Often, there will be an emotional attachment to the family home following a life transition. Your client may want to remain in it, particularly if there are children involved. While the sentimental aspect cannot be avoided, your role is to take the lead on having a rational, in-depth discussion on the practical considerations of maintaining ownership of a house or property. A mortgage is typically a client’s largest expense, and the decisions made on this front could affect his or her ability to make on-time payments.

Ultimately, creating a comprehensive plan for your client that includes a detailed discussion about credit will provide the necessary backdrop to build a solid plan for their financial future.

Let Us Help You with the Tough Conversations

Help clients turn a trying life event into an opportunity for a fresh start and financial empowerment with tips from the Knowledge Labs™ Women and Divorce and Women and Widowhood Adviser Meeting Guides.

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Marquette Payton, CDFA®, is an associate retirement director for the Defined Contribution and Wealth Advisor Services Team at Janus Henderson Investors. In this role, she works with financial advisers, Janus Henderson colleagues and clients to find solutions to today’s increasingly difficult retirement issues, whether within retirement plans or with individuals preparing for retirement. Payton also delivers women-specific content nationally to client audiences.  Prior to joining Janus in 2011, she worked as a manager at American Century Investments, where she led and coached a team that focused on consultative sales with retail clients. Ms. Payton received a bachelor of science degree in microbiology with a minor in chemistry from New Mexico State University, where she was recognized as a Crimson Scholar. She holds FINRA Series 7, 63 and 26 securities licenses and has 20 years of financial industry experience.

The information contained herein is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or tax advice. Circumstances may change over time so it may be appropriate to evaluate strategy with the assistance of a professional advisor. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable to a particular situation may have an impact on the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the information provided. Janus Henderson does not have information related to and does not review or verify particular financial or tax situations, and is not liable for use of, or any position taken in reliance on, such information. C-0519-23971 09-30-20


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Implement the SCARF Model with Your Clients

Say a client has been overspending on his credit card. You have a chat about it, and he leaves your office, assuring you that he’s going to rein it in. But at your next meeting, he hasn’t decreased excessive spending and he seems frustrated.

Why is your client acting like this? Perhaps it’s because he felt threatened when you told him to curb his spending at the previous meeting. In this case, the SCARF model might come in handy.

David Rock developed the SCARF model, which is rooted in neuroscience, in a 2008 paper titled, “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others,” published by the NeuroLeadership Institute.

According to Rock, status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness (SCARF) are the five areas that activate our brains to think we are either being threatened or rewarded.

In Daniel Crosby’s keynote speech at the 2018 FPA Annual Conference, he spoke about how our brains are wired for survival and the decisions we make are to ensure that we do just that. Because of this, our brains can’t tell the difference between a well-meaning person who’s offering constructive feedback and somebody threatening our safety. So, here’s how SCARF can help you.

According to the Mindtools.com article, “David Rock’s SCARF Model: Using Neuroscience to Work Effectively with Others,” you can minimize threats and maximize rewards in the following ways to better help colleagues and clients:

Status

This is our importance relative to other people. People like to feel important. Talk to your clients patiently and gently or frame your constructive feedback in a way that eliminates the so-called threat.

Certainty

This is our ability to predict what’s going to happen next. If we are uncertain, we feel threatened and we can’t focus because we’re too busy trying to make sense of things. If what you’re explaining to your client is too complex and causes uncertainty, break it down for them.

Autonomy

This is our sense of control over things. Show your clients that you trust their judgment. Delegate, include them in decision-making, let them take on more responsibility and let them try new things.

Relatedness

This relates to how safe we feel with others. Connect with people. Build up a strong bond by scheduling regular meetings or check-ins.

Fairness

This relates to how fair we think exchanges are between people. When people think things are unfair, they feel incredibly threatened. Minimize this by being honest and having clear expectations.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn