Building Relationships: Kindness Goes a Long Way

By Jennifer Bacarella, Executive Management, Director of Firm Development

Kindness goes a long way. In fact, kindness defines every part of a relationship. Some believe that only those relationships built during great times are the ones that grow into amazing, spirited, positive partnerships. However, some of the best relationships I’ve ever built came during what I would consider my, or someone else’s, rock bottom.

From a broker-dealer’s perspective, I joke that my reps don’t need me when we are in a great bull market and the economy is booming. Everyone is generally happy during those times. Advisors see their AUM increase. Their client relationships are strong. Clients are satisfied with the growth of their portfolios. Technology is booming, and revenues keep innovation and inspiration moving along.

I think back to 2008 when seemingly no good news occurred in our industry. Everywhere you turned, some story came across the media that made people feel like the “end” might be near. For those of us who went through that time, it was certainly a trying period. I had seasoned advisors who didn’t know if they could go through another bear market – especially one of this length and depth. I had other advisors who felt like staying away from their offices because they just couldn’t “hold another hand.”

Times like those are extremely difficult on reps, and on broker-dealers, as well. Commonly, many broker-dealers start laying people off or cutting back on their services as revenues rapidly decline. At our firm, on the other hand, we answered the calls, provided new ideas, and helped reps build their practices throughout the down years. Clients needed help, and advisors needed back office services to support their providing that help. We actually added staff at our firm in 2008 and the years that followed as the economy struggled to recover. Our phones definitely ring more in difficult economic times. Sometimes people just need someone to talk with … to share their concerns and be heard. Letting our reps know that we are all in this for the long haul goes a long way toward building strong relationships.

Life happens, too – not just the markets. Family issues, health issues, life issues. As independent contractors, our advisors appreciate that when they call us and share a tidbit of information on a challenge they are facing that the tidbit is not only heard, but also travels through the firm. Our management team and staff all see what we can do to let our reps know we are thinking about them.

The best advisors build solid client relationship by helping clients through the ups and downs of life. Their clients can’t imagine not having them as their advisor. We feel the same way about our reps. We let them know, right from the start, that in a world where they may feel independence can be compared to being entirely on their own … with us, they are not alone: we always have their backs!

My dream for the firms this year is for us:

  • to grow ever more aware of our advisors’ concerns, professionally and personally;
  • to consistently demonstrate our commitment to providing the highest level of service in addressing our reps’ needs;
  • to become indispensable to the finest advisors as a responsive, well-rounded back office; and
  • to respond to all needs and deliver all service with kindness as our cornerstone.

If you are looking for a broker-dealer where your concerns are heard, and your needs addressed, we encourage you to join us.

Jennifer Bacarella, AIF® is an Executive Manager and Director of Firm Development for Sigma Financial Corporation / Parkland Securities, LLC / Sigma Planning Corporation.

An Editor’s Musings on Usage and Style

By Ken White, Editor / Writer

I have always enjoyed English, but freely admit the language can be confounding. Certain mistakes drive me crazy, though. Writers and editors serve our readers by taking the appropriate time to create clear, concise, accurate messages rather than rushing them to the page or screen and out into the world. Panic to produce, and making errors because of it, potentially cause reader confusion or cast an unwanted light on the issue, the message, the company, the writer. Let’s look at a few of my favorite topics.

Some words / terms often confused

Fewer, Less: If you can count them, use “fewer”. If you can’t count them but measure them in some other way (quantities, time, portions), use “less”. “Fewer” people drive their own cars when adequate public transportation exists. As a result, “less” gasoline is consumed and “fewer” particulates fill the air, not to mention “less” carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, unburned hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide. In standard usage, these words are becoming interchangeable, although some readers will cringe with their misuse. Do you speak with “less” people or “fewer” people on a slow day?

Farther, Further: In the U.S., we use “farther” to indicate measurable physical distance (think “far”), and “further” in all other cases. “Further” is a word in transition, and we often see it describe physical distance. Do you travel “farther down the road” or “further down the road”? Both are common in current usage. Is there any significant difference? “Further” can also imply a metaphorical version of distance. When selecting which to use, ask yourself, “Does either one sound incorrect?” Follow your best instincts while keeping the basic guideline in mind when everything seems equal (“farther” for actual distance; “further” for everything else).

Its vs. It’s / Your vs. You’re: People most often associate apostrophes with possessives. In the case of “it’s”, however, the apostrophe indicates contraction. “It’s” means “it is” whereas “its” indicates possession. “Its” vs. “It’s” is the most common mistaken usage I see: “It’s” everywhere. Why people confuse “your” and “you’re” is beyond me; most often, it seems the word “your” presents the problem. Remember to check if “you’re” using a contraction for “you are” or if “your” mind has wandered off. I believe “you’re” correct to think that “your” improper selection drives “your” readers crazy.

Loose vs. Lose: Oddly, often confused. “Loose” is usually an adjective. “Lose” is primarily a verb. “Loose” clothes are typically more comfortable than tight clothes. In the end, you generally “lose” money when you gamble at a casino. I must admit, I “lose” my train of thought when I see these words mistaken for each other.

Than vs. Then: Again, oddly, often mixed up. Perhaps incorrect selection results from the similar pronunciation of the two words in some dialects. Use “than” for comparisons (an elephant is larger “than” a mouse). Use “then” in reference to time sequence (a mouse slowly approached an elephant; “then” the elephant noticed the little critter); and use “then” in logical “if…then” constructions (“if” an elephant is startled by a mouse scurrying near its feet, “then” it might overreact and run away – just as it could if it were surprised by any other small creature). When I see “Five is greater then three” constructions, I find myself immediately question the correctness of the writer’s statement of fact – never a good thing.

Note: Many consider “then” in “if…then” constructions to be understood without including the word “then.” I agree that writers can drop “then” in most such instances as long as its absence does not negatively affect comprehension. I find myself removing “then” in these cases quite consistently.

Their, There, They’re: First thing to notice is they all start with “the” so “thier” is never correct. “Their” is the possessive. “There” refers to a place (also – read on). “They’re” is a contraction for “they are”. We also use “there” in passive voice constructions to replace the idea “exist”. This construction is acceptable, although rewording will often strengthen a sentence. For example, “There are people in the hall” can be strengthened by using “People occupy the hall”. Too many “There is…” and “There are…” uses weaken the overall message.

To, Too, Two: The first is the preposition; the second means “also” or “as well” or “to a greater degree” or “excessive”; the third is the number. “To” rather than “too” when intending to mean “excessive” or “also” is an incredibly common mistake.

Some thoughts on style / usage (can be specific to creator organization)

Guidelines for quotation marks and related punctuation: In addition to direct quotes, I use quotation marks around titles of articles, episodes, chapters, scenes, songs, and other such subsections of a primary, longer composition or compilation. I prefer double quotation marks (e.g., “  ”). Quotation marks are also used to indicate special usage of a word, such as one not normally used in the written context presented. Keep in mind, however, that quotation marks around a word or phrase may inadvertently signal the reader to use a pseudo, opposite, ironic, or sarcastic interpretation (think of how “air quotes” are used in conversation).

Although quotation marks are sometimes used by writers to indicate emphasis, because of the sarcastic / ironic potential for reader comprehension, an editor will typically ask a graphic designer to make a different choice, including bold, bold-italic, use of color, increased relative point size, etc. I use single quotation marks (e.g., ‘ ’) only for quotes within quotes.

For placement relative to other punctuation, style guides differ. I follow standard U.S. practice and place periods and commas inside quotation marks (with exception, see below); question marks and exclamation points outside quotation marks (unless the punctuation is part of a direct quote or intended sentence/question); colons and semicolons outside quotation marks. Exception: The period / comma exception applies when a word is referred to as a word, or a word or phrase is used figuratively or in a nonstandard way. When a word is in quotation marks because it is being referred to as a word, or such a word or phrase appears in a list of examples to help a definition, or when a word or phrase is used figuratively, commas and periods move outside the quotation marks (unless the comma or period is part of an example). Note: It wouldn’t be English if there weren’t exceptions to the exception, right?

Semicolons could be called super-commas (I did not invent the term, but I like it): Semicolons are not closely related to colons, appearance notwithstanding. Rather, semicolons are a comma’s big, tough sister – a super-comma – or a period’s smaller little brother – a three-quarter period. Hint to avoid confusion between colons and semicolons: A colon joins or introduces, and resembles an equal sign ( = ); a semicolon separates or divides. A semicolon indicates a greater division in thought than a comma, but less than a period. It is most commonly used to separate items in lists while avoiding excessive use of conjunctions between groups of items. If one or more listed item(s) include(s) a comma, semicolons are required to separate primary items. Its second-most-common use is to link independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb – a transition word such as “however” or “therefore”. While semicolons have other uses, such as linking two independent clauses in place of a “comma-and” construction, these are less common. Notably, some writers and editors avoid semicolons completely; however, I believe they continue to have appropriate uses. The two most common are as follows:

  1. To separate independent clauses without an intervening conjunction but with a transitory conjunctive adverb like “however”. A writer could use a period and form two different sentences. A semicolon creates a stronger bond between the two independent clauses than two separate sentences would convey.
  2. To separate list items that contain internal punctuation (generally, commas).

When in doubt…

When you are in doubt, look it up – use a dictionary and a style guide – make a decision – and most importantly, be consistent within your document.

The English language evolves, grows, and changes, somewhat unchecked. Although there are no official English language referees, certain usages may distract readers from the writer’s intended message if experienced by the reader as improper. So, as communicators, we try to understand our audience first, and write for them. Our goal: Clear communication.

As always … write on!

Note: Some of the contents of this article appeared in an earlier LinkedIn piece by the same author.

 

Ken White has 30 years of experience editing and writing for financial industry firms, focusing on marketing, field communications, corporate communications, request-for-proposal responses, and social media. He is Corporate Editor | Writer | Communications Specialist for Sigma Financial Corporation / Parkland Securities, LLC / Sigma Planning Corporation.

Ten Fallacies about Identity Theft and Cybersecurity

By:  Frank R. Mitchell, CITRMS

According to the Privacy Rights Clearing House, approximately 10 billion records have been lost or stolen from businesses, schools, government agencies, and non-profit organizations since January 2005. Is your financial practice at risk?

This is a case of “what you don’t know can hurt you.” Here are TEN fallacies about identity theft and information security that NO ONE is talking about.

1. Identity theft is a consumer issue. While individuals are ultimately the victims of identity theft, their information is often stolen from the organizations where they work or do business. According to the Privacy Rights Clearing House, over 10 billion records have been lost or stolen from businesses, schools, government agencies, and non-profit organizations since January 2005! These information losses lead to damages for an organization including state and federal fines, lawsuits, and a damaged reputation when individuals become victims of identity theft.

2. Our organization doesn’t have the “kind” of information that thieves want. Most organizations today only focus on protecting Social Security numbers and credit card information. However, today’s identity thief can benefit from most identifiers including, but not limited to, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, account numbers, financial identifiers, medical identifiers, and business information. This data is vulnerable when collected, processed, transmitted, transported, stored, and disposed of for employees, customers, and vendors.

3. Our organization is too small. When it comes to information loss, size does not matter. In the case of an information security incident, the cost of federal and state fines, class action lawsuits, and a damaged reputation can be devastating to any size organization. According to the Disaster Recovery Journal, the U.S. Department of Labor has warned that 93% of businesses that experience a significant data loss go out of business within five years. “Of those companies, 43% go out of business within the first year, and 72% go out in the second year.”

4. I trust (or know) everyone that I do business with. Trusting relationships with employees and customers is necessary for a successful enterprise. However, many information security incidents involve someone internally. The loss may be accidental or malicious. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean that you know their intentions. Proper training and safety measures go a long way toward reducing the probability of loss.

5. Information security is a technology issue. Most organizations have taken some precautions to secure computers and networks. Just as important, stolen paperwork also accounts for loss, including files left out on desks. It is critical to note that Confidential and Sensitive Information is at risk in any form. A comprehensive prevention approach involves managing people’s behaviors, securing your physical environment, and securing your technology.

6. I’m covered – we have an information security policy. A policy document is where most organizations have begun and ended their efforts to reduce identity theft risk and comply with the law. However, while a policy is a necessary evil, policy alone will not detect, prevent, or mitigate loss. It is necessary to assess risks specific to your organization and put prevention measures in place.

7. People’s information is already available – I don’t need to protect it. Most states now have laws requiring the notification of those whose information was lost or stolen. In the event of a breach: 31% percent of your affected customers will terminate their relationship; 57% percent will lose trust and confidence in the company; 8% will file formal complaints (lawyers); 72% said there is a great chance they will become victims of Identity Theft (Ponemon Institute Research Report, 2008).

8. It won’t happen to me – show me an organization my size that has had a breach. Several websites track information security breaches. The Privacy Rights Clearing House, www.privacyrights.org, is a good resource. As you peruse the list of unfortunate organizations, you may rationalize to yourself that they are too big, too small, wrong location, different industry, or different circumstances than your organization. Be careful! As long as an organization has information that is of value to a thief, a degree of risk exists.

9. The government isn’t enforcing these laws. Both federal and state legislation is becoming more stringent for organizations of all sizes. As new government initiatives always need to be funded, the fines and penalties that can be generated from these laws can be substantial. Incidentally, if organizations are ultimately not held to task by lawmakers, they should still take proper measures to protect information to mitigate loss from lawsuits and a damaged reputation.

10. Protecting my organization from information security incidents is expensive. Not taking PROPER measures to protect Confidential and Sensitive Information can be very expensive due to reputation damage, lawsuits, fines, penalties, and mitigation costs. A good comprehensive program includes education, risk assessment, policy, procedures, employee training, plan for loss or breach, resources, and continuing updates.

Most organizations manage some form of Confidential and Sensitive Information throughout the normal course of doing business. It is important to the health of your organization to understand what you have, how you are at risk, and put practical measure in place to protect yourself.

Frank R. Mitchell, CITRMS is an accomplished social engineer, consultant, and nationally recognized speaker on cybersecurity, identity theft, and fraud. He is a Compliance Officer and Cybersecurity-Identity Theft Prevention Consultant for Sigma Financial Corporation / Parkland Securities, LLC / Sigma Planning Corporation.

My Summer at Sigma and Parkland

Final Blog by intern Sabrina Lieberman

I’ll be honest – when I first walked into Sigma Financial and Parkland Securities on a snowy January afternoon, I barely knew what a broker-dealer did. As a college student, my financial priorities are rent, groceries, and loans—not a 401(k) or a Roth IRA. However, over the last few months, I have learned about the importance of financial guidance and the large network of support that serves planners and advisors.

Here are my 3 greatest takeaways from an incredible internship!

  1. Every hour that you are not on social media is another potential client lost. In every industry, social media has revolutionized marketing and business development. However, many financial advisors are wary of online platforms, and for good reason. Compliance regulations are constantly changing on this new media, and advisors fear the risks. While these concerns are valid, responsible broker-dealers like Sigma and Parkland will guide you through navigating social media while mitigating compliance risks and maintaining professional integrity. When choosing a financial advisor, clients look for an honest and trustworthy individual. A social media presence increases credibility and transparency, and is especially important for millennial clients. To stay relevant and current, using social media has become essential for financial representatives.

 

  1. Trust your interns. As an intern at Sigma and Parkland, I was given an unparalleled amount of autonomy in designing our social media strategy. All of my ideas were respectfully considered, and, barring compliance issues, were given the green light! This increased my confidence in my creativity and work, and nurtured my personal projects. I explored the industry by asking my own questions and analyzing the results. This independence allowed me to focus on my own interests while benefiting firm development. In addition to learning through my own initiatives, all of my questions were answered thoroughly, and I felt that my supervisors were committed to my professional growth.

 

  1. Outstanding service really stands out. Through our “We Support Our Reps” social media campaign, I had the opportunity to speak with several financial advisors about their experience with Sigma or Parkland. Each representative spoke specifically about the exceptional service offered by the back office. Many provided anecdotes about questions answered promptly and correctly, or the personal touch offered by a smaller, dedicated firm. Their glowing praise about Sigma and Parkland’s commitment to their success increased my confidence when promoting our firms with potential representatives, and made me proud to have worked with Sigma and Parkland!

 

 

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