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3 Critical Visual Elements in Your Investment Reports

As a financial advisor, you understand economics, investing – and building client trust. Really well.You may not, however, have an eye for graphic design – or visual presentation.But visual elements can help clients and prospects better understand your reports! “Design is a forgotten strategy in this industry,” explains Joyce Walsh, an associate professor of communications at Boston University who is collaborating with Assette on its First Impressions Matter project. (Assette is a software company that is hoping to help financial advisors upgrade their sales and client communications, using portfolio data.)

The three most important visual elements: color, font and structure   

Graphic design is much like constructing a speech. In addressing a community group, for instance, you would choose your topic, and determine your major points of emphasis – while paying careful attention to how you look! You want to look – and sound professional!

A written report should be no different: it should contain organized, easily-grasped points and convey a polished look! Walsh maintains that when you present information to clients and prospects in written form, the visual effect should be as well-considered as your wardrobe. And you should use color, fonts and font size as well as information organization to emphasize what’s most important:

  • Fonts and font size
  • Information organization (structure)

“With these three elements, you’re creating a visual hierarchy of information,” Walsh says. “Think about what you want your audience to see first, second and third. Then you think about the font size and grouping information and using colors to help convey what category information should be placed in.”

The colors and fonts should support your information organization. You should repeat the visual strategy throughout your report – using these visual elements to cue your readers.


Often very smart people try to present facts without these three critical elements of color, font and organization. Your reports should never contain simply a bunch of black-and-white text – or a bunch of numbers.



Source: Assette

Even if these two pages were large enough to actually read, they would be boring. A better strategy? Use a chart (part of information organization). And always use a legend and plain English to describe the elements of your graph or chart. People are not naturally numbers nerds!



Source: Assette

The Power of the Box

You should always use text boxes and bulleted lists to break up text – and to explain things better for your clients and prospects. Here is an example. Do your reports contain the following items?

Improve Your Reports

  • THE “TOC”. The table of contents is essential to a well-designed report because it summarizes the content at a glance and allows the user to read the most relevant content quickly.
  • PAGE NUMBERS. Page numbers are essential in reports so readers can find pages. Individual pages within a report package should be numbered consecutively, as one report, from the first page. Most reports are read online as pdfs, so the first page — even if it is the cover — should be numbered “1” to be consistent with the software page numbers. Many times, presentations are held over the phone, and consistent page numbers greatly facilitate that communication. Page numbers always go in the footer — the bottom 1” of the page. If you use MS Office software, like Word or PowerPoint, the header and footer areas can be accessed under the “View” tab.
  • AS OF DATE. We recommend showing the date on all pages of your presentations and reports because it places the content in the context of a particular time in the industry.
  • LOGO, STRATEGY AND ACCOUNT NAME. Also, show the logo, strategy or account on all pages because information in reports is usually displayed for a particular strategy or account. These identifiers go into the header (top 1″-1 ½”) so they are consistent throughout the report.
  • TITLES AND SUBTITLES. These elements serve several purposes — they allow readers to scan for relevant content and break reports into manageable chunks of information. Subtitles can also be used to tell a story by summarizing key points and pulling the reader along a sequential content path.
  • Photos are a wonderful way to humanize a presentation or report. Photos of senior management and portfolio managers can help break up large blocks of text and aid in relationship building. This is helpful for sales presentations, which are left behind, and especially true for client reports because these are the most frequent pieces of information the clients see. And please, this is no place for amateur photography! Invest in a professional to create quality headshots of key personnel. It’s been wonderful to see how design being picked up and appreciated by other industries.Source: Assette


Walsh says many financial advisors don’t realize that their client reports aren’t professional-looking, even though they are highly professional in every other way, including in selecting their office furniture and their wardrobe.

She suggests avoiding the following mistakes in written communications:

  • Unprofessional reports use too many fonts and do not convey a consistent look. Designers know that you should use no more than two fonts in one report. “One font is usually adequate,” Walsh adds. “You can establish emphasis by using different colors, sizes and/or by capitalizing.” Being consistent in your use of fonts can give you a more professional-looking, cohesive design.
  • Outdated brands. Every few years you should review your brand, logo, font selection and color palette. Because fonts and colors can look as dated as faded paint or fad clothing. Walsh says color “subconsciously conveys information before anyone reads the words or understands the image.” Financial services firms are more likely to choose various shades of blue because it conveys security,” she says. You can even hire a techographer to design custom fonts. To test-drive a font, check out com.

Bottom-line: If you want to impress your clients and prospects, make sure your reports are as professional-looking and high-quality as the rest of your advisory practice! Consider hiring a seasoned graphic designer with financial report experience to help you. For more information, check out Assette.


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