Author Katrina Shanks, CEO Financial Advice NZ. Article originally published in

OPINION: Recently, I stumbled upon the ‘De-jargoning Money’ guide, a new initiative by Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission, aimed at encouraging financial service providers to replace jargon with simpler language.

This is also something that, at Financial Advice NZ, we have been advocating since the very beginning. I personally see immense value in incorporating this change in the insurance sector, given the complexity of the language surrounding it.

So, here’s how and why insurance advisers – and financial advisers in general – can see beyond the jargon and refine the way they communicate with clients from all walks of life.

Building trust and understanding

I often emphasise the importance of trust in the adviser-client relationship, and simplifying insurance language is another important tool in fostering this trust.

Clients who understand the ins and outs of their insurance policies are more likely to feel that their adviser is firmly in their corner. Because trust – it’s important to remember – is not just about showing professional expertise; it’s also about transparency and making the client feel seen and understood. Simplifying language is a key part of this, ensuring clear and effective communication throughout the advice process.

Empowering decision-making

We all know that insurance policies come with significant financial responsibilities and implications, and clients need to fully understand these to be able to make a well-informed decision.

By explaining things in plain language, advisers are respecting their clients’ right to make informed choices about their own financial future, based on their specific needs and circumstances. And in doing so, they’re helping clients reinforce their autonomy and enabling them to take charge of their financial journey.

Breaking down barriers

Here’s another benefit: using plain language helps break down barriers and make insurance more inclusive. For far too long, the industry has used an array of terms and acronyms that, while second nature to advisers, can be daunting and confusing to the layman. And we know that perceived complexity often discourages Kiwis from getting insured.

I’m also thinking about vulnerable clients here, particularly those with cognitive impairments or those whom English isn’t a first language. By opting for simpler, more straightforward language, we can make quality advice more accessible to a broader range of clients, promoting equality and fairness.

Encouraging engagement and dialogue

On top of it all, plain language promotes open communication. When clients feel comfortable with the language used, they’re more likely to voice their questions and express their concerns.

This not only allows advisers to address concerns effectively, but also helps prevent potential misunderstandings. With engagement comes a more collaborative adviser-client relationship, fostering a sense of partnership.

Making the switch

Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of plain English in money matters, how can insurance advisers implement it?

Just like any expert in their own field, advisers can become so familiar with the language they use daily that they might forget its complexity. This phenomenon has a name, coined by a group of economists in 1989: ‘curse of knowledge’. The more we know, the more we tend to assume others share our level of understanding.

So, translating technical terms into plain language sometimes requires a mindful effort. Take the term ‘accelerated benefit’, for example. To advisers, it’s a clear term that accurately describes a policy feature. But for a client, the same term may not immediately resonate or provide clarity. In their guide, Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission suggests using ‘early payment benefit’ instead.

Here are other practical examples:

  • Stepped premiums and level premiums > ‘age-based premiums’ and ‘fixed premiums’.
  • Standalone benefit > ‘separate benefit’.
  • Commencement date > ‘start date’.
  • Stand-down period > ‘no-claims period’.

It’s not about diluting the complexity of insurance solutions, but making an active effort to ensure clients grasp these concepts. And even subtle changes can have a significant impact on clarity; for example words like ‘policy holder’ can be switched to ‘policy owner’.

I know many advisers are already on board with this, and it’s heartening to see such a positive move towards clearer communication in our industry. So, let’s continue working together to improve Kiwis’ understanding and confidence in the decisions they make about their financial future. It’s about trust, and it’s about ensuring fair client outcomes.

We are in your corner

At Financial Advice NZ, we continue to support our members in their day-to-day endeavours as well as advocating for the financial services sector and promoting the value of quality advice. If you’d like to know more about our initiatives, don’t hesitate to get in touch.