These days I write notes... 


This is going to seem like a bit of a confession, but I write notes in all my meetings.  Lots of notes, all of them dated, and all of them quite specific about the subject matter, the attendees, and the detail of the discussion.  I have colleagues who like to make a digital recording of meetings, and that's fine too - I'm just happier with handwritten notes.  Handwritten notes aren't just a record of what actually took place, but necessarily include my own reflections and annotations whilst I am engaged with the exercise.

And I use decent-quality notebooks too.  Makes such as Leuchtturm, or Rhodia, with decent-quality paper, and good hard covers.  Every single one gets labeled and dated - so I can see from the spine the period covered, and the general subject-matter.  The advantage of the Leuchtturms is that they have numbered pages, and a contents section at the front, so there's absolutely no possibility of not being able to retrieve what you've written.  Another advantage is that they come in different sizes - the little A6 versions are pocketable and robust for daily use.

I've tried other methods, believe me.  I used to use 'stenographer' pads or A4 ring binder pads, but I discovered that preserving the resulting material was problematic.  I tried using one of those digital pens, which created a permanent digital record, at the same time as I was writing the physical notes - that worked fine... until it didn't.  The nature of the technology has to effectively be unbreakable if the purpose for creating the notes is a critical one - and, in financial services, it couldn't be more critical.  I have kept all of my notebooks, not because there's any likelihood that anyone's going to want to publish my memoirs, but because, in these days of shifting ideology and regulatory creep, I want a permanent of what happened and when it happened.

There's something about the hard-wiring of the human brain which makes note-taking such an effective skill.  A stenographer can get the rubric of a conversation down into a typed digital record without the content of that interaction ever really impacting on his or her brain.  The whole essence of stenography is to instantly forget what you have recorded - which is not a helpful attribute for the Financial Adviser.  By contrast, the physical act of note-taking seems to help solidify the interaction into a form which permits more effective recall.  When I pick up an old notebook, and peruse the notes taken at the time, memories and impressions are reactivated.  I notice the ink I had in that pen, recall aspects of the intentionality behind that selection, and suddenly I have recall of emotions, of decisions, of difficult moments during the meeting, and that helps me to follow those recollections up elsewhere, for instance, on our practice-management system.  By the way, these comments aren't merely a personal reflection - they're backed up by cognitive science too.

I accept that we are all different.  What works for me, won't necessarily work for everyone.  I happen to prefer using a fountain pen - that's a habit that seems to almost immediately place me in the category of 'eccentric' - but the point is that I have ended up with a decent, workable system for creating reliable records of the kinds of interactions which can so easily come back to haunt advisers these days.  In short, I prefer my method of taking notes to the kinds of method which other advisers seem to apply to not taking notes.

If you have a phone conversation with your client, take notes.  If you have an annual review meeting with a client take copious notes.  If you have any kind of interaction whatsoever with your client, just take notes.  And when I say 'notes', I mean everything you need to document the interaction which is supplementary to the FactFind.

For some people, arriving at this point may require a herculean exercise of self-discipline, but you will never, ever regret having done so.  So, please, get the habit.


Kevin Moss, 16/07/2020