Time to ditch the jargon

American author Mark Twain has been credited with saying “I wanted to write you a short letter but I didn’t have the time”.

He was, of course, speaking of the discipline required to commit thoughts to print in a simple and concise manner so that they can be understood.

It’s a lesson that stretches way beyond poetry and prose – and is one that financial services businesses would do well to heed.

The jargon that punctuates much mortgage literature, in particular, is horrendously complex – especially for first-time buyers. Yet most of the millions of us who want to own our own home will need a mortgage.

I’m not just talking about the words, although conveyancing and endowment are bad enough. No, our industry often doesn’t even use words, preferring inaccessible abbreviations instead.

What chance does the average buyer have of knowing the difference between an ERC and an HLC? Or how about MPPI?

It is a failing that has long worried the Financial Services Authority and rightly so because jargon makes fathoming the products themselves even more difficult.

This is a barrier that the industry can ill afford when one considers some new research by Castle Trust, which suggests that levels of understanding in the mortgage sector are low.

Working with Ipsos MORI’, we polled 653 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain to find out how much people really understood about repayment mortgages.

We found just over one in five, 21%, were able to give a rough estimate of the annual payments on a repayment mortgage for a given interest rate. Just under a half, 48%, were aware that the Standard Variable Rate could change and two out of three, 66%, did not realise that less than half of a repayment mortgage is paid by the halfway point.

We see this as compelling evidence that mortgage companies need to ban the babble if they are to provide helpful information to customers.

So it’s worth mentioning that there is help ready and waiting. The Plain English Campaign is advising organisations across the country and beyond how to make their online and offline written communications more understandable through its Crystal Mark, which is effectively a seal of approval testifying to the clarity of corporate literature.

While this excellent scheme is reaching financial services businesses way beyond our own shores – OCBC Bank in Singapore recently secured the Crystal Mark after re-writing its consumer-facing mortgage literature – the mortgage industry here in the UK has not been quick to adopt it.

For our own part, we’re proud to say that Castle Trust’s brochures, such as our Partnership Mortgage booklet, have all recently received Crystal Marks. We want to be sure that our literature, through its simplicity and clarity, averts unnecessary worry, rather than heaping further confusion on what is often already a stressful transaction.

It’s time the whole industry took Mark Twain’s advice and invested a bit of time to jettison the jargon so that customers can spend more of their time finding the best product for them and less decoding the literature.

It’s a very simple message and I hope the fact that I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about this issue has meant I haven’t used too many words here.