Business words of wisdom?

I really owe Helene Kremer an apology, first of all.

Monday morning, a couple of minutes before the Credit Union opened, she and I stood in the airlock waiting for one of the tellers to unlock the entrance to let us in. Ms. Kremer carried a brief case and clearly had an appointment with the C.U. manager. I asked what she did. She explained she was in the insurance business, specializing in protecting home owners from identity fraud. She began to explain and got a few sentences in, when I mentioned I worked in the media and said how frustrating reporters find insurance brokers, bankers and stock market analysts. She looked at me quizzically.

“It’s the jargon,” I said. “Why can’t people in business speak in plain English?”

Perhaps it’s me, but I do not understand the language used by people in the world of commerce anymore. For example, insurance sales people no longer talk about premiums (payments to maintain your policy), they call it “renewal rate” or “policy re-investment.” The dictionary still calls it a premium, so could we maybe not confuse the issue? That’s just one instance of the new language of business. Bankers like to complicate things too. Can you understand this warning by a U.S. bank in the papers this week?

“High loan volume growth driven by asset inflation cannot continue indefinitely.” I think they’re worried about the rising cost of things, but I’m not sure.

I think this jargon explosion in the business world is the result of a number of things. First, it’s driven by the very competition on which all business is based. If I can make the service or product I sell seem more important than my competitor, I can make the sale. That’s how we arrived at such ridiculous advertising language as “super-economy sized” and “Pre-Boxing Day Week Sale.” Does that mean Dec. 19-26 or Dec. 25-31? Beats me.

Second, people (with a lot of time and money on their hands) think they can analyze, understand and even predict such enigma as the stock market. Consequently, an entire industry of experts – brokers, analysts, commentators and advisers – has sprung up. And each expert has to demonstrate to potential investors, viewers or readers that s/he understands the ebb and flow of the market better than anybody else. But do they really know? Look at this astute analysis on last week’s drop in the stock market:

“The [stock market] has been running on eight cylinders, but it’s not going to be running on eight cylinders,” one analyst told a reporter. I thought the Toronto Stock Exchange bought and sold shares, not car engines.

The other thing this blather proves is that nobody, no matter how much they claim to, knows what tomorrow will bring. Nevertheless, we in the media – radio, TV, the papers, the Internet – devote hours, plenty of ink and electricity to allow experts to predict (a.k.a. guess) where the market, the price of oil, the value of the Canadian dollar will go tomorrow. If I were a psychic or clairvoyant, I’d be worried all these business experts are beginning to crowd my territory.

As a consequence an entire language of guessing and pseudo-assessing proliferates. Just when I was getting used to such profit-and-loss terms as “in the black” and “in the red,” commentators have now invented something they describe as “negative profit.” Or, the one that really has me pulling my hair out is: “Company X has just announced a profit warning!” I think that means the company made a profit, but not as great as expected. But, for some inexplicable reason, analysts go ballistic when that happens. They start a panic because maybe Company X’s share dividend might not be as fat as originally predicted. A dividend’s a dividend’s still a profit, isn’t it?

I know, I’m showing my naivete here. But let me offer my one last defence. I read business pages. I watch TV business analysts. I scan market trends nearly every day. Not because I’m on the edge of my seat with my life’s savings hanging in the balance. I just want to know. But I frankly don’t think the world of business and commerce is serving us very well. It’s certainly not enhancing its credibility when it wraps itself in jargon.

So, I apologize to Ms. Kremer for my outburst. But I think the public would be better served if so-called experts stopped saying such things as, “Going forward, I see room for volatility and also for correction.”

Just tell it like it is. Isn’t that the bottom line?

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