The dangers of jargon

Words words words. What are words? What’s in a word? Why do we use certain words?

I just finished reading a newsletter put out by a credit union (that shall remain anonymous).

This credit union is doing some fantastic things. Very community-oriented. They are doing some great things to support their community. But there is one area in which this newsletter slips up a couple of times. There is too much industry jargon. And I will give examples, and show the alternative customer/member-oriented equivalent.

Why do we use jargon? The reasons are many and complex. But at the heart, it is a way to differentiate. It’s a way for one person to determine if another person is “in the know” when he or she uses jargon in conversation. It also makes the jargon-using person feel important. There are important and valuable aspects of jargon, such as the ability to be brief in time-sensitive situations, such as in hospital operating rooms.

So what are these jargon words? What words do financial professionals use, that should never be used with members?

Let’s start with the phrase “service levels.” This newsletter has an article about a survey being sent to members to insure that “service levels” remain high. If I am a member walking in the door of a credit union, I don’t care about the service levels of the institution (whatever that means exactly). I am concerned with being treated pleasantly, promptly, perhaps efficiently. I want to feel comfortable with the people I am dealing with. I want to feel like I belong there, I want to feel that the employees there are thrilled that I am there, and happy that I am doing business with them. I want to go in and out quickly when that is my goal, and I want to be able to talk to someone without feeling like they have to take care of something else more pressing when I have a complex transaction that I want assistance with.

In other words, I don’t care about “levels” at all. I want to be treated well. So to change those words into member-oriented words, we could say “to ensure that our members are consistently treated well.”

This same article also mentions that the survey has a scoring system for several “service behaviors”. I’m not sure what a service behavior is, although I can guess. The non-jargon way to say this is “aspects of behavior”.

In a different article in the same newsletter, explaining the dangers of going to another financial institution for CDs, a warning is given about being fooled by a rate that is only applicable for “new money”. “New money”, as a term, is used only within financial institutions. For me, as a customer, my money is my money. To me, “new money” is money that I earned recently. Most members do not understand the term “new money” as it is used in financial industry circles. This one should be explained as “money not already on deposit at the institution”.

These are just a few of the industry terms that should be translated into customer/member-oriented words when speaking to that audience. So keep a sharp lookout for industry jargon when writing your newsletter, producing a brochure, or otherwise communicating with your peeps.

2 Responses to “The dangers of jargon”

  1. VSelfridge Says:


    A good reminder to those of us who have a hand in writing member-facing materials…

    We were recently working on an online survey for members – and our vendor caught us trying to say “service centers” – which our members probably think of as “locations”…

  2. My new least favorite word: Onboarding « World 2.0 Adventure Says:

    […] I’ve seen a newsletter where the marketing department asks members to evaluate their “service levels” and “service behaviors,” and also talks about a certain promotion being available only for “new money.” […]

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