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How I Serve a Company & Its Clients

(Case History for American General and its retirement investing clients) 


by Sandy Penny, Visionary Writer & Marketer

When I was hired by American General’s retirement services division, VALIC, I had no financial experience. I had, however, a wealth of employee and client communication experience. My strength was in my publishing and publications background and my ability to ask the questions that inexperienced investors would ask. My dedication to identifying and serving my clientele led to a 180-degree shift in the approach I took with my readers. 


My first challenge was to take a handful of client publications and make them warmer, more user friendly and artistically engaging. Not only did I have to conceptualize and oversee creative design, but I had to present accurate and engaging investment articles and technical details in an understandable format for the layman. I also enlisted clients to submit their artwork so they would feel more involved in the publication, and it was a win win for AG and the artistic clients.

After the first redesigned issue of Investment Digest (above right), a quarterly performance reporting client magazine, there was a deluge of client response.

Client Comments included …  

“Although I have received this quarterly report for the last five years, I have never read this magazine before. I’m so glad you made it accessible to me, as an investor.

"I never understood the financial information that was provided until you translated it into language I could understand. Thank you for helping me make my choices for retirement investing in a way that empowers me.”

“You helped me understand why I should stay involved in my retirement fund instead of just letting the professionals tell me what I “should” do. It has made a difference in understanding my personal responsibility.”  

I was deluged and overwhelmed by the positive comments.


After reviewing the old publications, the changes I made were significant. First, I engaged clients by offering them an opportunity to submit their own artwork to be featured on the Investment Digest cover.

Then, I graphically enhanced the way their investment return numbers were presented, to make it easier to see and understand the performance of their investments.

I personally wrote articles that I would want to read, and I conducted a postcard survey of what clients wanted to know. I received a 25% response from two million readers. It was overwhelming. I immediately evaluated and incorporated those concepts into the upcoming magazines. I assigned the most experienced writers in those various fields to produce content that met the customers’ needs. I enlisted top invetment managers in clarifying content.

In addition to the print materials, I initiated and oversaw the migration of paper publications to the Web. This new venue allowed AG to provide current and individualized performance numbers to each client while it addressed the environmental concerns of a large group of aware investors regarding paper usage.

All this forward movement took place during the stress of the Y2K transition and was completed in one year and $50,000 under budget.

Although a corporation hired me, I never lost sight of the people I was serving. They were my first priority, and I always knew they were the ones paying my salary. I never failed to meet my budgets, and I saved the company significant dollars. Taking ownership of my responsibilities is my underlying running system, and I am dedicated to meeting the needs of the company and the consumer.


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