There's a saying the marketing world that “content is king.” And then there's this other saying among my financial advisor clients that goes something like “I can't create interesting content without having to deal with compliance.”
Listen, if you sell financial products, compliance is part of your reality. And you can approach your situation in one of two way: 1) you can do exactly what almost every other financial advisor does and stick to safe, often boring, generic content, or 2) you can approach your business with an entrepreneurial mindset and create engaging, fun, and unique content… that's still meets compliance standards.
How Financial Industry Compliance Began
Back in the late 1920s, after the stock market crashed, the Federal government created the initial set of compliance regulations to help prevent another catastrophic financial crisis. Of course, it wasn't entirely the financial industry's fault, but a culprit was needed at the time.
In the decades since then, new regulations and legal rulings have piled on and the financial industry finds itself heavily limited in its communications and marketing approach. Of course, the upside is that consumers have much greater protections with these rules in place. The downside, of course, is that compared to most other professionals, financial advisors have a lot less freedom when it comes to marketing.
And yet, in order to survive, advisors need to create and distribute great content… via email and on their websites.
If you're a financial advisor trying to create compliant content for your website, email marketing, and social media posts, here's a brief guide to what to do (and not to do) to remain compliant.
Avoid Giving Advice
How can you be an “advisor” without giving advice? While advising your clients is an integral part of your service, it's not practical when communicating with the masses. Central to the ideas guiding compliance is that the advice you provide clients has a direct relation to the individuals receiving your advice – including where they are in life, their tolerance for risk, etc. So when it comes to giving advice, you should reserve that for your one-to-one client interactions.
Remember, there's a huge difference between serving as an individual's financial advisor and running an investing newsletter. You role is not to guide the masses toward stock picks, it's to help each client achieve their personal financial goals.
Leave Soliciting To Others
It wasn't until I moved from an apartment into a house that I realized what it's really like to be solicited. Within my first month in my new home I had at least half-a-dozen knocks on the door from people trying to sell me something.
The role of an advisor is intended to be consultative. You're not supposed to “ask for the sale”… or use any traditional “calls to action” like “call me now to learn more.” That's considered soliciting. Even describing a particular financial product or investment recommendation followed by a seemingly innocent suggestion to “call me to discuss if this is right for your investment plan” is off limits.
In place of directive or instructive language, you can (and should) explain your process and inform people how to move forward in connecting with you to discuss their particular situation… without discussing or suggesting a particular product or investment.
Be A Record Keeping Advisor
While you might be focussed on setting records, what's more important is that you keep them… for a long time. All of your client communications, including newsletters and social media posts need to be kept for up to six years. Actually the rules say five years from the last day of the fiscal year when it’s published… so I'd round it up to six. Your archive needs to be organized so that you can easily find any document of interest if called upon to do so.
Questions Avoid The Appearance of Statements
One major “no no” is linking to article about an investment, product, or just about anything else without appropriate non-endorsement language. The simple act of linking to an article suggests, according to regulators, that you are advising or endorsing something… it's what they call “adoption.”
One way to avoid the false impression that you are “adopting” something is for you to use a question in connection with your link. For example, try something like “Check out this new take on a new tech company on the move. What do you think about them?”
Process the Process
When petting together you newsletter or web content, it's a smart idea to outline a process that leads an investor to determine whether a particular strategy is a good fit… but by all means don't tell them how to act on it. For example, a compliant article might list several factors that could lead an investor to determine if stocks on a list you're discussing are appropriate for a given investor. While you're not allowed to give your readers a specific investment recommendation, you can provide a path for a reader to follow to determine their own answer.
The reality is you shouldn't let compliance scare you away from being a great content marketer. After all, great newsletter, social media, and blog posts are a tried and true way to grow your book of business. But don’t go it alone… take advantage of your firm’s compliance officer (or outsourced provider) for guidance. No matter what method you use to creating content, be sure to inject a dose of your own personality into it.