10 Tips For How Finance Marketers Can Navigate Compliance

If you work in financial marketing, you really should be best buddies with the people in compliance. Both departments have the same goal: to create literature that will promote the business, engage the customer, sell the product and comply with strict guidelines.

So why, when marketing and compliance get together, does it feel like battle lines are being drawn and two opposing armies are preparing for a clash?

First of all, the two departments do seem to attract different personality types. Compliance people tend to be naturally risk-averse, conservative and very good with detail. Marketing, on the other hand, often attracts personalities who want to be creative and capture the bigger picture.

Compliance likes to refer to the way something has already been done and use language that’s already signed off. Marketing wants to refresh, re-do and start from scratch.

So how can these two essential teams find a way of working together?

Below are some ideas for how marketing types can understand their compliance colleagues better and overcome those approval hurdles. (We’ll be offering up some tips for compliance teams soon.)

  1. Understand the basics

For marketers, it’s essential to understand that investment returns can never be promised or overstated and investment risks must be clearly outlined.

In certain areas, the customer’s right to use another provider or different sources of information should also be made clear.

Get these crucial details right, and compliance will immediately breathe a little easier. If you receive a correction from compliance along these lines, take it seriously – it’s probably mandatory.

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  1. Fully understand the proposition

Before you start to write about a product, make sure you thoroughly understand how it works. Call a meeting with the proposition people and compliance to talk through all the quirks and queries. Who can take this product out? For how long? What are the conditions? How does it work in different scenarios? Imagine you’re the customer and ask every single question you can possibly think of.

If it still feels unclear, keep asking. Don’t think you’ll be able to fudge the grey areas in the writing.

  1. Get the first draft done

Often, further questions will come up in the writing as you set the product out in a structured way and realise that there are gaps in your knowledge. Get on the phone to the relevant expert; have another meeting if needed. Don’t wait for an official review and second draft to iron out obvious problems. Make the first draft as close to correct as you can.

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4. Be prepared for the big edit

In meetings with compliance, it’s best to keep the mood friendly and organise the numbers turning up from marketing and compliance fairly evenly. One writer in a room full of legal, technical and risk people can be a problem. You may feel pressured into accepting clunky and cumbersome wording that you don’t like – and the customer won’t want. You need backup to help you stay true to the aim of creating something as clear and customer friendly as possible. It’s worth taking the time to talk wording through until both you and compliance are happy.

  1. Keep reminding compliance that understatement can work

Stating the risks or obligations up front, prominently, just once can be enough. The warnings generally do not need to be repeated throughout the document like a Greek chorus.

For example, once you’ve used the statement: ‘investments can go up as well as down, your capital is at risk’ loud and clear at the beginning, push back when compliance want you to repeat the warning again… and again.

Not every single scenario has to be covered. For example, ‘usually you can take your pension when you reach 55,’ can be left alone as a correct statement, or it can be followed in two ways: with a list of every possible exception; or with wording such as ‘there are exceptions to this, if you think you’re affected, please call us or take financial advice’.

The problem with choice A, which compliance may try to arm-twist you into, is it’s a lot longer, it dilutes your document and you now have more text with more potential mistakes to handle.

You may have to be firm with compliance that leaving information out is not intrinsically wrong. Your aim is to keep material as short as possible, and on message. You can trust the customer to seek out the additional information they need, or signpost them to further information.

  1. Find a good egg in compliance

Find someone to work with you to deliver the right message in a customer-friendly way. Sit and write your draft with their help, while building a rapport. Emailing copy back and forth with comments and tracked changes can go on forever and mistakes are easily made.

Face to face, you can go through the draft together and work out good solutions.

If at all possible, try to avoid overthinking it with compliance. I’m talking about overanalysing every sentence until it has bled to death. So instead of: ‘the charge is taken monthly’ – which is fine! – you’re persuaded, after long agonising, to write: ‘the charge is taken every month on the charge date, unless this charge date falls on a non-business day in which case, the charge will be taken on the following business day’.

If you have to work in this kind of environment, be patient, reassuring, sympathetic, but firm. If all else fails, suggest these people take up yoga…

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  1. Limit the working group

Who really needs to be there agreeing to your wording? The lawyer? The people from risk? The actuarial person? The technical specialist? Try to have as small a team of approvers as possible. The danger of a large crowd is that everyone feels they have to make a contribution. Sending material round for comments via group emails is a minefield. Lots of those comments will clash, then you have the problem of deciding which comment to accept and which correction to make. Plus, you’ll have to send the material all round all over again.

  1. Encourage compliers to stick to their area of expertise

Lawyers should comment on the legal bits, tech specialists on the tech and so on. You should guard your right to the language.

If possible, only give each expert their relevant section to approve, as the arguments when one expert is crossing swords with another can be painful.

  1. Sign-off

As the deadline looms, there has to be a final sign-off of the document.

If there’s going to be a sign-off meeting, make sure it stays on track and on time. Get everyone focused on finishing and crossing the line. No big debates on small points. Try to sort any last issues out on the day and in the room. Don’t allow people to go away with one last query to resolve, or that final approval still won’t come.

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  1. Defend your customer

If you are in marketing, you are the customer’s champion. So defend the right of your customers to receive material that isn’t loaded with turgid phrases, complex sentences and meaningless jargon.

Your customers are counting on you to provide them with material that is fully compliant and won’t mislead or mistreat them in any way. But they also want documents that are easy to read, easy to understand and make it a joy to do business with your company.