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Disney, virtual reality and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) may appear to have nothing in common at first glance. But, in fact, they do: all can be beautifully expressed through animation.

When Heathrow Airport emailed WiFi subscribers before the launch of GDPR asking them if they wanted to keep receiving updates, rather than using a dull, lengthy PDF, they offered readers the chance to watch an animated video to find out what the new rules meant.

The lessons for the financial services industry are clear: even when talking about something as mundane as regulation, your choice of content can really make you stand out.

 

Does it matter?

 

Someone hiding behind a pile of books

Most people’s summer holiday reading lists are unlikely to include GDPR and the other regulations which have kicked in this year – the revised versions of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) and the Payment Services Directive (PSD II). But these will make a difference to investors and the financial services industry.

Nor is this likely to be the end of it. There’s already speculation about a third version of MiFID. And more regulations may be on the way – owing to Brexit, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, and demands for more stringent accountability and corporate governance standards.

While it may be tempting for firms to view passing on information about these simply as a box-ticking exercise to meet compliance requirements, going the extra mile by translating lengthy complex material into easily digestible chunks for investors is likely to pay off.

A lot of the regulatory blanket around the industry is designed to make it more transparent and accessible for end-investors. In an ideal world, this should mean more informed consumers, which should result in more people appreciating the benefits of the products they buy; this in turn should be positive for the industry.

But for this to happen, people need to understand what the regulations mean.

 

Focus on the impact

Rather than simply paraphrasing and shortening what the regulator has to say, your focus should be on explaining the likely impact of the regulation to your target audience. This is what Kurtosys Systems did with a white paper on MiFID II – a couple of paragraphs gave context about how the subprime crisis led to the revised version of MiFID, but the bulk of the paper explained the potential impact on asset managers.

Let’s face it: for most people, particularly end-investors, rules are boring. This calls for a change in mindset on the part of the industry, which frequently struggles to explain things to end investors. The FCA’s market study has identified that investors don’t actually understand the information provided by asset managers on performance and product objectives – so any discussion of regulations has to answer the question: why should I care?

Case studies are one way to do this, as people usually respond well to real-life examples. The FCA used case studies to explain the implications of its 2015 ban on opt-out selling of general insurance.

 

Keep it simple

While much information about regulations is often likely to be in the public domain, many end-investors would balk at trawling through lengthy documents on the FCA’s or European Commission’s websites. For instance, what the EC terms as its consolidated version of the MiFID II directive runs to 144 pages!

I fed just the first two pages – which cover the scope of the directive – into Readable.io – an online tool which measures how easily a reader can understand the content in question. The website assigned a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL) score of 22.3 to this. As Readable.io says that a score of 8 or below is desirable for content targeted at the general public, it’s safe to assume that the EC’s directive isn’t going to be the average person’s idea of light reading!

a dictionary displaying the definition of dictionaryPutting the message across clearly and succinctly is crucial. This involves eschewing incomprehensible jargon, which not only confuses people, but also fosters mistrust of the financial services industry as a whole, as we’ve found out.

Of course, with regulation, sometimes jargon is unavoidable. But you could work around this by either explaining what these terms mean the first time you use them, or having a glossary if your piece is long enough to merit one.

Simplicity also means “short and sweet”. So, stick to the key points and condense lengthy material into bite-sized chunks.

 

But also make it compelling

If you type “MiFID II” into Google, you’ll get over a million results. Out of all these, what would prompt people to read – and more importantly, remember – one particular blog or white paper? Infographics can help here, and can also go some way towards demystifying complex matter. And they can be effectively used to condense information too. Symantec’s infographic on GDPR shows that a picture can indeed tell a thousand words.

You could go one step further by eschewing long emails and instead hosting interactive Q&A sessions or using videos like Heathrow.

While there are no hard and fast rules on the medium, or even the content, do try and make sure the message is engaging, while being succinct and clear.

 

Nandini Rao

Nandini Rao

Nandini is an investment writer in our London office. She has an MSc in financial economics from Saïd Business School and an undergraduate degree in economics from Aston University.
Nandini Rao