- New York
If you work in financial marketing, it’s in your best interest to buddy up 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 the 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 has a taste for the tried and true; they tend to gravitate toward previously approved language they know to be unambiguous and direct. Marketing wants to reinvigorate, refresh or re-do.
So how can these two essential but opposing forces find a way of working together? Below are some ideas for how marketing types can better understand their compliance colleagues to overcome those approval hurdles.
1. Understand the basics
It’s crucial to understand that investment returns can never be promised or overstated. Investment risks must be clearly outlined. One of the guiding principles of the Financial Conduct Authority’s new Consumer Duty rules, introduced in July 2023, is that information must be presented clearly so as “to avoid causing foreseeable harm to customers”. Misleading language could cause a customer to overlook the risks inherent in investing, which could compromise their financial wellbeing.
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 a mandatory requirement.
2. Fully understand the assignment
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 buy this product? 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. The ultimate goal is accessible, digestible content. Understanding what’s needed will lead to less back and forth during the editing process.
3. Get the first draft done
Often, further questions will come up in the writing process when you realise 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.
4. Be prepared for the big edit
In meetings, it’s best to keep the mood friendly and have an even split of marketers and colleagues from compliance. One writer in a room full of legal, technical and risk-assessment people could be problematic: you may feel pressured into accepting clunky and cumbersome wording that you don’t like – and the customer won’t want. You’ll need backup to help you stay true to the aim of creating something as clear and consumer-friendly as possible. It’s worth taking the time to talk wording through until both you and compliance are happy.
5. Keep reminding compliance that understatement can work
When it comes to the finished piece, stating the risks or obligations up front just once can be enough – so long as it’s prominent. 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 wants 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. Compliance may be tempted to expand on this with a list of every possible exception. But if they insist on elaborating, ‘There are exceptions to this; if you think you may be affected, please call us or take financial advice’ will do just fine.
The problem with the repetition option is that it’s a lot longer, and can dilute your message. You may have to be firm with compliance that keeping things concise is not intrinsically wrong. Your aim is to create short, on-message material. You can trust the customer to seek out the additional information they need, or signpost them to further reading.
6. Find a friend in compliance
There’s always the chance you’ll find a kindred spirit in compliance. (Opposites attract, after all!) Seek out someone to work with to deliver the 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 be an exhaustive process and tends to invite mistakes. Face to face, you can go through the draft together and work out good solutions.
If at all possible, try to avoid overanalysing every phrase. If your compliance buddy wants to say, ‘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’, suggest that ‘The charge is taken monthly’ will suffice.
7. Limit the working group
Who really needs to be there agreeing to your wording? The lawyer? 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, inviting the problem of deciding which comment to accept and which correction to make. Plus, you’ll have to send the material around all over again, starting the approval process from scratch.
8. Encourage your stakeholders to stick to their area of expertise
Lawyers should comment on the legal bits, technology specialists on the tech references, and so on. You should guard your right to the language.
If possible, only give each expert their relevant section to approve, as painful arguments can result when one expert is crossing swords with another.
9. Take ownership of the sign-off
As the deadline looms, there has to be a final sign-off of the document.
If there’s going to be an approval 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 will disappear too.
10. 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 or over-explanations. Accessibility should always come first. 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 engaging and easy to understand, and make working with your company an enjoyable experience.