Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Video Compliance Doesn’t Have to Be a Nightmare

This Raymond James advisor was fearful because of past experience but sailed through after learning the rules.

Laura Garfield
Laura Garfield

If you associate the word “nightmare” with the word “compliance”, you are not alone. Dana Havens, Managing Partner of Affinity Wealth Partners, was right there with you. As her team kicked around the idea of adding video to their marketing strategy a few years ago, Dana was worried, and rightly so.

She’d experienced some real-life compliance horror stories.

There was that time it took a month to get a seminar invitation approved. A feature article for a local magazine was nearly “impossible” to pass through compliance, she recalls. But that was with a brokerage house. In 2017, Dana’s team had moved to the independent channel of Raymond James. Though she’d been burned before, she was willing to give it a shot to get video approved by compliance.

To Script or to Ad Lib?

There are two ways of creating video. You can plan out your script ahead of time and get compliance’s blessing before you record, though you still need to get the video approved once you have it edited. Or you can ad-lib when you record, cross your fingers that compliance likes it, and be prepared to deal with it if they don’t.

Dana’s team has tried it both ways and has valuable experience for each format.

In March of 2020, as the pandemic kicked up, the Affinity team began recording videos with scripts they had passed through compliance. Every word was approved before they recorded. Then the videos got approval before they were released. Later that year, they decided to record some videos Q&A style. For those, they passed a list of questions through compliance but ad-libbed their way through the recordings. It felt riskier the first time they submitted the ad-libbed videos for review.

Having experienced both, Dana confesses that there’s not much difference. The key is you can’t solicit a product or make guarantees. Because of her brokerage house compliance memories, when it comes to what she says in videos, she tends to err on the side of caution. “We’re probably even more conservative and safer because of where we came from and because of how difficult it was to get things approved in the past.”

Much to her surprise (and relief), Dana’s videos sailed through compliance with the occasional minor revision. A designation needed to be added to a title or an extra line was needed in the disclosure at the end. She expected to have to jump through hoops with the videos, but it never happened. In the end, she realized her compliance fears were unfounded. “We’re big boys and girls. We know the rules. We make sure we’re not gonna get in trouble or get sued.”

>> Watch some of Affinity’s videos here.

Five Tips to Keep Compliance Happy

Knowing the no-no’s will help you get your video production off to a good start. These are the same marketing rules you learned when you were studying for your Series 7:

  • No Promises
  • No Guarantees
  • No Soliciting

With the experience of producing hundreds of videos a year for financial advisors, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of reviewers. If you picture your compliance officer hunched over a computer in a dark room, salivating over the prospect of denying your marketing material, we’re with you. That’s why we compiled a list of what you can do to keep the compliance approvals coming and keep FINRA or the SEC from coming after you.

  1. Start by asking your firm’s compliance team for their guidelines. If you’re working with a video production company, pass those along to your vendor.
  2. Pay particular attention to titles. Make sure to only include approved titles in your on-screen graphics and double check that all the designations you want to include are displayed properly.
  3. Review the fine print at the end of your video. The disclosure should include the name of your business, address, phone number and your website URL. A boilerplate disclosure also includes a statement like “Investment advisory services are offered through [fill in the blank]. Securities are offered through [fill in the blank] member FINRA/SIPC.” Your compliance department may even ask you to add a list of the states where you’re licensed. Make sure all the disclosure copy is in a font that’s big enough to be legible.
  4. Add disclaimers for specific topics. On the final screen of your video, you may need a little more legalese. For example, if you talk about taxes, you may need to add a disclaimer at the end like “not intended for tax or legal advice.”
  5. Don’t be afraid to challenge compliance. The FINRA and SEC rules that govern compliance are universal. How each company interprets those rules can be different. When compliance sends back a change, Dana doesn’t always accept it immediately. “When I’m fighting the fight to get something done, I always go back to ask, ‘Is this an SEC or FINRA rule or is this a company rule?’” Your compliance officer could have a manager who is willing to interpret the rules differently if you take the time to make a good case.

How to Stay Compliant with Client Testimonial Videos

On May 4, 2021, the SEC took a major step forward, modernizing advertising rules that had been in place since the 1940s. Client testimonials that had been banned are now fair game. And in a business where trust is the price of admission, real people giving real testimonials can go a long way.

But how do you create a testimonial video that follows the new SEC rules?

Ask for stories, but don’t pay for them. The marketing rule generally prohibits paying someone to give a testimonial. Also, make sure to clearly identify in the video that the person giving the testimonial is a client. Also consider asking the client giving the testimonial to sign a release form that states the purpose of the video and how it will be used. This isn’t an SEC requirement, though it’s a good practice to follow when you’re creating any type of video.

>> Get tips for creating testimonial videos.

If you think the biggest drawback for video marketing is the fear that you’ll never get past compliance, Dana wants to change your mind. “It’s a preconceived idea that’s just not true, at least on the independent side. For us, the sky’s the limit.”

Additional Reading: One Advisor Gets Thousands of Views Talking About Retirement Depression 

Laura Garfield is co-founder of Idea Decanter, a video marketing company that creates custom videos remotely for financial advising teams like Affinity Wealth Partners. To find out more about how to create videos remotely, visit www.ideadecanter.com or email laura@ideadecanter.com.

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