Client Testimonials Are No Longer Taboo

It’s time to put them in your marketing plan: The SEC says it’s OK and very few advisors are using them.

By Laura Garfield

If you had a secret weapon that could give you a marketing advantage over other advisors, would you use it?

There’s good news from the Securities & Exchange Commission … you do and you can!

Client testimonials that were once taboo are now approved.

In March of 2021, the SEC modernized its marketing rule, changing client testimonials from a “no way” to a “heck yes.” Registered independent advisors are required to be compliant to be compliant with the new rule by its November 4, 2022 deadline.

As noted by the SEC on p. 15 of the rule, “The final rule will permit an adviser’s advertisement to include testimonials and endorsements, subject generally to the following conditions: required disclosures; adviser oversight and compliance, including a written agreement for certain promoters; and, in some cases, disqualification provisions. We are adopting partial exemptions for de minimis compensation, affiliated personnel, registered broker-dealers, and certain persons to the extent they are covered by rule 506(d) of Regulation D under the Securities Act with respect to a securities offering.”

So, assuming you’ve put the right policies and procedures in place, how does a testimonial give you an advantage over other advisors? They aren’t using them, at least not yet.

Few adoptors

Only about 2% of registered investment advisors are using client testimonials as part of their marketing strategy, according to a study conducted by Indyfin a fintech company.

That’s an incredibly low number — especially since more than a year has gone by since the rule change — and it suggests that firms still don’t understand how best to use testimonials to position their growth. It also means that you have a potent secret weapon, because when your clients sincerely share their stories, your business benefits.

According to Fintech’s survey in May, some 14,000 RIAs filed a Form ADV amendment with the SEC, but 64% of them failed to complete Item 5.L (which allows for leveraging new marketing opportunities under the modified rule). Fintech also found that only 2.3% of firms that did complete Item 5.L were using testimonials.

If the difference between winning and losing a new prospect can be influenced by the social proof provided by client testimonial videos, it’s time to start collecting some feedback. Consider including quotes from happy clients in text on your website and on your social channels. Then, once you’ve tracked down those happy clients who are willing to talk, also ask them for an on-camera interview.

3 keys to success with client testimonial videos

Here are three tips to create compelling testimonial videos and some examples so you can see for yourself the power real clients provide.

1. Find stories that resonate

Finding the right story is the key to a good video. Start by asking happy clients for a “pre-interview” to understand why they’re happy and how you’ve helped them achieve their goals. This conversational interview will help you craft specific questions to ask during the filming stage of the testimonial. In the video below, Chuck Kessler, a Blue Chip Partners client, talks about how Arizona is his happy place and how his advisor, Dan, helped him through the purchase of his second home there. In his pre-interview Chuck talked about how Blue Chip had helped him easily access the earnest money and final payment for his Arizona dream.

Watch it here.

With authenticity and genuine appreciation for Dan’s guidance, Chuck projects from the screen feelings of confidence and trust that printed words likely couldn’t capture. His story, told in an engaging 2.5-minute video, elicits positivity and articulates broad results from his relationship with Dan. This is exactly what you want from a testimonial and what a pre-interview can help you achieve.

Be sure to watch for moments when your client’s face lights up and pay attention to repetitive themes popping up in conversation … then construct relevant questions that will guide clients into telling a story (your next tip)!

2. Use Q&A to guide clients in telling their story

Once you’ve conducted the pre-interview, you’ll have a strong sense of what questions to ask your client during their filmed testimonial. To ensure authenticity, you don’t need to provide clients with the questions ahead of time – just let them answer naturally; editing will help keep the video cohesive and succinct.

Remember, to get great answers, you’ll need to ask great questions.

Build on the juicy nuggets that were shared during the pre-interview, like Chuck did in the Blue Chip video and like Bruce and Peggy do in their testimonial video about their Johnson Legacy Wealth Management advisor, Jay Dowhaniuk.

Watch it here (scroll to Client Testimonial – Retirement).

The testimonial centers around Bruce and Peggy’s retirement, and you can identify their responses to specific questions when you really pay attention to how they tell their story: “What is your relationship with Jay?” and “How long have you been with Johnson Legacy?” are two introductory questions that get answered in the first seconds of the video. “What is the biggest surprise of retirement?” becomes a transitional slide titled “The Biggest Surprise of Retirement” that leads Bruce to share about how the amount of money they’ve accumulated was more than they anticipated.

A story like this provides social proof of an advisor’s effectiveness and it’s believable because these are actual clients talking about their own experience. Potential clients can identify with the joy they see on Peggy’s face and the security Bruce describes. Great questions yield compelling and authentic stories.

3. Share broadly!

Once you’ve filmed and edited your client’s testimonial video, remember to share it broadly! With 2 billion logged-in monthly users and 74% of adults active on YouTube, sharing on that platform is sort of a no-brainer. But one of the most effective things you can do after uploading to YouTube, in fact, is to share the video with existing clients. This method might seem counterintuitive, but here’s why it works well: Happy clients will pass along the video to their network, garnering great word-of-mouth business for you.

Shannon Edwards, the President of TriStar Pension Consulting, asked Allan Campbell to appear in a testimonial not only because he’s been a faithful client for over 20 years, but also because she knows her target audience.

Watch it here.

One of Shannon’s goals in using this testimonial was to attract more small firms, like Allan’s, that were looking to add retirement programs. She knew that when potential clients viewed Allan’s testimonial, they would see themselves reflected in his story.

And even better? Social proof is contagious! Those same clients you share your video with may offer to film a testimonial for you, too!

Additional Reading: What’s the Best Way to Talk to Clients About ESG? 

Before you share, be sure you’ve kept the video under three minutes and run it by compliance. You must disclose whether the person making the testimony is a client and if they were paid for their appearance.

Remember this: It’s one thing for you to talk about the benefits you provide. It’s quite another to have a happy person earnestly raving about you. The SEC has given you a secret weapon; now all you have to do is use it.

Laura Garfield is co-founder of Idea Decanter, a video marketing company that creates custom videos remotely for financial advisors. Laura’s team helped produce, record, and edit the client testimonial videos in this article. To find out more about how to create videos remotely, visit or email [email protected].

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