7 things compliance hates about your financial copy and how to avoid them

Are you inadvertently irriating compliance teams by continually writing stuff they can't pass? Learn how to avoid common copy mistakes with these top tips...

 7 things compliance hates about your financial copy and how to avoid them

Writing about financial services? Having your copy knocked back by compliance is disheartening. Sidestep a lot of the problems by being aware of the pitfalls before you start. Here, Dan Atkinson, former economics editor of The Mail on Sunday, lists a few common complaints – and a few ideas for avoiding them.

1. ‘Don’t make recommendations that could be misleading’

When talking about products, you must always be clear and balanced. You can say how a product could benefit someone, but not without making the terms absolutely clear and covering risks as well as benefits. Failing to do this can lead consumers to buy the wrong product, as the FCA explains in its material on financial promotions

As a copywriter, you can describe how a product works and provide content around it using verifiable information, as Legal & General does in this piece on index tracker funds: 

Right: This Legal & General example uses a question-and-answer format to explain the benefits – and potential risks – of its index-tracker product in plain English

When it comes to clarity, you may find that compliance teams themselves jeopardise this by adding lots of – often unnecessary – financial jargon. It’s up to you to push back if this happens.

2. ‘So which audience is this copy for?’

Putting content written for financial professionals in front of retail investors is a no-no – because it might assume more knowledge than a retail audience is likely to have.

Most companies will try to avoid content being seen by the wrong audience by having a process of self-selection before the user lands on the main site. Like this gateway page from Aberdeen Asset Management, which prompts users to identify their job type before entering:

Right: Private investor or professional investor? This gateway page from Aberdeen Asset Management tailors information to different audiences

Make sure you know the difference between the various types of copy on your site.

3. ‘Where are the risk warnings?’

Just because a product has performed well in the past it doesn’t mean it will continue to do so – and as a writer you need to make this clear. Where appropriate, always warn that past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance and that the value of investments can go down as well as up.

You can agree the exact wording of risk warnings with the compliance team. Try to keep them as plain as possible, as Nationwide does.

4. ‘That sounds like advice’

Compliance teams will be irritated if you write anything that could be interpreted as financial advice – even if it’s very general and seems quite innocuous. One way to swerve this potential pitfall is to avoid imperatives and directives. Ditch demanding copy such as ‘you must’ and ‘you should’ for instance, and introduce phrases like ‘you might consider’ instead.

5. ‘Be very careful when you write about this product’

Some financial products are so complicated it’s difficult to write about them in a way that’s compliant. In this case, a good approach to take is to go back to basics and explain everything.

6. ‘You can’t call that an investment’

Using unacceptable terminology is a problem that tends to arise when you’re writing about valuable things that aren’t financial assets – collectables such as art or antiques, for example. Compliance teams may well object if you refer to these as investments, so you’ll need to have discussions with them to come up with a form of words that are acceptable.

7. ‘We didn’t even know you were doing this’

The key to avoiding compliance pitfalls lies in the relationship you build with the compliance team – and that means making sure they’re kept informed about what you’re doing from the outset. Communicate in advance to get an idea of what the stumbling blocks are likely to be, and if possible, agree on acceptable words and phrases up front.