How to write compliant financial copy

Writing copy that's compliant with regulations on marketing financial products is important to a lot of our work.

 How to write compliant financial copy

In our experience, each financial services company has a different approach to compliance. It’s great if this approach is spelled out in a clear policy that we can use as a guide from the outset, but that’s not usually the case.

It’s easy to forget that compliance teams usually want to pass copy if they can. Instead, compliance is often seen as an obstacle to getting copy approved. Writers or content owners self-censor based on their idea of what will and won’t “get past compliance”, and once an approved form of words is found they stick rigidly to it – regardless of context, tone of voice or audience.

The most frustrating thing about this is that it leads to the opposite of what is intended – instead of products being made clearer to customers, they are made more confusing.

Get compliance teams involved early

In fact, we’ve had most success in making sure copy isn’t full of gobbledygook by involving compliance departments as early as possible. This helps to establish exactly how they want to approach a subject and what wording is or isn’t acceptable to them. Also, if time and budget allows, we find it’s more effective to talk through issues and amendments with compliance people, over the phone or face to face.

What’s more, online compliance is evolving all the time. The FSA’s interpretation of what constitutes “equal prominence” changes as new ways of presenting content emerge, and the compliance experts are usually best placed to advise us on the latest thinking.

Keep tone consistent

When it comes to actually writing, we’ve found one of the most important things is to challenge the tendency to lapse into officialese when writing risk warnings and caveats. A big difference can be made simply by using plain language and keeping tone of voice consistent. This has the effect of making meaning clearer, which is what it’s all supposed to be about.

All in all, it’s important to approach compliance positively. It’s not something that should be ignored – in the sense of making a stab at it, but essentially leaving it to compliance departments to put in what they want at the end. Nor should it mean giving up on the idea of saying anything interesting.