FCA urges Smarter Consumer Comms: harness social media and collaborate

Smart consumer communications cannot heavily rely on information alone; consumers can only gain financial empowerment if financial service companies modernise content offerings. In a new consultation paper the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) urge companies to challenge risk-averse approaches to content creation, so that consumers are able to make better financial decisions.

The accompanying discussion paper published (well worth reading) explains that common barriers by financial services firms looking to improve consumer communications include:

  • ‘Risk-averse’ approaches to communication design, often using consumer disclosures as a risk-management tool to mitigate potential action against the company;
  • Struggling to weigh-up jargon-filled lengthy disclosures that are required by EU and domestic legislation, as well as providing clear instructions to consumers;
  • The cost of organisational change may not be worth it for potential benefits;
  • Communication taking second-place priority alongside product and service design.

As the FCA rightly challenge,

“We do not consider these perceived barriers sufficient reason that firms should not give greater priority to developing effective consumer communications and believe firms should both challenge these behaviours in their companies and that, we as a regulator, should support this.”

The discussion paper includes inspirational examples of companies that are communicating with customers, including a video from Aviva and how the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) developed a series of comics to educate consumers.


The discussion paper and consultation seems to signpost an ongoing ‘digital revolution’ at the FCA to challenge firms on updating how they approach communications in an age of social media. At the start of this year the FCA released their guidance on social media and customer communications, something I suggest should impact the FCA’s current smart consumer communications discussions.

Social media provides the means for companies to produce interactive infographics, engaging videos, and engaging social media updates; we work with a range of banks each day pushing social innovation forward. However, creativity isn’t the only ingredient required for smart consumer communications, the real benefit will be found through linking customer records with data from social media.

For example, last week Twitter revealed that it’s improving the way customer services run on its service by allowing companies to link up customer phone numbers or Twitter credentials with a CRM. This will then allow companies to track user interactions, matching Twitter handles to specific customer accounts; this could flag customers having persistent problems or questions. Twitter has also developed a service known as “single-tweet resolutions” — as a user’s Twitter account will be linked up with their purchase account, a customer service rep will be able to see purchase history and offer direct and specific advice over Twitter in response to questions.

For financial services firms this could mean a personalised social media system for managing customer enquiries or organising B2B requests from other stakeholders. It’s an example of smart consumer communication through updating internal organisation processes; a ‘risk-averse’ approach may just mean the competition can jump ahead.

As we all recognise, the biggest challenge when creatively tackling the challenge of consumer communication isn’t necessarily through organisation skill gaps. Instead it’s reinvigorating the culture of an organisation so that risk-adverse becomes secondary to clear and transparent communications – consumers are put first.

The overwhelming messages we’re getting from the FCA on smarter communications is clear; it’s time for better collaboration across the financial services industry and to harness the opportunities provided by social media.

This blog post first appeared on the Lansons blog.

10 Things to Remember about the FCA’s Social Media Guidelines

The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) ‘Social media and customer communications’ guidelines published earlier this year is hardly news, but some organisations still struggle to understand how they should be handling financial promotions on social media. Guidelines are open to interpretation and as a result there are many questions that arise from the FCA’s finalised guidance.

Even the FCA states that the guidance is a “supervisory approach”, so naturally organisations tend to have plenty of questions, especially surrounding social media developments not accounted for in the guidance. Here are 10 things to remember about the FCA’s Social Media Guidelines:

  1. The guidance covers financial promotions on social media, where social media is used to invite or induce to engage people in financial activity. This only applies to promotions made ‘in the course of business’ (typically companies or staff); The guidance has not been published to prevent the use of social media, but to make sure that all social promotions are clear, fair and not misleading;
  1. The FCA has the ‘Click Through Approach’, tweets are standalone promotions and must comply separately with FCArules, as well as being clear, fair and not misleading;
  1. The requirement to be ‘fair and not misleading’ means balancing the potential benefits of a product with any relevant risks;
  1. All social promotions should be reviewed in a business to consumer context, so that non-intended recipients can still understand promotions;
  1. Content used on a social network should play to the strengths of the content opportunities available (e.g. 140 character limit on Twitter, use the image space to extend message). However, allowances need to be made for users who have disabled certain social network functions – so risk warnings should be in the tweet body and image;
  1. Each individual social promotion (a single tweet, Facebook update, etc.) must be compliant in their own right, not followed up with disclaimers later on;
  1. Social promotions must come with risk warnings, otherwise they must be purely factual in nature (e.g. “To see our range of credit cards, go to XXX”). You should never use hashtags in promotions, as they link to irrelevant information that may confuse recipients;
  1. An organisation is not held responsible for how non-invested social media users share social promotions (e.g. the general public). However, any share by an organisation does count as an official social promotion. This may limit what types of media coverage can be shared;
  1. Organisations are required to have systems in place to organise the compliance sign-off of social media and have all activities, including online engagements, logged;
  1. Any paid-for social media promotions are required to adhere to the Committee of Advertising Practice Code.

Geeks rule the PR workflow with #PRstack book, download now

Second PRStack book

Today the second PRstack book is out, the result of the largest crowd-sourced education effort in the history of PR practice. 30 PR professionals have created 44+ practical guides of digital tools that can be used in public relations, content marketing, and search engine optimisation (SEO).

One of those professionals is in fact… me. My chapter (six), on “Using NodeXl and Gephi to map networks and influencers”, is about how to use social media network mapping to identify communities through social network connections. It sounds geeky (because it probably is) but it has practical real-world applications for the delivery of PR programmes.

You can download a free digital version or purchase a printed copy here 

Second PR Stack book

PRstack isn’t just a book or community about how-to guides to make sense of the growing third party tool pool. It is a cultural shift that invites innovation to the workflow of PR in the 21st century. A necessary step forward in a competitive industry where digital practice areas are contested and claimed by a range of agencies; resulting in boardroom budget battles. In the end everything leads back to open-source innovation and community discussion.

As I’m shamelessly blogging about how proud I am of this project, I have to thank Stephen Waddington for letting ‘me in’ on the second book. It’s been a really positive experience, especially as I’ve always seen the first PRstack book as a helpful guide. On the launch of this second book, he explains:

“I’ve always been mildly envious of the cooperative spirit that exists in coding and SEO. Open source communities tackle issues that the industries are facing and aid learning and development.

 They’re typically focussed on a single goal and operate outside existing industry structures. This enables them to move quickly.

 It turns out that the public relations industry can also put aside competitive issues and open source. It’s how PRstack was created.”

Geeks rule the world; this is why I’m proud to be a part of the project. Along with all of these fine contributors: Matt Anderson; Matt Appleby; Stella Bayles; Michael Blowers; Liz Bridgen; Stuart Bruce; Gini Dietrich; Erica Eliasson; Helen Laurence; Rich Leigh; Hannah Lennox; Tim Lloyd; Kevin Lorch; Maria Loupa; Rachel Miller; Lauren Old; Adam Parker; Laura Petrolino; Andy Ross; David Sawyer; Aly Saxe; Laura Sutherland; Max Tatton-Brown; Frederik Tautz; Abha Thakor; Frederik Vincx; Angharad Welsh; Livi Wilkes; and Arianne Williams. Also, thanks to Prezly; the designers and developers that brought the final product to life.

Second PRStack book

If you have any questions about my chapter on social media network mapping, leave a comment below or tweet me (@michaelwhite1).

I am on holiday until Monday 19th October, so do forgive if I’m slow to reply during my much needed digital detox.