Email marketing for the financial sector: Red flags and golden eggs

Adestra’s 2016 Email Marketing Industry Census reveals that 22% of financial services firms have a team or individual dedicated specifically to email marketing - and that 65% of businesses in that situation rate email marketing’s ROI as excellent. It sounds great - yet Adestra also reports that despite delivering higher ROI than any other form of marketing, including SEO, email isn’t receiving a correspondingly high budget share or take-up. Around 28% of companies actually restrict their spend on email.

When we dig down, we can understand why. Compliance regulations for the financial sector are notoriously strict. We’d normally suggest avoiding direct promotions, instead adding value for your readers by demonstrating best practice or offering tips for resolving a situation - but that’s giving advice. Giving advice creates compliance issues which make this kind of content marketing challenging, at best.

This doesn’t mean email marketing doesn’t work for the financial sector. It means we have to get creative.

Golden eggs - what works?

Opinions on news are an excellent workaround. The compliance rules exist, in part, because financial services jargon isn’t easy for the lay reader to understand. You can, however, explain what the news means to your subscribers without offering advice on what subscribers in specific situations should do.

Industry round-ups are also good - you’re bringing together the news that matters to your audience, which they might have missed, but you’re only presenting it - not offering advice on what they should do with it.

Communication with your compliance team is still key, but only to make sure that you don’t stray into giving advice at all - it’s a check-and-avoid process rather than a full vetting.

Financial services can often feel faceless, lacking in personality. An address from the head of the business or a specific team member personalises the content you send, attaching a name and face to a routine communication. It also ticks a basic box of email marketing - making the customer feel like someone’s taken the time to contact them personally.

Finally, there’s automation. A personalised email related to the subscriber’s own policies and prior purchase/interaction behaviours. If they have a policy coming up for renewal, or they’ve asked for a quote and done nothing with it, or if there’s an option for cross-promotion (savings accounts to current account customers, targeting email openers and inviting them to download a banking app), a well-crafted, human-seeming email can wing their way with minimal effort from you.

Red flags - what doesn’t?

Guidance works. Advice doesn’t. Guidance is an overview of what's available, in strictly generic terms, whereas advice relates to someone's own circumstances and is covered by compliance regulations. Guidance is "here's some information on various types of investment", whereas "here's some information on various types of investment and the best type for different types of people" would be advice. Bottom line? Avoid specifics - even imaginary specifics.

Beyond the content itself, there’s a practical issue that needs addressing. Email marketing content is often ghost-written by people who can write a good email, but aren’t necessarily experts in the field they’re writing about.

We avoid issues here by ensuring that our writers get a good brief. The brief we hand to them has to identify the topic, why it matters to your business and to your subscribers, and what spin you’re putting on it. It also has to clearly frame the content tilt - the content your business can write that no other business can.

Ultimately, your business exists to solve problems - your email marketing briefs should be aimed at them too. Doing so in this indirect style while still offering value is a challenge - but a challenge is an opportunity for your business to show its capability.

To see what email marketing can do for a careful financial services firm, read about our work with Richard Higgs, founder of Wealth West Medical.