4 Ways Marketers Can Benefit from SEC’s Revised Rule on Customer Reviews

Changes the SEC made to its marketing rules have been fully implemented. So financial institutions are now allowed to leverage customer reviews in their marketing efforts. Here's how banks and credit unions can take advantage of the opportunity to optimize their online reputations.

Customer reviews are a critical factor in the way businesses market themselves online, serving as important trust signals for consumers and search engines alike. But archaic regulations prohibited financial institutions from leveraging this crucial tool for years.

That changed when the SEC finalized significant revisions to its advertising regulations for the first time since the modern internet was invented — meaning that financial institutions can now confidently leverage customer testimonials and endorsements in their marketing efforts. While the changes took effect in mid 2021, enforcement was only set to begin by Nov. 4, 2022. (the Morgan Lewis law firm provided a detailed recap of the rules, from an investment advisor perspective.)

It’s hard to overstate how significant this change is. Nearly three-quarters of insurance customers, for example, report that reviews are “very” or “somewhat” important in their journey to purchase insurance. Feedonomics estimated 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

So how can financial institution marketers ensure they’re taking advantage of this opportunity while remaining compliant with the new regulations? Here are four steps to take.

1. Actively Monitor and Analyze Reviews

Financial marketers will need to stay current on customer reviews — or what the SEC refers to as “testimonials and endorsements” — on multiple formats. People can leave their testimonial on owned properties like your website, or scatter them in the walled gardens of third-party platforms like Google, Facebook, or Yelp.

People can review multiple types of the customer experience as well, including a specific branch, an individual financial professional (like a loan officer, financial advisor, or business banker), a specific product (like a credit card or investment tool), or the brand as a whole.

Needless to say, that’s a lot of information for an organization to keep up with. But monitoring and analyzing this disparate information is critical to making it actionable.

Understanding your brand’s overall reputation isn’t enough. In today’s increasingly competitive game of local SEO and SEM, you need to understand how your institution’s brand is perceived within specific markets and geographic locations. Bank marketers also need to drill down to understand the perception of specific financial professionals and products.

Go the Extra Mile:

Branding entails more than an overall reputation. It boils down to how consumers view a financial institution in individual SEO and geographic markets.

Develop a system or invest in a service that aggregates and analyzes reviews across various first- and third-party platforms. That allows you to generate reports on reputation management, sentiment analysis and competitive intelligence. The insights gleaned from these reports empower you to optimize your business, outmaneuver competitors and mitigate risk.

2. Take a Proactive Approach to Generating Customer Reviews

Overall, customers have to be either really pleased or really upset to initiate a review on their own. That means reviews tend toward a reverse bell curve of five-star and one-star reviews. The result is an average score somewhere in the middle that reflects poorly on your business.

So it’s not enough to sit back and wait for testimonials and endorsements to come in. Instead, get proactive by soliciting reviews. That could be as lightweight as verbally asking clients and partners to leave a review on your website. Or you could take a more advanced approach by sending automated requests at important moments in the customer life cycle. Many systems automatically trigger an email, for example, when a new client is done onboarding, a mortgage is approved, or an annual meeting with a wealth advisor is completed.

By asking for reviews on the heels of a significant interaction with your business, you’re much more likely to generate positive results: reviews that are actively solicited increase your rating by an average of 1.1 stars.

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3. Respond to Reviews to Improve Your Ratings

Don’t just let those reviews accumulate. Responding in a timely manner is a key step in the reputation management process.

If a customer has a question, answer it. If someone leaves a glowing review, thank them for their business. If they leave a bad review, provide additional context, apologize for a poor experience, or offer to remediate the situation. People are less likely to be harsh in their reviews if they know a brand is actively paying attention: responding to reviews can increase average ratings by .33 stars.

You might want to create custom responses for each testimonial and endorsement, which allows for more personal interactions — but that can be difficult to scale alongside compliance controls and supervision. Providing a menu of pre-approved responses is more efficient but less personal.

The Opportunity at Hand:

As machine learning technology continues to advance, AI-generated responses offer the potential for customized messages at scale.

No matter how you choose to respond, doing so will provide a tangible boost to your business’ reputation.

4. Showcase Reviews to Consumers and Search Engines

As mentioned above, nearly nine in ten people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Prominently featuring these ratings on your website and marketing materials is a step you can’t skip.

Wealth management professionals often lament the fact that customers referred to them don’t convert. But think about that process: If a potential customer is referred to your businesses, the first thing they do is Google you. If they see two and three star reviews, you look mediocre at best. There goes the referral.

The same goes for search engines. A trust signal for consumers is also a trust signal for the search algorithms. But the opposite is also true: bad customer reviews will quickly drop your listing down. If you have a higher rating, you’re more likely to be surfaced in third-party organic search results on Google or other search engines. Businesses that generate an average of four to five stars see a 45% improvement in organic search.

All Star Growth:

If companies earn an average of four- and five-star reviews, they could see as much as a 45% improvement in their organic search results.

The importance of these trust signals will only grow as competition ramps up in the wake of the SEC’s changed regulations. Begin building the processes and compliance logistics to monitor, generate, respond to and market customer testimonials and endorsements. You’ll be glad you did.

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