Banks Must Abandon Compliance Mumbo Jumbo in Marketing

In the digital age where everyone from fintechs to Amazon are sharking the banking industry, it's imperative that financial marketers learn to speak clearly and simply. People don't have time to decipher your messages, especially when there's someone offering an easier option.

If your marketing messages sound bank-like, many consumers won’t get past the first sentence. As apps and websites increasingly become your financial institution’s first encounter with the public, consumer-friendly language represents your “friendly neighborhood banker.”

If a visitor to your website, or a consumer reading any of your other marketing material, can’t understand what you’re talking about, they’re certainly not going to “Apply Now.” That’s the simplest explanation of why it’s essential to avoid jargon and complex language in bank and credit union communications.

Common sense tells most people to speak and write plainly to be understood. Yet complex language still manages to infect banking websites and more. Here are four of the most common reasons banking messages don’t make it through to the intended recipients, and how to clean up these problems.

1. “We’re Bankers. Shouldn’t We Sound Like Bankers?”

Whether you’re a smaller financial institution trying to compete with big national brands, or a large bank looking to stay competitive, your attempt to sound professional, confident and sophisticated can turn off your target audience.

“Being forced to decipher content that resembles a regurgitated product brochure has no appeal for anyone needing to make important personal financial choices.”

Regardless of someone’s educational level and reading skills, being forced to decipher content that resembles a regurgitated product brochure has no appeal for anyone needing to make important personal financial choices.

Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If the average person wouldn’t search for a sophisticated term that you are tempted to use when they seek help via Google, don’t use that word or phrase extensively on your website.

You don’t have to have fancy language to be a thought leader. Often, people crave straight talk. So give that a try — already.

2. “Compliance Made Me Do It!”

There’s compliance. And then there’s “compliance.”

Some compliance language must be written as-is — banking remains a heavily regulated business. But surprisingly, those “no choice” cases happen much less than you might think. Investing in cooperative effort with Compliance can pay off in clearer messages. Work with your compliance department to determine exactly what is really “required” versus what is more preferable or understandable. Clear communication delivers.

What message does too much language laced with liberal amounts of compliance talk convey to consumers? It inherently instills a belief that there are going to be hoops to jump through to get the product, service or benefit offered. Too many qualifiers, even written in simple, but bland, text are hard to understand. In today’s market, you have seconds to entice or lose consumers’ attention.

When you notice your content could be replaced with “but only if you do this,” and still mean the same thing, you need to change your approach. Find a way to explain the details in a positive way, and inject some excitement where appropriate. For example:

Typical Bankspeak: “Earn 20,000 bonus points! When you spend $2,000 on qualified purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account you could earn 20,000 bonus points. 20,000 bonus points equal $200 in cash back rewards dollars.”

Better: “Earn 20,000 bonus points (that’s $200 in cashback rewards!) by making just $2,000 in qualified purchases during the first 90 days of opening your account! What will you do with your extra $200?”

Read More: Most Consumers Don’t Know What Financial Marketers Are Saying

3. “I Got it from a Reliable Third-Party Source.”

Partnering with vendors is standard practice in financial institutions. But you don’t have to adopt their canned language verbatim.

I recently read this statement on a credit union website about VISA card benefits for a personal credit card:

“VISA Concierge: Complementary assistance anytime, anywhere for reservations, gifts, business services, and exclusive experiences.”

If I’m Average Joe, this sounds like a fancy service for wealthy people who have “business service” needs and want “exclusive experiences,” whatever that means — a night at the opera? And the phrase “complementary assistance” uses 23 letters to say “free help” — just eight.

This “personal” credit card doesn’t seem very personal at all.

Instead, consider something like, “Free 24/7 access to help booking travel, making dinner reservations, getting tickets to games or shows, and even buying a gift for someone special!”

Read More: Make It Simple: Credit Card Marketing Confuses Consumers

4. “It’s Written for Search Engine Optimization.”

Sometimes website content developed for SEO purposes becomes a complex maze of technical lingo. In the hopes of attracting a greater share of organic search website traffic, financial marketers forget about copy that humans understand. (Google helps people find your institution — but it doesn’t open any accounts.)

“Google helps people find your institution — but it doesn’t open any accounts.”

When trying to optimize a page about IRA Certificates for search, for example, you might want a webpage or piece of content to show up when someone searches for the term “retirement investments.” Consider this suggestion for less-complex wording:

Typical Bankspeak: “When evaluating retirement investment options, it’s imperative your retirement investment strategy is inclusive of shorter-term investments such as IRA Certificates, which complement both Traditional and Roth retirement investment portfolios.”

Better: “There are many options to consider in your retirement investment strategy. IRA Certificates are great short-term options that can be added to Traditional and Roth retirement investment portfolios.”

That’s 28 words — split into two clear sentences of 11 and 17 words.

Google has come a long way in understanding on-page content. There’s no need to optimize for a computer. Instead, optimize your financial web materials for the user. You don’t need fancy language to make your point.

Nowadays search engines understand context and intent in search. They do a great job showing users content that others are finding helpful on similar topics. So no need to overdo SEO to the point where language becomes machine-friendlier.

Be real, be helpful and focus on earning your reader’s trust.

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