In this day and age of social media and social distancing, podcasting is an ever-popular means for advisors to market themselves to grow their businesses and reach prospective clients in an ‘audio-intimate’ format unique to podcast episodes. However, advisors face the unique challenge of meeting strict compliance requirements when producing a podcast show. Because of regulations imposed by the SEC and FINRA, both RIAs and broker-dealers, respectively, have specific guidelines that must be followed when it comes to communications with the public and content that may be construed as advertising.
In this guest post, Ben Krueger – Founder of Cashflow Podcasting – discusses steps that advisors can take to work with their compliance teams and to set up their own podcast episodes. The three key steps that can help advisors streamline the approval process of their podcast proposals with their compliance departments include: establishing podcast goals that aim to provide value through educating and supporting a clearly identified target audience; developing a good working relationship with the compliance team members who will be involved in reviewing the podcast and taking measures to be proactive on what they need while keeping communication channels open and clear; and creating content that complies with regulatory requirements (e.g., avoiding testimonials, endorsements, unsubstantiated claims, etc.), and then reviewing and documenting all content produced.
In addition to these steps, creating a systematic timeline for the podcast process can also help to organize a recurring schedule of events needed to produce each episode and can help the advisor stay on a regular production schedule (as the entire process can take as long as two months for producing a ready-to-air show approved by compliance), which can be important to attract and maintain a regular audience of listeners. Identifying the right tools and services can also help streamline the process, from transcription, audio editing, and production services to social media archiving and monitoring tools.
Ultimately, the key point is that while there is plenty to manage in creating a successful podcast, compliance requirements should not keep advisors from producing an effective podcast program that will help to educate their clients and grow their business. By developing a clear vision of podcast objectives, understanding compliance requirements, proactively working together with compliance team members, and identifying the best technology solutions to meet their needs, advisors can create their own compliance-ready podcast episodes!
I can say that our Financial Advisor Success Podcast has been an integral part of our overall marketing strategy, which collectively has helped our businesses generate more than $4M in new revenue over the past 2 years.
– Michael Kitces, 2019
Now more than ever, we’re seeing financial advisors depend on modern media to reach new audiences – and one of the major avenues they’re using is podcasting.
From XY Planning Network’s XYPN Radio and The Perfect RIA Podcast to Hilary Hendershott’s Profit Boss® Radio and (of course) the Nerd’s Eye View’s own Financial Advisor Success Podcast, an increasing number of advisors are using this medium to grow their businesses.
Not only does it offer a systematic way for financial advisors to create a relationship with their audiences of clients and prospects over time, but it also builds trust and nurtures leads in a way that few other tactics can.
Written content like blogs, books, and articles are great, but they just don’t allow the writer’s personality to come through in quite the same way as a podcast does. When people listen to a podcast, they get to hear the host’s voice, unique delivery, and even the way the host interacts with other people if there are interview episodes.
What’s more, those other mediums require people to give 100% of their attention to consume the content, while a podcast allows people to go about their usual business with the host in their ear. Whether they’re driving to work, washing dishes, walking the dog, or just about anything in between, they can easily interact with a podcast as part of their everyday life without setting aside dedicated time to consume the content.
That means the show becomes a consistent part of their routine, which leads to an increased level of intimacy and a deeper connection.
However, despite the many benefits of podcasting, there’s one major thing that can make creating a podcast a challenge for advisors … and that thing is compliance.
The unfortunate reality is that many compliance departments tend to overreach, and have a tendency to say “no” to anything that could potentially stir the pot, so to speak – especially when it’s a new type of marketing they don’t have existing compliance processes and procedures to oversee.
But that doesn’t have to stop the advisor looking to create a podcast show.
Over the years I’ve spent helping entrepreneurs grow their client base via podcasting, I have worked with advisors all over the country to get their shows up and running – and helped them meet their compliance obligations in the process.
It just takes a little extra planning and coordinating with the advisor’s compliance officer in the right way.
So this article will break down the three keys for starting a compliance-ready podcast to help advisors think about podcasting in the right way, and suggest how advisors can communicate their intentions to help compliance officers understand their podcasting goals appropriately, as well.
Key #1: Approach Podcasting With The Right Mindset Of Providing Value First
I see a lot of hosts getting this wrong – they launch a show (expecting it to be like a magic money tree in their backyard), but they don’t really know who they help or how they help them. Those things are the foundation, and without being clear on that, it’ll be difficult to monetize!
– Marc Mawhinney, Natural Born Coaches
Before taking steps to get a podcast up and running, it’s crucial for advisors to make sure they’re coming at it with the correct mindset.
In my experience helping advisors launch and produce their podcasts, shows tend to do the best when hosted by advisors who:
- Have a clearly defined audience they work with; and
- Aim to provide value through educating/supporting their audience and prospects (whether they become clients or not).
For example, Jen Hemphill’s Her Dinero Matters was created with the objective of changing women’s mindsets around money to help them feel confident and empowered about their finances.
That objective is one that resonates hugely with her audience because she offers valuable advice and education that will help them better their lives, and it aligns with her company’s mission.
This ‘provide value first’ mentality is what leads to successful podcasting and can help financial advisors to figure out the best way their podcasts will benefit their listeners.
Another great example is Sahil Vakil’s MYRA Podcast, which aims to share personal finance strategies and insights from international and multicultural individuals in the United States to help first- and second-generation immigrants make strong financial decisions.
And Tracey Bissett’s Young Money podcast offers advice to guide young millionaires in the making to get smart with their money and take control of their financial futures.
Once advisors have a strong sense of how their podcast will benefit their audience and what they’re specifically trying to do with their show, they can start focusing on how to present it to their compliance team.
Pitching The Podcast For Compliance Approval Will Be More Successful By Knowing Your Regulator’s Rules
The best way to approach this will depend on which regulator advisors answer to at the end of the day. Technically, broker-dealers are covered by FINRA Rule 2210 (on communications with the public), and RIAs are covered by SEC and States Rule 206(4)-1 (on advertisements by investment advisers).
Although there are some differences in how each is handled, the major things to keep in mind are essentially the same. For both RIAs and broker-dealers, podcasting will most likely be viewed as advertising, and will therefore be subject to a pre-publication compliance review.
That means content will need to be reviewed before it is released, it can’t be misleading about the advisor’s work or the results achieved for clients, and it needs to be recorded and archived.
However, this process does tend to be easier for RIAs than for broker-dealers, simply as a matter of firm size and the Chief Compliance Officer’s breadth of advisors being overseen. RIAs generally have smaller teams than broker-dealers, and thus are likely to be much more familiar with their compliance officers.
And thus, whether the RIA advisor knows their compliance officer by name (or perhaps they might even serve as the compliance officer themselves), they tend to find it easier to gain approval because there’s more trust established between the CCO and the advisor about whether the advisor will honor both the letter and the spirit of the compliance requirements.
Broker-dealers, on the other hand, will typically have to send marketing materials over to the compliance department, where the compliance officer(s) may or may not know the advisor personally, and may simply see the advisor’s proposal as one in a large stack of many things coming across their desks that create new questions and compliance risk from someone that (from the compliance officer’s perspective) may or may not be a prudent advisor in the first place.
Additionally, because they may be dealing with hundreds or even thousands of advisors, they tend to be more strict.
And that makes sense if you think about it – their jobs are on the line, and they don’t want to get fired, so they have to write stringent rules to prevent even just one employee from saying or doing something they shouldn’t (a phenomenon known as “lowest common denominator [LCD] compliance”).
As a result, many broker-dealers will be dealing with compliance departments who will simply say podcasting isn’t allowed to avoid any potential issues.
That’s why it’s important, for advisors working under broker-dealers especially, to approach compliance in the right way.
Key #2: Position Your Podcast To Put Compliance At Ease
Believe it or not, your compliance department will be much more receptive to the idea of launching a podcast if they are afforded ample opportunity to understand your goals, and implement some reasonable guardrails ahead of time. Though dealing with compliance may be a short-term pain, the long-term gain of a true partnership with compliance will pay off in spades.
– Chris Stanley, Beach Street Legal LLC
When approaching compliance about doing a podcast, the key is for the advisor to have the mindset that they are aligning themselves with their compliance team. Both the advisor and compliance team should be in mutual agreement that the podcast is for the benefit of the firm; advisors who are willing to work collaboratively and productively with their compliance team are more likely to have a successful partnership together.
In other words, the advisor does not want their compliance team to perceive their podcast efforts as rogue off-compliance activities being conducted by the advisor (otherwise, compliance will treat the advisor accordingly and would likely be more restrictive).
Instead, they should be activities that both the advisor and compliance team will work on together.
Therefore, two key points to convey to the compliance team should include:
- The advisor’s intention to work in partnership with compliance to address any concerns; and
- The goal of the podcast.
The compliance team should be made aware from the start that the advisor understands the rules regarding what can and can’t be said (more on that later), which records need to be kept, podcast recordings that need to be reviewed in advance before being released to potential prospects, and any other compliance requirements that have been established.
In essence, the compliance team should have confidence that the podcast won’t put their job at risk.
The compliance team should also be made aware of the advisor’s goals for the show.
As mentioned earlier, the most successful advisor podcasts aim to educate their audiences, but many podcasters also strive to build connections and become leaders/authorities in their space.
Whatever the goals may be, articulating that to compliance and creating a content plan that supports those goals will help put them on the same team as the advisor.
It can also be helpful to develop a proposed schedule of episodes before approaching compliance for approval. This can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet that breaks down the months of the year, listing the planned shows under each month.
Each episode should have the following details:
- The show topic;
- The prospective guest’s name (for podcast interviews);
- The target date for compliance review; and
- The targeted release date.
Here’s an example of what such a spreadsheet might look like:
Sharing examples of other advisors’ podcasts that do something similar to what is being proposed can help the compliance team better understand the goals and messaging the advisor has in mind.
Some of the podcasts previously mentioned (e.g., Hilary Hendershott’s Profit Boss® Radio, Jen Hemphill’s Her Dinero Matters, Tracey Bissett’s Young Money, and Sahil Vakil’s MYRA Podcast) serve as great examples to model.
Advisors might even record one or two sample episodes, and present them as concrete examples of what they want to do (the main conversation is all that needs to be included at this stage; the fancy intro and outro music can be added later).
Being proactive in this way not only gives advisors a chance to work out potential compliance concerns and come up with a review process that gives plenty of lead time for review, but it also gives compliance officers ample time to listen to content well before its anticipated release.
Regardless of whether audio editing is handled in-house or outsourced (more on that later), any questionable statements can be removed, and disclosures or other necessary pieces added before anything goes live.
To help advisors keep everything organized, I’ve created The Financial Advisor's Compliance Game Plan for Podcasting that outlines each step of the process and gives an example plan. (Advisors can also use the “File > Make a Copy” option in the top left corner to create a customizable, printable version of this document – or use it as a format to create their own documents – to take with them when presenting podcast proposals to compliance.)
Podcasting As An Outside Business Activity (OBA) – An Alternate Approach
It’s worth noting that some advisors pitch their podcasts as an Outside Business Activity (OBA) in order to eliminate (or at least reduce) compliance concerns.
For podcasts that are approved this way, they won’t necessarily be subject to the advisory firm’s compliance department – so long as nothing points directly back to the advisory business that could be construed as soliciting clients (and therefore turn the podcast back into advertising that would require direct compliance review).
Although the idea is to keep podcasting as a side project that will not solicit clients or directly promote the business in any way, some people may still seek the advisor-as-host out even if the podcast is set up as an OBA, so prospects and clients may still show up as a result of the show. (Thus still providing at least indirect positive business results.)
This OBA approach to podcasting works best for an advisor who already has a strong personal brand (and/or is prepared to invest what it takes to quickly build one).
For instance, if the advisor has published a book, is an established speaker, or has built up their brand with other materials, it will be much easier to build the podcast audience and drive enough engagement to produce business results (even when only indirect as an OBA).
However, it is important to keep in mind that everything from the advisor’s personally branded media – including the podcast – must be on a separate website that has nothing to do with the advisor’s firm.
For advisors without a well-established brand or social media presence, and who have only the podcast, this approach is not likely to fly with compliance, and the first approach may be the more effective method to follow.
Key #3: Create a Compliance-Compatible System for Podcast Production and Release
I send an outline of my script or topics to compliance for a preliminary review, which helps me know if I need to avoid any topics and if there are additional disclosures above and beyond the boilerplate ones. Once I receive the reviewed outline from compliance, I record the podcast segment/s, and the raw files are submitted again to make sure everything is in compliance from a regulatory perspective. Only after that is all approved do I send everything over to my podcast team for editing and production. This system helps prevent me from recording and then needing to re-record the audio.
– Jonathan Bednar, What The Wealth?!
Podcasting as a financial advisor will require a production process that allows for plenty of time to make sure compliance requirements are met.
As mentioned above, podcasts will be viewed as a form of advertising, which means there are four major rules to abide by when it comes to content:
- Anything released must be pre-reviewed;
- Misleading/unsubstantiated claims and touting returns or performance of investments are not allowed;
- Everything that is released must be recorded and archived for later review; and
- Client testimonials or endorsements cannot be included.
Again, this will be a smoother process for RIAs who are likely to be more familiar with their compliance officers, and have an easier time partnering up to create a podcast review system.
For broker-dealers, this can take a bit longer, and may require more back-and-forth to gain approval if the compliance department isn’t already accustomed to doing podcast reviews (and especially if there isn’t already an established relationship of trust with someone on the compliance team).
But in both cases, the podcasting process must be done in partnership with compliance. Below are some tips for how to deal with each of these rules throughout the production process.
Pre-Review Of Podcast Material
To make the compliance approval process as easy as possible, reserving time for reviewing and editing the podcast is crucial.
For RIAs doing the podcast and approving it themselves, this likely won’t add a ton of time to the production process, but a written or formal methodology of podcast approval will help keep the process consistent. (Again, The Financial Advisor's Compliance Game Plan for Podcasting will give you an idea of what this can look like.)
For broker-dealers, the pre-review process will often stretch out the production process by adding anywhere from a few days to between one and three weeks. This is where recording content well in advance comes in handy. It’s not only great to ensure that there is plenty of time for compliance review, but it can also make recording time much more efficient.
All podcasters – no matter their podcast subject – should schedule recording time in advance and block out time to record two or three episodes in a single session (or for podcast interviews, schedule two or three interviews in one afternoon). This type of ‘batching’ allows podcasters to get ahead with content, and helps to make the most of each session when creating shows.
The more the process can be planned ahead and systematized, the more predictable lead times will be, and the easier it will be to make sure everything released is in compliance well before it goes live.
As an example, a podcast creation process could look something like this:
Week 1: Reach out to invite guest(s) to record in 1-2 weeks based on availability.
Week 3: Record episode(s).
Week 4-5: Get compliance pre-review.
Week 6: Edit audio based on compliance feedback.
Week 7: Publish episode.
Or it might look more like this:
Week 1: Reach out to invite guest(s) to record in 1-2 weeks based on availability.
Week 3: Record episode(s).
Week 4: Complete initial episode edit.
Week 5-6: Get compliance pre-review.
Week 7: Edit audio based on compliance feedback.
Week 8: Publish episode.
As these schedules show, it can easily take up to two months for an episode idea to make it to the airwaves, but that’s okay! Because, if things are spaced out and planned accordingly, each part of the process can be smooth and relatively predictable.
And, unless breaking news is being released with the shows – which we don’t recommend anyway, in part because podcast production and compliance review takes time – no one has to know the content was recorded months ago.
Though it is a good reason to ensure the advisor picks topics that are not time-sensitive and might require a speedier (and not necessarily feasible) turnaround!
Some great examples of evergreen subjects that are as valuable now as they will be years from now include topics like what to ask your financial advisor, how to protect yourself from fraud, and investment mistakes that can derail your retirement.
Avoid Misleading And Unsubstantiated Claims
When recording a podcast, there are obviously certain things that can and can’t be said.
A good general rule is to avoid making any recommendations for listeners regarding specific investments or investment vehicles, keeping in mind that – regarding investments, in particular – the main purpose of a podcast is education, not tactical advice.
Touting (also known as making statements that can’t be substantiated), isn’t allowed, either, and neither are client testimonials.
And while minding these rules is definitely manageable, it can be a little more challenging for podcasts that feature a guest.
For example, it can be very easy for both the interviewer and guest to slip into a conversational tone and inadvertently start talking about what’s happening with a specific stock in a way could be construed as direct investing advice, sharing the story of a successful client in a way that borders on becoming a testimonial, etc.
This is another reason recording in advance is so helpful. It gives time to catch and edit out any rule-breaking speech that may have slipped into the conversation.
When listening back through episodes, exact timestamps of potentially problematic statements in the conversation can be easily noted (as most media players display a running time) and passed along to the audio editor to remove unwanted material and clean things up before release.
As mentioned earlier, the audio editor can be someone in-house, or an outside service provider hired to handle sound production. For information on doing it yourself or hiring outside help for your podcast, check out our 2020 Best Podcast Services Guide.
In the end, staying compliant all boils down to being mindful of how and what information in the podcast is presented. And of course, everything doesn’t need to be all about financial advising (and certainly not all about investments and markets) all the time.
The purpose of podcasting is primarily to build connections and educate, so there will be topics that will be relevant to listeners without being directly tied to financial advice or market commentary.
Subjects like owning and running a business, preparing for retirement, how to give back to the community, etc. are still valuable, and podcasts can cover a wide variety of areas to reflect the advisor’s (and the firm’s) personality and interests, which all tie into how they relate, engage, and interact with their community.
Recording and Archiving Requirements
There are a handful of things that should be documented and archived for each podcast:
- The content itself. For podcast content, an archive of all the audio files that get published should be kept. Preparing transcripts of audio files for each podcast episode will not only make content much easier to track but will also serve to provide a counterpart to the audio to provide additional archiving.
Transcripts can also work as an alternative for compliance officers to review in the first step of this process. Two great options for turning audio into transcripts quickly – and relatively cheaply at $1/minute – are Rev and Speechpad. Both have great turnaround times and solid accuracy, especially if the audio is clear and none of the speakers has mumbling tendencies or heavy accents.
However, if the podcast has muddled audio or speech that isn’t clear, someone on the advisor’s team can proofread the transcripts before anything is sent to compliance, just to be on the safe side.
If using services from either Rev or Speechpad, transcripts will include bracket symbols to note any areas of unclear speech or uncertain spelling. This makes finding spots in the transcript that need to be ironed out very easy. These services also have an option to include timestamps, which will make it easier if compliance would like anything tweaked or changed.
Ultimately, the key to documenting podcast content is to make sure that transcripts are accurate.
- Which avenues of publication are used when sharing the podcast socially. This includes any promotions for the podcast or individual episodes.
Are people emailed each time a new episode is released? Are shows shared on social media?
Notes must be kept on all of these details so that advisors can look back and pull up a record of what they’ve done in the past.
Notably, archiving tools used for compliance purposes often already auto-archive social media posts and emails, which means they’ll capture podcast distribution through those channels as well.
To ensure that recordkeeping of any promotions or offers made through the podcast are as simple and trackable as possible, it’s best to use the same verbiage in any postings beyond the company’s website (e.g., various social media platforms).
That is to say, if an advisor wants to promote episodes on individual social media accounts, all of the messaging should be kept identical. (Most consumers will only see one of the advisor’s social media channels anyway, and won’t even realize the same message was posted to others as well.)
- The pre-review approval itself. For RIAs that handle compliance on their own, this just means creating a way to keep track of approval dates and the person or people who approved it. A simple document can be created for each podcast that includes the review dates and the person who approved each episode.
For example, notes similar to the following can be kept for each episode recording:
Episode 25 of Financial Advising 101, entitled “How to Reach More Clients with Digital Marketing” was reviewed on February 3rd, 2020 by Susan Evers and approved for release on February 17th, 2020.
The person in charge of the review can be asked to include a document with this information for every episode. Then the document can be saved in a folder for archiving purposes.
Remember: If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen!
For broker-dealers, it will be important to have a pre-set approval process for all episodes. This means that a schedule has been established to determine how far in advance materials should be sent to the compliance department, which files they need to receive, and how compliance will communicate with the advisor if something is not approved.
There should also be clear expectations about the correction and resubmission process if anything gets flagged.
As long as both sides are clear about what’s expected ahead of time, teams can work together to get episodes approved and released as planned. (For a sample plan, refer back to The Financial Advisor's Compliance Game Plan for Podcasting.)
Avoid Client Testimonials Or Endorsements
Things can get a little hairy when it comes to what can be construed as testimonials.
Testimonials can be anything from obvious promotions made within the audio of your podcast to comments on your podcast web page or Facebook. Sometimes, LinkedIn recommendations and even podcast reviews can be flagged.
Technically, while rules against testimonials generally only apply to clients (so non-clients are allowed to share testimonials), advisors should definitely be wary of any statements that might be construed as a testimonial.
Often, it’s just easier to turn off comments on the site, as well as reviews across social media platforms.
One exception to this applies to iTunes, which doesn’t allow comments/reviews to be turned off. Thus, podcast reviews and comments on iTunes platforms should be monitored.
A great tool for this is the My Podcast Reviews subscription service, which monitors podcasts from Apple, Stitcher, and Podchaser. It will send all reviews to the subscriber so that each platform doesn’t need to be continuously monitored.
If any reviews do come in that include testimonials specifically mentioning the advisor’s (or firm’s) services or investments made, then the advisor can send a message to Apple Podcasts/iTunes support at [email protected] to ask them to remove the specific comment.
Nerd Note: The rules around testimonials are currently being updated for the first time in the last 60 years. This means things may loosen up in the coming months, but the new regulations probably won’t come out until Q1 or Q2 of 2020.
A Quick Note About Disclaimers
We recommend including an audio disclaimer as part of the regular intro or outro for any advisor podcast. It’s just good practice for anyone sharing information that has to do with financial advice, legalities, or anything along those lines.
Essentially, all the disclaimer needs to say is that anything shared in the episode is not to be taken as advice or individual recommendations and that people should consult a professional. It doesn’t have to be long or involved – a quick mention works just fine.
Here’s an example disclaimer that one of our clients uses:
The information in this podcast is educational and general in nature and does not take into consideration the listener’s personal circumstances.
Therefore, it is not intended to be a substitute for specific, individualized financial, legal, or tax advice.
To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a final decision.
Podcasts can also be creative, like The Perfect RIA. They use a song to deliver their disclaimer, making it one of the more fun and interesting ways to add one in! (Click below to give it a listen!)
Regardless of the method chosen to communicate disclaimers, we strongly recommend that advisors find a way to include one in their shows.
Your Game Plan For Podcasting Within Compliance
While there are some major things to keep in mind when it comes to compliance, podcasting doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process, and compliance concerns shouldn’t prevent anyone from creating the show they want to put out to the world.
It just means that systems need to be in place to make sure each requirement is considered every time a podcast episode is produced. This helps to make sure compliance concerns are supported before, during, and after recording.
Again, advisors can print out The Financial Advisor's Compliance Game Plan for Podcasting and fill it out with their show’s process to keep track of the steps for production with each release. And then, they can get started on their own compliance-ready podcasts!
Do you have more tips for financial advisors who want to start a podcast? Share them in the comments below!