Writing copy for financial services is SO NOT the same as for other industries. There's a combination of rules you will need to follow. Here are 5 simple practices to help you get started.
1. Study up and get a proof reader
It’s time to get your geek on. Back to basics. How can you possibly market a product you don’t understand? Finding a copywriter who gets the investment landscape is like gold dust. They are so rare. If you do a good job, you could be comfortable for a long time. If you can’t explain something relatively simple like what a bond is, then you will be shown the door. Simple as that. Getting to grips with the investment world isn’t as tricky as it sounds, and there are a great variety of programmes out there.
Invest in yourself with the IMC
If you don’t have an education in investment management, don’t worry. It is manageable. I recommend taking the FCA UK’s Investment Management Certificate. Yes, you will need to dust down that calculator and do some proper maths to pass, but it's so worth it. After about a year of part-time self-study you will understand all the main asset classes and how to project their returns. You’ll also be familiar with building investment portfolios, advising clients as well as the basics of UK accounting and tax. Trust me, it will be the most useful course you ever do.
Know the product
Getting down and dirty with the funds is where it’s at. As a copywriter, it can be a bit unprofessional to call up and ask too many questions all the time. However a few well-researched questions to the right people make a good impression. Find out everything you can about the financial product. Learn about the target audience, the firm’s competitors and why the product is different. It’s your job to know the specifications inside-out. Once you have this, you can use your beautiful creative talents to create some striking copy.
Get a proof-reader
LinkedIn to the rescue! Who do you know who understands about investing professionally? Have any investment managers in the family? Draw up a quick Non-Disclosure Agreement and ask them to read over the work before you send it. Paying a little fee is a good gesture and helps keeps everything professional. You may not need this every time, but your articles do need to be 100% perfect when you submit them. Simple investing mistakes will discredit your work.
2. Fair, clear and not misleading copy
Ads in finance are not like ads elsewhere. Across other industries, you can tell people that they NEED this hat for their winter collection or MUST HAVE this car. As a financial copywriter, if you do this you will NEED a sharp career change.
Since 2008, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has emerged with some important rules around communications with customers. It has its own set of regulations. You can read them straight from the horse’s mouth here. They are summed up with the phrase “fair, clear and not misleading”. You cannot try to persuade customers to invest without letting them know that their capital is at risk. You must show the most realistic outcomes. Don’t promise the world, just tell the truth.
There are two sides to this. The first is the FCA, which is the UK organisation responsible for regulating financial services. They work with the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) to make the rules and keep an eye on the industry.
The second is the internal compliance department of your client. The latter is usually a lot more cautious. Most compliance departments tend to have their own personal likes and dislikes. Some are relaxed about this, but on edge about that. Others are chilled about that, but adamant about this. If you are working internally, I am a big advocate of challenging the compliance department if you think something is too cautious. You’d be surprised how many times you’re in the right.
If you are a freelance copywriter or contractor, I would say to go with the compliance department unless you really feel it’s really important to speak up.
3. SEO gets trickier, follow these tips
Pride yourself on your Search Engine Optimisation? You will need it more than ever as an investment or financial copywriter. Financial company web pages fall into a category of search engine results known as “Your Money or Your Life” or “YMYL”. What does this mean? Sadly, it means that they are not trusted as much as objective sites, such as Money Saving Expert or Moneywise or Which?.
Because you are now writing for a YMYL website, you will need to try harder to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). Many firms do this with blogs and thought leadership articles. This is a good strategic approach. When your experts are sharing their valuable knowledge through blogs, you can start hitting those key words. As you know, it’s a tricky balancing act to write for Google and stay within the FCA guidelines. All copywriters have their own approaches. Mine is not to go for the hard sell. Just write honest, helpful advice and keep the sales push to a minimum. Long form pieces with internal links tend to work better for reducing bounce rates and keeping people on your site for longer. This will help them to build trust and remember the brand name.
4. Know the jargon, but never use it
Have you ever learned a new language? You’re about to now! Let’s be clear about this. Finance is filled with jargon. Overflowing. Jargon and abbreviations rule this world.
There are so many different internal abbreviations that you may need to keep a different spreadsheet for different companies. I remember talking about a Special Investment Portfolio (“SIP”) which is a UBS term for investment portfolios for people with more than 50 million dollars. But the rest of the room was talking about a Self-Invested Personal Pension (“SIPP”) which is an online way for everyone to put money aside for a pension. We’ve all done it. From your UCITs to your ETFs you will need to understand what everyone is on about.
However, if you’re using it in your copy, you’re doing something wrong. Outside of the office walls nobody knows what a mutual fund is. Nobody knows about futures, forwards, options or swaps… and nobody cares. Keep your audience by keeping it simple. If you can’t explain it in a simple way, go back to your research until you can.
5. Nail that tone of voice and keep it simple
Ahhhh the famous tone of voice document. Get that beauty. If they don’t have one, then read every webpage and blog (which you should have done anyway) until you have an idea. Are they formal or conversational? Do they like excessively polysyllabic sophistication or easy-to-read sentences? Do they say “do not” or “don’t”? How do they refer to themselves? How do they address customers? This is so wildly different for every firm. Get it right, and you're onto a winner.
As a rule, they will all tell you that they want something simple to read. But the proof is in the feedback. Any finance copywriter will tell you about the times when they racked their brain to explain something simply, only for it to come back filled with jargon. Some firms prefer to use words like “short”, others want you to say “bet against”. It's really individual. Words like "portfolio" can be the subject of heated debate. Try to really understand it and fit in.
Of course the other side is that they may want you to improve their tone. Copywriters tend to have this responsibility. Hammer it out in the first few meetings, so that you know what is expected of you.
Thought-leadership or company voice?
It also makes a difference if you are writing on behalf of a person or a company. Whether it's in print or online. Talk to the person, watch their videos and how they want to come across. For example, I used to write for one investment manager who liked to use animal analogies. This was a perfect piece of feedback which really helped me a lot. Despite his eagle eye for detail, they flew through the feedback stage.
If in doubt, look at the readers
Look at the audience profiles and ask the marketing team about what reading age they are aiming for. Aiming for seventh grade is a good rule of thumb. There is a really good free tool called the Hemingway App which will tell you what writing age your copy is at. You can use this to try and find a good balance. Don’t get disheartened if you keep getting it wrong, just focus on improving.
And finally… keep your sentences readable. These poor people are reading about finance in their free time. Spare them a thought and make it easier. Nobody likes to feel stupid, especially your customers who have made the effort to click on your webpage. They want helpful advice about their money, not a snobby hunk of jargon.
Financial Copywriting and Content Marketing is exciting
There are so many great reasons to be a financial copywriter. Once you have these five simple guidelines, the financial world is your oyster. Stats and facts are really useful when you want to pitch to potential clients. I've laid out the five most compelling reasons to hire an investment copywriter here.
Get networking, and don’t forget to help people out for free every now and then. I have certain causes close to my heart which I do some free work for every month. It’s a lovely way to give something back and boost your knowledge. Enjoy writing and make sure that you charge a fair price. As a guideline, the industry standard is £1 per word, but for new writers it tends to start at around £300 per article. Over time you can increase it as you learn and grow.
Most of all... enjoy it! Writing in this industry gives you the freedom to help others with their financial choices. It's a privilege and a responsibility. When you follow the rules, you can transform lives. For me, financial copywriting in the City of London is a dream opportunity.
Wishing you the very best of luck!