I was interested to read the FCA’s discussion paper around smarter consumer communications, published yesterday here.
The Regulator has recognised the fact that the way the financial services industry communicates with its customers often leaves a lot to be desired.
Christopher Woolard, director of strategy and competition, said: “information itself does not necessarily empower the consumer… it can overwhelm, confuse, distract or even deter people from making effective choices if presented in a way people struggle to engage with.”
The discussion paper suggests moving away from “a box-ticking approach to communication design, or the perception that communications driven by regulation are the responsibility of compliance and legal staff” and “adopting innovative techniques to improve how key information about products is conveyed and delivered to consumers”, with video being highlighted as one option.
All this is great, but I think the way information is delivered is only half the battle. Yes, I like ‘information snacking’ as much as anyone, with my news delivered in 60 second bites or 140 characters; but I’m also capable of delving deeper and reading material that engages and informs.
And that’s the key with consumer communications. We need to deliver information in a way that engages and informs and that doesn’t make you want to rip your eyes out to make it stop. The problem is that currently, a lot of financial services communications is either really technical or too fluffy. Most of it is very dull and there are a lot of pictures of happy old people on a beach. Or looking into the sunset. Or on a beach looking into the sunset.
I recently opened a regular savings account for my daughter. Despite the fact that both she and I already have accounts with this well-known high street bank, I had to go into the branch for a 30 minute meeting to open the new account. The meeting involved information delivered verbally, on-screen, via a leaflet and through a short video. Having already chosen the account before I started, I’d frankly rather have applied online in three minutes (like Mike Barrett’s credit card experience), but at the very least we could have skipped the video, which really didn’t add anything except more time spent in a stuffy office.
So yes, let’s definitely do smarter consumer communications. Let’s cut through the jargon; make things simple without making them trivial; make things a bit less dull. Then it doesn’t matter if it’s a video, a brochure or a tweet – it’s whatever format is most effective to do the job.