In new guidance consultation issued August 6 2014, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) aims to clarify the regulator’s approach to social media (prior guidance was published in 2013) and provide guidance for how firms should handle financial promotions through social media communications.
“Our overall approach is that financial promotions, whether on social media or traditional media, should be fair, clear and not misleading,” said Clive Adamson, Director of Supervision at the FCA said. “We have had extensive industry engagement on this issue and we believe our guidance is a sensible approach that doesn’t affect industry’s ability to innovate using new forms of media.”
“We recognise social media are constantly evolving,” said Adamson, “We, therefore, welcome feedback to today’s consultation and look forward to continuing the discussion with industry.”
Standalone compliance is also highlighted in the guidance. Each communication should be reviewed and comply on its own. For example, legal disclaimers should be given for each statement that is a financial promotion. These rules apply to all members of the financial firm that communicate “in the course of the business” and not just advisors or agents.
According to the proposed guidance, firms need to have adequate systems in place to review, approve and supervise financial promotions. In addition, firms should be keeping a record of communications on social media, and they cannot rely on digital media channels (the social networks) to maintain the records because they do not maintain complete records and are often subject to change. To assure compliance, firms can leverage third-party tools, such as a solution like Hearsay Social, to keep records of social media communications.
The guidance addresses challenges with the limited characters (140) available on Twitter, but indicates that the limited space provides no excuse for firms to not make it clear when something is a promotion. In fact, the FCA suggests one way that firms might indicate promotional content is by simply including the hashtag “#ad” in any promotional tweets. The guidance also suggests that firms consider image advertising, however, it advises that firms should not rely on just the image to indicate whether a tweet or message is promotional.
Firms can also address requirements by just tweeting a link to a website with a financial promotion clearly indicated. For example, “To see our current mortgage offers, go to www.fakemortgages.co.uk.”
Overall, it is good to see the regulator addressing the unique nature of social media communications, as it requires different regulatory requirements than more traditional online media. The proposed guidance, “GC14/6 Social media and customer communications: The FCA’s supervisory approach to financial promotions in social media” can be found here.
Comments on to the proposed guidance can be submitted before November 6, 2014 via email to Richard.Lawes@fca.org.uk.