Financial Services Web Site Recipe: Translate to Simple English, Design and Present, Market to All

Photo adapted from “L1006328_v1” by Sigfrid Lundberg, (Flickr, Creative Commons).

This article ought to be fairly straightforward, as I’ve already covered web site best practices for professional services firms in general. So, be sure to read the article linked to here for the basics:

Aside from that, let’s hone in a bit more on financial services. I’m speaking broadly of wealth management firms, investment companies, banks, credit unions, etc. Obviously, a lot of the particulars for these will vary widely. (For example, if you’re a bank, you basically have to offer online banking in order to stay competitive. Although, if you don’t offer it, you could at least spin that for marketing purposes and say that your bank cannot be breached by hackers!) (And, on that note… my company does NOT do online banking web sites. Not that we couldn’t, but there are just some things too risky to ever outsource — and online banking is one.)

Enough about banks, though… The most common type of financial services site would probably be sites for independent investment advisers and financial planning professionals. Many are indeed affiliated with some larger company (e.g., Edward Jones), and may or may not want or need their own site. But, quite a lot are independents are under-focused on marketing.

Some of this is for fairly good reasons, as financial services marketing actually falls under some pretty stringent regulation in terms of what one can and cannot say. Think of all of the legalese from this industry that almost everyone in the world already knows — warnings like “past results are not guarantees of future successes.” These legal warnings have actually made their ways into the common wisdom of our language. This is why “proper disclosures” are vital to such sites. People are so litigious these days, necessitating all of that “CYA” language.

But, regulatory difficulties aside, financial professionals actually enjoy a few marketing positions others don’t necessarily have. One main advantage is that pretty much ALL people are interested in good information about money. Managing it, investing it, donating it wisely, philanthropy, tax implications of doing things one way versus another, estate issues relevant to common people… The list is endless, which shows how rich and complex the field is.

Ergo… the magic combination for marketing this sector effectively is:

  1. translating all of that good information into easily-understood language,
  2. presenting it in an effective manner, and
  3. spreading the word about it.

While that all sounds fairly obvious, there’s a huge strategic aspect involved. For example, I had a financial services client one time for whom we were doing some PR work. They specifically requested that all articles written (and there were tons of them) should reflect a 7th grade reading level.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s actually kind of tough to translate difficult concepts into such a widely accessible level. The previous paragraph, for example, reflects a reading level of 11.5 (i.e. between a junior and senior in high school), so we would have had to revise that one a bit. :-) (By the way, the web site can tell you the readability level of your text, based on accepted formulas such as the Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning-Fog, and others.)

What really works well, I think, is video marketing. While many people may not be comfortable writing articles, most financial people are actually pretty adept at speaking. This is because part of the normal marketing routine for people includes activities like explaining financial topics at board meetings, giving talks at local networking events, walking clients through concepts, and other speaking-type activity. I’ve known many professionals who couldn’t write a single decent sentence on paper, but who could really command a room when talking. So, why not leverage that? Just make videos, and have them transcribed for the text aspect — and then post both to your site. (See my articles on video marketing here and here, for more info.)

Next up is the presentation aspect —hiring a good web development company to make your material come alive design-wise. And finally, there is the marketing aspect, which is why you see things like social media sharing functionality and SEO included in my list of essentials.

You may not be the Wolf of Wall Street at the moment, but if you follow the advice above (including heading over to the article on professional services firms), you may well find some financial returns of your own soon.

My Background in Serving Financial Services Companies

I originally published this article to discuss web site best practices in this industry, but as an afterthought, I decided that anyone reading this may also want to know my own background in this area (e.g., in case you want to hire me to handle your web site project and/or do other consulting work). So, here are the highlights of my experience in this field:

  • Most notably, I would stress my background working for CPA firms. Prior to striking out on my own, opening my own marketing and web development agency, I’d worked for a handful of companies in this niche. Most notably, I served as a proposal writer for a large, regional hub at Deloitte for two years. In this capacity, I spearheaded at least 200 projects focused on audit, tax, and various consulting engagements.
  • After Deloitte, I served for nearly a decade, at a regional CPA and financial services firm in Pittsburgh, as the Director of Marketing and Business Development. Because this company also worked in the wealth management field, I became more familiar with many of the legal compliance issues of the financial services world.

Ergo, if you’re with a financial services firm and looking for a web developer familiar with environment in which you operate … well, you’ve found someone. Feel free to contact me anytime.

Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at]