Does Politics Have a Valid Role in Financial Services Marketing?

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Traditional marketing theory and business practices have long argued that politics and religion should be avoided at all costs in daily business practices.

But the new reality is that politics is ever-present. It is now part of social relationships, dating, religion, and business. It is now being injected into most industries and the workplace, whether it comes in the form of discussions about employee relations, tariffs, the deficit, wage growth, evolution, or the environment.

Traditionally, the financial services industry has been silent, at least in public, about its political positions. However, in private, and through its extensive and well-funded political action committees, political endorsements, and trade groups, the industry has made its policies evident to protect profits, often at the expense of its clients.  The battle over the DOL’s fiduciary standard, dating back to 2007, is a great example. The industry has spent hundreds of millions trying to defeat these rules. This anti-fiduciary movement is central to the most extensive financial services and insurance firms. This explains why this battle continues today over whether a financial representative should put their interests ahead of the customers’.

Today, the financial services industry staunchly insists that it is apolitical, even though there are financial reps who have become Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) and adopted pro-client advisory standards.  But to date, no major financial services firm has publicly injected politics into its strategic client-directed marketing strategy.  Maybe it is time for that to change.  

One reason is that more investors recognize that politics is now injected into almost every decision made in Congress, state legislatures, and science. The public also resents that  “Wall Street,” as a symbol for the financial services industry, escaped without any civil or criminal penalties as a result of helping to cause the 2008 mortgage fraud-led recession. The public perception is that “Wall Street” avoided prosecution because of its political clout.  Yet even with these societal changes, the financial industry still staunchly considers itself “apolitical.”

While any discussion of politics may seem off-limits in the financial industry, it has been around for decades in some form. The start of ESG, or social investing funds, is based on screening companies for certain anti-social or anti-environmental practices and eliminating them from the investment pool. For instance, Newday, a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), has created “impact” funds focused on climate action, animal welfare, ocean health, gender equality, fresh water, and global impact.

Funds using company screens based on conservative evangelical beliefs, such as the Timothy Plan, are based on “investing in a biblically and morally responsible manner.”  To do this, the fund avoids companies that support pornography and abortion or have “other policies and procedures contrary to the teachings of Scripture.”

Time for RIA Firms to Show Their Colors

But so far, no firm has based its public marketing program on promoting progressive political beliefs. Maybe it is time for a change.  Today, some financial firms base their practices on transparency, low-cost products, or fiduciary practices via RIAs. Whether they know it or not, these firms use pro-customer progressive politics to advance their business position.

While this is an out-of-the-box proposal, some in the financial industry can take a lesson from Nike, which recently made news in the marketing industry for signing controversial football player Colin Kaepernick as its new spokesman. This video drove home this point.

Nike has a long history of controversy, both in tackling discrimination issues and using low-wage labor to make shoes.  But with its vast market share, Nike adopted this new marketing strategy based on embracing political problems, such as Kaepernick’s focus on judicial and police discrimination against Afro-Americans.

Given this controversial topic and its new controversial spokesman, is there a company in the financial services industry that today would innovate by adopting a decidedly pro-investor, pro-customer political position by embracing the fiduciary standard and transparency and offering the most appropriate, low-fee products to clients?

This is a tricky proposition, but maybe there is a firm in the industry that can advance its business by acknowledging that investing has a distinctly political perspective that can be used to attract like-minded clients.

If you are an RIA or financial services firm that wants to find like-minded clients, consider posting a notice on this site that lists your pro-investor business case. The listing information is available on the front page of this site. This information can be accessed by clicking the Business Listings and Submit Listing tabs.

 

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Chuck Epstein has managed marketing communications and public relations departments for major global financial institutions and participated in the launch of industry-changing financial products. He also has written by-lined articles for over 50 publications, five books and served as editor and publisher of nation’s first newsletter on the topic of using the PC for personal investing and trading. (“Investing Online, 1994-1999). He also is a marketing consultant, writer and speaker on topics related to investor protection and opportunities in the very dynamic cannabis industry. He has held senior-level marketing, PR and communications positions at the New York Futures Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Lind-Waldock, Zacks Investment Research, Russell Investments and Principal Financial. He has won national awards from the Mutual Fund Education Alliance (MFEA) and his web site, www.mutualfundreform.com, was named best small blog in 2009 by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW).

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