Compliance + Marketing: A Love Match?

By Sarah Oliver, CRCM

“It’s great to meet you. Tell me something about yourself. What do you do?”

No, this wasn’t an interview, although first dates can feel that way.

I like what I see so far. Tall, dark, handsome, and he’s also a single parent of a teenager, such like myself. So far, so good. His reply:

“I’m the digital marketing manager of a global firm within the medical device industry.”

Stop the press. After kicking myself for not having thought of a good exit before the date began, I figure what the heck. Let’s make the most of this and maybe even have some fun.

Well James,* I’m a compliance officer turned consultant in the financial industry, and so the irony doesn’t escape me that we are perhaps the most unlikely pair. I know. Compliance professionals are just so boring. And they all lack imagination. They take forever (like at least a few hours) to approve the latest campaign, and even then, they require so much fine print the ads don’t even look attractive anymore! They don’t like working late on Fridays for the sake of a new product rollout, and they’re always complaining about being the last to know about ‘these things.’ Compliance people are just so hard to please.”

*It’s a nice pseudonym, don’t you think?

Much of the early discussion centered on each of our careers within highly regulated industries, and our experiences from our own respective ends of the spectrum. We started with the usual jokes. I told the one about how people who don’t know what to major in choose marketing. He told the one about why it takes three compliance officers to change a lightbulb: one to change it, one to check it and one to check it again.

I’m not exaggerating. This conversation really did take place. But something else happened too. We started comparing the similarities of our struggles instead of the differences. Turns out, marketing managers have some of the same struggles compliance professionals have.

  1. Everyone reports to someone.

Fact. We all report to someone. And not just supervisors or bosses, but to regulators, examiners, clients, and more. Marketing and compliance officers are fully aware that every decision they make will affect something and someone. We all feel the pressure to protect our clients, consumers, and personal reputations by dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. As compliance professionals feel the gravity of increasing individual criminal liability within the financial industry, so do marketing managers worry that the latest, and most carefully thought-out and cultivated campaign might flop, along with the end goal—ROI. Turns out, James and I both know what it’s like to lie awake at night running various work-related scenarios through our heads.

  1. The ball is always moving.

How can we be sure that a decision made today won’t be one we regret tomorrow? We can’t. Change is constant.

Let’s use the social media function as an example. It’s constantly morphing as a direct result of new regulations, guidelines, enforcement actions, platform updates and ever-changing algorithms. There are also constant developments in the realm of targeted and paid social advertising. The best we can do in any position is to collect and analyze as much information as we have available today before making decisions. And to keep doing the next right thing.

  1. Bedeviled by big data.

Compliance professionals are not the only ones who honestly wonder if big data isn’t going to be what pushes them off the edge of sanity. It’s enough to make anyone’s head explode, if for different reasons. While we worry that big data is a giant potential privacy issue, marketing managers worry that their staff may not have the expertise to keep up with ever-changing linguistics and new report formats to support their senior loan officers’ or production managers’ campaign requests.

  1. Multitasking has become overtaxing.

Technology is here to stay. And it’s created a scenario in which we are never “unplugged.” In other words, most of us are at the beck and call of our work issued and personal electronic devices. Never before have professionals across vast industries been under so much pressure to work efficiently. We’ve moved from the shared office green screen and typewriters to multiple monitors, desk tops, laptops, personal scanners, tablets, and cell phones in an unnervingly short amount of time. The bottom line is that it’s overwhelming. In fact, if you don’t find it overwhelming, you probably should look at increasing your efficiency level.

Going back to the date…

James and I ultimately laughed at our collective struggles. We found common ground within our careers and our personal lives. Whoever would have thought a digital marketing manager and a compliance consultant would have such a good time?

It is so important to bridge this gap between marketing and compliance professionals. It’s in both our best interests if we:

  • Be kind to one another
  • Realize shared stresses
  • Express appreciation

Both the compliance and marketing functions play an important role in keeping the doors open at your institution. The hardest part is often just making that first move towards a more peaceful and collaborative coexistence. This is especially true in the event of an already strained relationship. Just remember, the more tense the relationship may be today, the greater the rewards when you can sit in the same planning meeting and join together mighty forces.

Sarah Oliver is a consultant in the Financial Institutions Advisory Group of Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund. Her primary areas of expertise include providing compliance reviews, assisting with special research matters and consulting on deposit and lending related regulations as well as social media approaches for financial institutions. Email: [email protected].