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Keeping case studies compliant

By Scott Snipkie

Running a firm is full of challenges. One of the biggest is just getting clients in the door. Increasingly, advisors use case studies to show what they can help with and how they do it. So let’s discuss several ways to keep your case studies compliant while attracting clients.

First, play to your strengths. You know you can’t talk about results, so don’t. Instead, talk about what you know implicitly: your process. Use your case study to highlight the steps you’ll take to identify potential clients’ concerns and the methods you will use to try to address them; it’ll keep the regulators happy and make prospective clients more comfortable.

Second, prepare to defend. Case studies are, of course, real situations you’ve encountered and addressed; they also influence folks’ decisions to work with you. Because case studies are advertising, examiners will ask to see the files you used for them. They’re looking for material differences between the case studies and the files, and if they find one you may have a problem. Remember, in advertising saying something untrue or leaving something important out is absolutely verboten for financial advisors.

Third, change is good. Yes, everything above makes it seems like you shouldn’t change the facts in your case study, but you have to change some. Just don’t change anything important. What’s important? Names are certainly not important, and you can’t reveal your current clients’ information anyway, so change names to protect the innocent. Change locations, too, where it’s immaterial. The issue you worked on, though, should be as close to the same as possible unless it’s an issue so unique that it might identify your client … in which case, consider a different case to study.

Finally, disclose and disclaim. There’s no telling what specific disclosures you may need, but you’ll probably want to point out that your case study is entirely educational and not presented as advice. Maybe point out that investing can be risky, and that past performance isn’t any sort of guarantee of future results, too—those old chestnuts. Then, look long and hard at what you’re presenting and address any unintended inferences a reader might draw. We all know that the advertising rule is transitioning, but disclosures and disclaimers will always be a part of it.

Scott Snipkie joined Adviser Compliance Services in 2019 after time with Missouri’s Securities Division and Attorney General’s Office. Scott attended the University of Missouri for law and graduate school. Before his undergraduate study at Penn State, Scott served in the Navy.

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