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How leading firms are rethinking their supervision models

No two Compliance organizations are exactly alike, especially when it comes to their approach to supervision. There are however some common best practices in how leading firms structure their supervision model. Over the past decade, Hearsay’s Compliance Strategy lead, Iain Duke-Richardet, led compliance teams for some of the world’s largest financial services firms. I had a chance to sit down with Iain recently to talk through a few key areas where hours can be gained and lost for compliance teams.

William: Iain, we work with clients that prefer a centralized model of supervision as well as others that prefer decentralized. I know that you’ve worked with both over the course of your career. My question to you is… is there a correct set up?

Iain: How first and second line control functions are set up, or any setup for supervisory controls really, is dependent on how an organization is structured. What might be best for one is not necessarily going to be right for the other. I’ve actually seen instances where an organization has started with, for example, a decentralized model and moved to a centralized model for efficiency gains or simply because they’ve had supervisors leave an organization and therefore they’re restructuring. So, it really is incumbent upon the regulatory Supervisor to evaluate and implement what makes the most sense.

All firms—regardless of their model—can align on certain best practices to put themselves in the best position to succeed. For instance, they can all look to reduce the instances of data fragmentation. So if a supervisor’s looking at a profile and the profile has been archived in such a way as to make it very fragmented, that’s not really very straightforward or easy. Our approach is to actually crystallize all those changes into an easy to read and review format so that the process is seamless and there’s no pushback from whichever group is assigned that review.

William: In your experience, what’s been the main driver of efficiency for the compliance teams you’ve led?

Iain: I find the way financial services organizations have structured their compliance functions very interesting. Efficiency is always at the top of their priorities. In this space, there are two main drivers toward efficiency. One is the efficacy of the organization’s lexicon, and by that I mean, is the firm using the terms that most align with the behaviors they’re trying to prevent. This is relevant because including an overabundance of terms in the lexicon will mean that items that get flagged much more often than they need to be. You won’t end up getting to the type of behavior you want to identify to correct through the supervisory process, due to too many false positives.

The second component is around how the review is being performed. It’s important to align reviewers with different components of the review process, leveraging a hierarchy of some kind, so that there’s no duplication in the work that is being done but identification is still prioritized through the process.

William: Thanks. Finally, taking a step back, at the enterprise level there’s been this rise of centralized databases and business intelligence systems, but really these tools are only as valuable as their inputs. We like to say, “Garbage in equals garbage out.” So, as advisors and clients communicate on more channels than ever before, does the same hold true for compliance and supervision technology? How can firms be more confident about the quality of their input?

Iain Duke-Richardet: I think that’s a great point. The “garbage in, garbage out” absolutely holds true in the compliance and supervision space where, as advisors use more and more channels to communicate, there is a notion of channel hopping; an advisor might move from one channel to another very quickly. Sometimes it’s an effort to perhaps circumvent some of the control or it’s simply because that’s the form in which the customer would like to interact. Having clear data that’s properly time stamped with the right author attribution, as well as having any corresponding attachments like 3rd-party links, is the key to seeing context. Because, ultimately, as the supervision is being performed, the ability to see the context of a conversation or a communication, regardless of the channel in which it occurs, is going to be the way that advisors and supervisors of those advisors will be able to identify any behavior that is not ideal.

In Summary:

  • Both centralized and decentralized supervision are valid options; supervisors must decide what makes the most sense for their organization.
  • There are two main drivers of efficiency for supervision in financial services firms: efficacy of the lexicon and a prioritized review process
  • The ability to see the context of a conversation or a communication, regardless of the channel in which it occurs, is the way supervisors can identify risky behavior

Properly managing compliance includes regularly assessing compliance strategy, tuning of policies & procedures, and evaluating technology. Our experts at Hearsay are ready to help. Learn more about our Hearsay Compliance Advisory Services and how we can offer compliance insights, analytics, and training to meet your program needs.

The Shift from Sales Push to Marketing Pull, for Advisor & Agent Success – Part 2

Across our customer base, we’ve seen a strong correlation between a solid social selling content strategy and website traffic and conversions, with as much as 50% of inbound traffic originating from Hearsay Social. The strong sales and marketing partnership these organizations have developed and the strategic approach to content has led to this success.

Corporate marketing teams have a responsibility to coach advisors and agents to create high-credibility social profiles which boosts SEO; this combined with highly-relevant helpful content helps sellers build out their network. As sellers share that targeted content, buyers engage because the sellers professional digital presence and consistent approach to content instills a sense of trust. A well-placed call-to-action draws traffic to the local advisor or corporate website. These website visitors are higher-quality traffic—they stay longer and view more—and then ultimately show higher rates of lead form submissions. Sellers are helping amplify and bring marketing content to life using their own personal social capital, while marketing is helping sellers establish a professional brand and supplying an ongoing stream of thought leadership. Thus, the marketing and sales funnel of today is inextricably tied.

1-to-1 Sales Engagement Still Requires Marketing Partnership

Even in one-to-one sales engagement with clients—email or text outreach—marketing plays an important role.

Instead of calling a list of contacts from top to bottom, it’s critical for sales to engage with those who have shown behavioral triggers that indicate intent or interest. Knowing who to engage when and with what message requires digital tools and data to interpret client signals. And who tracks client signals and delivers the technology to engage across multiple channels? You guessed it – marketing.

Across our most innovative clients, we’ve seen corporate marketing teams develop digital marketing hubs that provide advisors and agents easy access to tools that help them reinvent the way they engage with their networks. From tracking engagements on Hearsay Social posts to following up on lead conversion forms via a compliant text through Hearsay Relate and using Hearsay Social Signals to be the first to congratulate contacts on a new job or recent move – marketing insights allow advisors and agents to follow up in a timely and targeted way.

Digital touches may not all be sales opportunities, but they’re a powerful way for sales to stay connected and deliver the necessary human touch. The right digital tools help sellers scale and deliver more frequent light touches with a greater number of people to build pipeline, influence, and most importantly relationships. It’s surprising what consistently wishing someone a happy birthday or congratulating them on business news can do.

Endgame: Better Serve the Customer

In the end, when everyone is doing their part, marketing and sales together can transform outreach from random and cold to trusted, authentic, and timely. The key is to use digital to deliver relevant, targeted content created by marketing and analytics around what clients are engaging in to elevate advisors and agents to become trusted problem solving partners. This not only lets sellers scale to serve a greater number of clients, but serves the client more personally, on their timeline and channel, around topics that are important to them.

In the video, watch Hearsay’s co-founder and executive chairperson, Clara Shih, break down how sales performs better in partnership with marketing.

Compliance Must Embrace – and Understand – AI

Compliance teams are overstretched. It’s become imperative they find ways to leverage technologies to become leaner, more effective, and better able to handle increasing demands. But they’re not alone in these efforts; the most recent OCIE risk alert indicates that organizations are also responsible for compliance programs that are sufficiently supported with both staff and technology.

As we’ve discussed before, an over-reliance on manual functions means compliance teams are overwhelmed by low/moderate risk issues. Technology and automation have to be considered as part of the equation so that teams can focus on the riskiest issues that matter most to the business.

As technology gets more intelligent, an opportunity arises in artificial intelligence (AI) as a catalyst to enhance the efficiency of a program. As we’ve mentioned, this can lead to a more mature, impactful compliance program and increased trust throughout the organization.

However, as programs mature and manual processes shift into automation, compliance teams will need to understand automation more and more. AI is an important tool, but at some point, compliance will be asked to explain how they supervise and test these tools to know they’re functioning as designed and expected.

At its core, AI is designed to monitor a data set and when a logical trigger is set off, to translate that information into an action. In some instances, that translation is clear and easily understood. But in other situations, especially when the way the AI translates between data sets and actions is covered under a “Black Box” due to intellectual property concerns, it makes explaining it to a regulator more difficult.

As FINRA wrote in its June 2020 report on AI and again reiterated during its November Conference on AI, a compliance professional needs to understand how the AI they are implementing aligns with regulatory expectations. These steps include a documented understanding of the data set-to-action translation and a method to regularly test the system to validate it meets legal and regulatory requirements. When the algorithm informing your AI is hidden in a “Black Box”, this can prove difficult.

It might be time to evaluate your firm’s use of AI in its supervision policies. If in the course of your review, you have any questions on AI and how to prepare for a regulatory audit feel free to reach out to your Hearsay account team to help.

The Shift from Sales Push to Marketing Pull, for Advisor & Agent Success – Part 1

It’s hard to remember that just 10 years ago, smart phones were not the norm. Most people weren’t on LinkedIn. Marketing was relatively simple, focusing on press releases, collateral like brochures, and advertising. Sales was pretty straightforward too. Selling financial services and insurance primarily involved cold calling to set up in-person seminars and meetings.

Fast forward to today. Usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites has exploded. Everyone has a mobile device and everyone ‘Googles’ when they’re thinking of buying something. People research their options and go into even their first sales conversations as an educated buyer. At the same time, government regulators around the world have stepped up their privacy protections which make cold calling much more difficult for salespeople.

Over the last decade, these new consumer behaviors, technologies, and restrictions in consumer privacy have led to the shifts summarized below.

Four Fundamental Shifts in Selling

  1. Sales people are trusted advisors, cultivating professional networks over an entire career. Cold calling is a thing of the past.
  2. Selling is all about attracting clients using educational content. Sellers are partners and problem solvers. 
  3. Digital analytics arm salespeople with intelligence about who to engage with, what they are interested in, and when to engage them. No more blind ‘call downs.’
  4. Engagement across a multitude of digital channels is necessary to acquire and build client relationships, (rather than in-person events, especially now), and allows salespeople to scale like never before.

The Power of Sales & Marketing Collaboration

These shifts have pushed once separate sales and marketing organizations toward an essential partnership for success. Webcasts, white papers, research reports, and blog posts are the thought leadership and credibility magnets that get prospects interested in engaging with organizations. Sales teams depend on marketing for this content and the behavioral analytics to know when to engage with who and on what channel.

In the video, watch Hearsay’s co-founder and executive chairperson, Clara Shih, walk through these shifts and their impact on today’s sales funnel.

The Impact of Technology on Compliance Program Maturity

With newsworthy financial services regulations such as the Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines and Regulation Best Interest (RegBI), RegTech has recently come to the forefront. The reality is that technology has been rapidly evolving for some time to provide compliance professionals with the ability to leverage solutions designed to accelerate their programs. Yet, frustratingly, not all programs have taken full advantage of the technology available to them.  While the hurdles to adoption may vary from organization to organization, the impact of not fully utilizing the technology available to an organization are profound.

NAVEX, a consultancy that has specialized in assessing the intersection of technology and compliance, recently took a closer look at this matter in their 2020 Definitive Risk & Compliance Benchmark Report. The report delivers a number of important insights focused on the maturity of a compliance program by measuring how sophisticated, entrenched, and embedded a program is inside its organization. I’ve summarized highlights below:

  • The technology spend for organizations surveyed largely fell within consistent bounds across maturity levels. This is an important insight: the difference between maturity levels was attributable to the focus of their budget spend: lower maturity programs spent on manual processes, while high maturity programs focused on technology innovation.
  • Across the board, programs that were “Maturing” or “Advanced” were more likely to report “good” or “excellent” performance in all areas of the program, including trust, performance, outcomes and integrations with the business.
  • Less mature programs were often seen as “necessary evils,” while those that were more advanced were more likely to be seen as “partners” to an organization.
  • In addition, more mature programs typically had a higher level of trust and typically had a more substantial seat at the table for decision making in the organization.

Our takeaway? Organizations can achieve better partnerships between their business and compliance teams, increasing the levels of trust and performance of compliance, by refocusing their budgets on technology that eliminates manual processes.

There are a multitude of other important findings in the report, so I would encourage you to take a look through it. If it sparks any ideas or questions, please feel free to reach out to your Hearsay account team to drive a deeper discussion on the impact to your program.

How Compliance Can Build a Sustainable Partnership with the Business

Innovation in financial services brings its own unique challenges for compliance, notably, how to support these efforts while vigilantly complying with regulations. Having navigated these circumstances at leading global firms like RBC and Barclays, our Compliance Strategy Principal, Iain Duke-Richardet, sat down with me recently to discuss how compliance can build a sustainable partnership with the business.

William: Iain, there’s a common perception that compliance is inherently at odds with the business or growth strategies in technology issues. What do you think lies behind that?

Iain: Will, I think that’s a great question. In truth, Compliance did earn this reputation through a generation of compliance officers who said no to any ask, even the most reasonable ones. Compliance doesn’t necessarily trust easily; it wants to see and touch and confirm that controls do in fact operate as designed, and therefore the organization is not facing supplemental risk. Change can therefore be challenging because it demands an assessment of those controls, and even an adjustment without always necessarily knowing the precise outcome. It requires some degree of flexibility in a field that is all about inflexible rules and regulations.

More recently, though, and certainly in my own experience, compliance functions are increasingly interested in technology and innovation. In fact, in some circumstances, compliance may actually be driving that conversation. The response to both growth and technology has pivoted from a reflexive no to, at the very least, a ‘let’s discuss it.’

William: Quite the evolution. In your experience, when have you seen the partnership between Compliance and the business work best?

Iain: This is going to seem fairly straight forward, but the partnership between Compliance and the business is one that calls for both groups to understand each other’s priorities. Too often, the partnership doesn’t work because Compliance is not willing to consider the business’ needs or the business is coming to Compliance with too broad an ask. The business wants to sell or develop widgets or provide the service, and compliance is focused on the controls that minimize any risk to the organization. So the partnership really works best when compliance has an opportunity to assess the business’ outcome and the business tailors outcomes to align with any limitations that already exist. If the business objective is designed with absolutely no controls, they’re unlikely to receive a great deal of support from the compliance function.

William: So putting it into practice today, what are some initial steps or next steps that firms could take towards building this cohesive partnership between Compliance and the business?

Iain: I think a lot of the progressive organizations have taken a couple of steps in terms of building this partnership. One of those is to bring a compliance partner into the early stages of a business project, sometimes even as early as the actual ideation. Given that opportunity, a compliance partner can flag early in the exercise any kind of risk or hurdles that may lurk, which then means that those can be addressed throughout the planning, development, and execution. So rather than the business coming with everything prepared, having put a lot of work into an exercise, with compliance seeing it for the first time right before launch, the groups are actually aligned and both have skin in the game to see it succeed. As part of this process, I think it’s always helpful when business and compliance come together to learn about the technologies that underlie the desired outcomes; again, they’re working together.

The other step that I’ve seen organizations take is cross functional training and education. So if the Compliance team understands and has a little bit more exposure to the business, as well as the business stakeholders having more exposure and understanding of the compliance framework, the impact is that the functions can actually appreciate each other’s objectives and work towards them and within them as opposed to coming at each other focused only on their own side of things.

In Summary:

  • To strike a balance between innovation and compliance, it’s critical to insert Compliance directly into the ideation or strategy phase.
  • Too often teams put ideas in front of business leaders without vetting with Compliance first, which inevitably leads to challenges down the road with compliance.
  • As new ideas, technologies, and campaigns are ideated, firms should naturally confer and align with Compliance before presenting to the business. One way to systematically ensure this happens is to instill dedicated partners cross-functionally, for instance nominating a compliance technology partner.

The Last Mile of Insurance: Keynote at InsureTech Connect 2020 #ITC

In the last five years, InsureTech Connect (or ITC, as it’s commonly known), has rapidly grown into the largest gathering of insurance innovators. Last year, our team joined the event in person with over 7,000 attendees in Las Vegas, and launched the Hearsay-Guidewire Connector. This year, of course, the event has gone virtual and we are so excited that our founder and Executive Chair Clara Shih is being featured in the keynote fireside chat with Guardian Life CEO Andrew McMahon.

Most insurance companies had focused most of their digital investments on automation and self-service, and in the pandemic, we’ve seen how the time has come to equally leverage digital to rearchitect how the field works and to strengthen rather than replace human connection. Using Hearsay as the front-end between agents and customers, companies are redistributing marketing and servicing work to corporate teams to allow reps to focus on value-added selling and relationship activities.

InsureTech Connect CEO and co-founder Jay Weintraub moderated a powerful, exciting conversation between Andrew and Clara. Here are some of the key insights and takeaways:

  1. Guardian Life has been in existence since 1860. They are celebrating 160 years this year. Covid is not the first global crisis Guardian has had to navigate. They’ve been able to apply lessons learned from previous pandemics including the 1918 Spanish flu and world wars to navigating the uncertainties of this year and maintain the long view of what needs to be done.
  2. Technology is disrupting every aspect of the insurance value chain from product and underwriting to marketing, distribution, and claims. As an insurance executive, it can feel daunting and hard to know where to start. But one area matters most: what customers experience. The most effective digital transformations start with the customer. Not what the carrier ideally hopes the customer will experience, but what the customer actually experiences– the last mile. Not customer surveys, but actually solving customer needs when and how they want. Start there, and the priorities will become clear.
  3. So-called personalization today doesn’t feel very personal. Has anyone ever gotten an automated email and thought to themselves how special it is and that it was uniquely made for them? Relationship advisors play a very important role. Life insurance is still very much sold, not bought, the vast majority of the time.
  4. Combining the authentic human relationship with a trusted expert with digital scale will allow advisors to maintain ongoing touch points with customers– which is increasingly important both for retention and cross-sell and also for regulatory reasons, such as RegBI. In the past, there were too many insurance customers who never heard from their agent again after the initial transaction.
  5. There is a role for direct-to-consumer and also intermediated channels. Today, most carriers approach each channel in a siloed manner. A unified last-mile engagement layer will allow carriers to blend digital, contact center, and field channels in a frictionless way for customers.

For centuries, the insurance category has played a critical role in helping businesses and families survive the hardest of times. In the past seven months, we’ve seen unprecedented human connection take place on our platforms between agents and advisors and their customers– and all signs point to this authentic digital engagement sustaining well beyond the pandemic. Thanks to Jay and ITC for featuring Hearsay this year, and thank you to Andrew and Guardian Life for being one of our boldest, most forward-thinking customers!

Clara Shih on The Big Reveal, with Suzanne Siracuse

We were excited to hear about Suzanne Siracuse’s new podcast, The Big Reveal, which aims to bring personal interviews with wealth management industry innovators and leaders to life. Suzanne, founder and former longtime CEO and Publisher of InvestmentNews, is herself an influential leader in the wealth management industry, and we were thrilled when she invited Hearsay founder Clara Shih to be her launch guest speaker along with Michael Kitces, George Nichols, and Bill Crager.

Here’s a link to Clara’s recent conversation with Suzanne, with a few excerpts highlighted below:

Suzanne: Clara, we met four years ago when I interviewed you at the InvestmentNews Women Advisor Summit.  I have to admit I was in awe of your background… You graduated from Stanford with undergraduate and Master’s degrees in computer science. You were an early employee at Google, then joined Salesforce.com. In 2007, you saw the rising tide of social media and became famous for creating the first business application on Facebook, known as “Faceforce.” Then you founded Hearsay Social, now Hearsay Systems, where you served as CEO for 11 years until one month ago. With all those successes, I found you to be warm, generous, and personable, and you were a huge hit with the many advisors who attended that summit.

Clara: Thank you, Suzanne. My family came to this country in the 1980s with not very much, and I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had. In my life, I have always tried to dream big and take risks. Some have worked out well. I’m thankful to have met inspiring partners and leaders like you along the way!

Suzanne: So let’s talk about your recent announcement.  You recently moved into the role of Executive Chair and promoted your COO Mike Boese to CEO.  Whenever a high profile leader leaves the top spot, there’s always speculation on why. Can you take us through this decision and why now?

Clara: After 11 years, it was time. I know you know, having been the founder of InvestmentNews, and those of you watching who have built your own business know that being the founding CEO takes everything you have– every day, every hour, every weekend, every ounce of your being.

Last December I let the board know I needed to start thinking about a longer-term transition. In Q1, I met Mike, and here was someone who has started companies and scaled companies to hundreds of million in revenue and loved our mission and culture, then COVID happened and I realized the transition could happen much sooner.

Suzanne: Do you think the pandemic accelerated your timeline?

Clara: There is no question. During crises, we see what leaders are made of. Mike rose to the occasion and truly impressed me and the entire board of directors with his compassionate leadership, incredible work ethic, and commitment to our customers. On a personal level, the pandemic for me, like many people, has been a time of reflection and soul-searching. Over the summer, I realized the time had come after 11 years for me to take a break, spend time with my family, and try something new, with the peace of mind that Hearsay would be in great hands.

Suzanne: Over the summer, before you announced your new role, you and Mike co-led a major deal with Salesforce in which they took an equity share in Hearsay.  This deal showcased an important strategic alignment between Hearsay and Salesforce marrying Salesforce’s CRM and Hearsay’s social and digital engagement capabilities. It was big news in our industry.  Tell me how that all came together.

Clara: Our partnership has been driven by market forces – compliant digital engagement and CRM need to come together in service of the customer. Customers of both companies kept asking us to work more closely together on integrations, customers like Fidelity, Prudential, Morgan Stanley. So it was really just formalizing what was already happening naturally in the market to better serve what advisors need.

The amazing thing is there are now multiple phases of digital transformation which have been made possible thanks to this partnership. It’s not just about digital marketing. It’s completely rearchitecting how advisors spend their time and leverage analytics in every part of running their practice. The implications are tremendous, more than many people realize.

Phase 1. Contact and data sync

Phase 2. Workflow

Phase 3. Routing

Phase 4. Automation

Suzanne: While both Salesforce and Hearsay are giants in serving large brokerage firms and independent broker dealers, you have not made as much traction in the RIA space, though you do count Marty Bicknell and Mariner as a client. Are RIAs an area you are looking to expand into?

Clara: There’s no question we need to serve RIAs. They are a critical and growing segment in wealth management, and it’s a matter of when, not if. That said, I’m a big believer in focus, and timing and sequencing expansion– this is why Hearsay doesn’t sell technology to life sciences or tech companies. We have always been laser-focused on wealth management and financial services firms with relationship managers. When it comes to RIAs, we have a lot of learning to do. I’d like to learn from as many people as I can. Thinking about new markets and segments such as RIAs and international geos is one key area I’ll be focused on as Executive Chair.

Suzanne: Social media, which was the primary area Hearsay specialized in when you started the company in 2009, has become “not a nice to have” way to communicate but almost an essential way to communicate.  You were ahead of your time!  What gave you the idea to create Hearsay and the category of social selling in the first place?

Clara: Back in 2009, Facebook and LinkedIn had just launched and usage was growing at an exponential rate. A friend of mine was just starting out as an advisor, had no clients, and was just cold calling. I couldn’t believe how inefficient and ineffective it was. It dawned on me that every step of the sales relationship cycle, was going to get totally transformed by social and digital forces and that a solution was needed to bring business focus to social media. We started with social signals – money-in-motion life events being shared on social networks (the “hear” part of Hearsay), as well as social drip campaigns and 1-1 messages (the “say” part of Hearsay), and of course all of the compliance elements which are table stakes in wealth management.

Suzanne: Since then, Hearsay has made some big moves into adjacent client engagement areas, such as your compliant text messaging solution and new Hearsay Actions platform. How have you seen digital help advisors with their business development and client engagement efforts?

Clara: In every industry, technology is completely transforming how we need to work. In wealth management, this manifests as advisors focusing more of their time on value-added relationship acquisition and deepening activities. On the surface, Hearsay appears to be compliant text messaging and social selling. In reality, what Hearsay really is, is a way to automate and route marketing demand generation and client servicing tasks.

Suzanne: How has COVID changed the way Hearsay is working with clients and how advisors use Hearsay?

Clara: We’ve seen unprecedented usage of our platform since March. It’s been very uplifting to see how advisors have stepped up like never before to be there for clients when it really counts. From Hearsay’s perspective, the shift to remote work has been very seamless given we were already set-up with zoom, texting, social, and digital engagement tools pre-pandemic. With everyone stuck at home, we’ve tried to get creative in finding ways for human connection despite not being able to meet face-to-face, such as sending a supply box to everyone ahead of our largest-ever customer summit in May, or more recent virtual dinners where we have the same meal and bottle of wine delivered to a client as what we’re having so that we can still break bread together and have a slower conversation outside the hustle and bustle of back-to-back meetings.

Congratulations to Suzanne for the launch of her new podcast, and thank you for featuring Clara and Hearsay!

Regulatory Scrutiny of Client Engagement is Here – Are You Ready?

In light of a recent SEC penalty, now is not the time to rely purely on policy.

As part of my role with Hearsay, I am frequently asked for compelling Compliance-grounded reasons why customers might contract our products and services. In the past, a recitation of the relevant rule and laws, in conjunction with reference to regulatory smite, was sufficient to sway any customer. Recently, however, the underlying motives behind this conversation seem to have shifted. It seems the relative cost of a compliant product and service – usually measured by the license fee, without consideration to the benefit of the product and service – is being weighed against the likelihood, or severity, of regulatory censure. This is a worrying development. Since regulatory frameworks typically don’t prescribe how firms comply with the obligations, some have increasingly shifted responsibility to the employee, adopting a policy prohibiting certain activity, but not actually monitoring results that regulators have become more adept at testing for.

This approach may reflect the softening of regulatory censure for non-compliant communication in the email, texting and social media messaging channels, with penalties decreasing in size and frequency. Over-indexing on this trend, however, strikes me as concerning. In just a few short months, brokers and advisors went from meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant or attending an event, to maintaining those relationships digitally from their home. In order to adjust to the world of social distancing, market participants have had to rethink their engagement model to adapt to new realities. The uptick in the use of social media and text messaging is significant, Hearsay observed a 300% spike in digital communications since the onset of the global pandemic.

The adaptations of market participants – as well as ill-intentioned individuals – has not gone unnoticed to regulators who have issued myriad alerts, FAQs and guidance to protect investors and remind organizations of their obligations. This can be viewed as both a warning and an opportunity. To prepare for what I believe to be a more stringent environment around texting, firms should be looking at the controls they have for their social media and electronic communications programs, assessing whether the channels being used by their employees are permitted, being used effectively, and are compliant with their organizations’ regulatory obligations. It’s only a matter of time before regulatory sweeps start focusing on remote electronic communications.

For those firms that already permit, with controls, engagement on social media and through text messaging, now is the time to assess whether their programs and controls remain effective and adequately address regulatory obligations as well as pandemic related adjustments. Those that are relying on a policy to prohibit control must assess whether the policy is sufficient and to extensively test – remediating and sanctioning where necessary – the effectiveness of the prohibition. Case in point –  just recently the SEC levied a $100,000 penalty for over-reliance on policy and non-technical controls, such as attestations. This is indicative that such an approach can leave firms with a false sense of security regarding their texting program.

Regulatory scrutiny of such programs is already in progress and examiners have extensive tooling and a broad set of lenses by which to evaluate compliance (i.e., approved users/channels; content quality; required pre-approvals; extent & adequacy of post-review processes; accuracy & completeness of records made and retained). Given the rapid growth in the use of these channels, it does not seem unreasonable to expect a resurgence in the frequency and, for the most egregious cases, the size of penalties imposed by regulatory agencies in the ensuing months and years. As such, now does not strike me as the time to rely solely on a policy prohibiting certain activity, nor to ask whether implementing technical controls would be deemed a reasonable approach. Now is the time to ensure you have the appropriate solutions, processes, and expertise in place to confidently empower your field in a time when digital client engagement is table stakes.

Career Tips for Difficult Times: Founders’ Perspectives

The Wall Street Journal held a virtual Jobs Summit recently where Clara Shih, Founder & Executive Chairwoman of Hearsay was interviewed alongside Kenneth Lin, Founder & CEO of CreditKarma. Michelle Ma, WSJ Assistant Editor, Live Journalism, dug into what they learned from the 2008 recession, which was the time period both Shih and Lin founded companies.

Over ten years later, here we are again. As CEOs who have weathered difficult times and hired their fair share of candidates over the years, they had some excellent advice for those who find themselves unemployed, like so many Americans today.

If you missed the live event, here are the highlights.

Every job teaches a skill

Lin suggested that every job can build your skillset. He shared that he once had a job as a dialer for stockbrokers. This involved a stack of index cards with names and phone numbers on them and dialing all day with the goal of getting those people on the phone. Though it may have seemed like a trivial role, he learned how to be more confident on the phone; a valuable skill.

The lesson? Even a job you may not be excited about is teaching you something. If you end up taking a position that’s not perfect to put food on the table, look for what you can learn and make the most of the job you have. Then when you interview for your next role, present what you learned.

Hustle and other top skills in demand, today and beyond

Everyone knows times are tough and what was relatively easy 6 months ago takes real work in today’s virtual, budget-conscious world. That’s why when Clara’s hiring these days she’s looking for someone with hustle, which she defines as someone who knows how to get creative, get things done, and take risks. Number two for Shih is empathy/EQ and knowing how to connect with people in a remote setting.

Lin shared that passion is one of his key criteria. When times are tough, what pulls people through is when they love what they do. He said he knows sometimes it’ll just be a paycheck, but if you have a choice, pick the job you love.

In terms of skills based on experience (hard skills), Shih suggested that the ability to connect with customers, writing code/engineering, and being able to write (content, copywriting, etc.) are always in demand.

Mine LinkedIn for Hidden Career Advice

Have you been using LinkedIn to re-establish dormant connections and see how the people you admire got where they are? If not, it’s time to get your LinkedIn hustle on.

When Ma mentioned that Clara has said LinkedIn is a blessing for job-seekers, Clara enthusiastically talked about the ability to look at the career paths of people you admire and see how they’ve gotten to where you want to be—what did they study, what certifications do they have, what kind of experience do they have? Take this opportunity to map the next steps you want to take in your career. Then invest in yourself and get the skills you need to take the next steps.

Valuable advice from a mentor

Randy Komisar, a prominent Silicon Valley attorney, executive, and author was a professor of Shih’s at Stanford. Like many college seniors, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do once she graduated. When she asked him how to think about her career, he told her that if she wanted a big career in tech, she needed to build up generally valuable skill sets, including these three things:

Ship a new product end-to-end: conception, design, prototype, iteration, shipping, launch, continuous lifecycle
Customer experience skills (sales, account management, etc.)
Learn how to manage people

Resume vs. referral: what’s more powerful?

Someone in the audience asked how many people are hired based solely on a resume versus a referral. Shih and Lin agreed here; referrals are preferable. Shih pointed out that this speaks to the importance of networks (another point in favor of re-connecting if it’s been a while!), while Lin mentioned that referrals have higher close rates. Shih also noted, however, that a referral only gets someone in the door; they still have to earn the job. Both do extensive reference checks and interviewees speak with multiple people within the company before being offered a position.

Keep going!

This has been a hard year and there are lots of smart people out there looking for their next role. Aside from the excellent advice they shared for job seekers, Shih and Lin also shared the truth behind start-up life, which can serve as excellent inspiration to keep going through the tough times. A start up founder and CEO, during a recession or not, gets knocked down over and over again. CreditKarma almost ran out of money three times; Shih cleaned the office along with her CEO/product manager/designer/you name it duties. For 99% of start-ups, it can take years of grit and determination before making it. The big secret? Just keep going!

We currently have a number of open positions at Hearsay, so take a look at the Careers page and let us know if there’s a match.