RIA Compliance and Practice Management Blog

Can financial advisers have Google reviews? Compliance with the new SEC Marketing Rule

Posted by RIA in a Box

Mar 2, 2023 4:00:08 PM


When looking for a new product or service, most people turn to Google. It’s free, convenient and offers millions of results within a moment. In fact, it’s estimated that the search engine giant processes north of 60,000 queries each second. Luckily for registered investment advisers (RIA), a sliver of those searches are individuals on the hunt for a financial professional.

One recent study showed that 42% of people begin their search for a financial adviser with a simple Google search – significantly higher than those who reported asking friends or family members.

Even though Google offers a great connection point for advisers and prospects, firms have been historically limited in their ability to use the platform for marketing.

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But – as you’re probably aware – the SEC recently modernized its marketing rule, which now allows for the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising and marketing efforts for financial advisers. The changes officially went into effect on Mar. 4, 2021, with an effective compliance date of Nov. 4, 2022.

This has opened the door for advisers to use Google Reviews as a means of attracting prospects – but some firms are still wary of taking advantage of this new allowance. With tight regulations and steep fines for those who flout them, it’s important that advisers proceed with caution and update their policies accordingly.

Today’s blog covers the basics of Google Reviews for advisers, including what they are, how to request client reviews and – most importantly – how to remain compliant during the process.

Background on Google reviews

Google Reviews are user-generated evaluations and ratings of local businesses, products or services which are publicly displayed on Google. They are intended to help users make informed decisions by providing them with information and feedback from other customers. The reviews appear in Google search results, Google Maps and Google Business Profiles (formerly Google My Business).

These reviews can make a big difference in the buyer’s journey for your prospects. Over 80% of American adults consult online ratings and reviews when making a first-time purchase of a product or service, and almost 50% feel that customer reviews increase their confidence in a purchase.

Google Reviews can help build trust and increase your marketing reach – without costing a penny.

One thing to note: Technically, online reviews aren’t considered testimonials by the SEC, because they’re user-generated and open to the public. However, the lines are blurred when advisers interact with the reviews, either by requesting a review from their clients or directly responding to reviews on Google.

How to request Google reviews in compliance with the SEC Marketing Rule

One of the biggest regulations surrounding testimonials your firm should know is the “cherry-picking” rule.

In essence, you can’t just ask a few of your favorite clients to give their feedback – it’s all or none. To maintain compliance with this regulation, you can send out a request for testimonials via your email list. It’s easy, free and a great way to document that you’ve reached out to each and every client.

Before you begin crafting your email, grab your Google review link from your Google Business Profile. Ask your clients to click the link you shared and submit a review, rather than searching for your firm’s name on Google. This reduces any mix-ups with other companies listed under similar names, while also reducing the steps your clients will need to take.

And just like that – you’ve requested testimonials from your clients!

‘But if I request reviews from everyone, is there a chance I could get bad reviews?’

One drawback from Google reviews is that you can’t control what people will say – they could give bad feedback, which would then be listed under your firm’s public Google profile. Many advisers choose not to use testimonials at all in order to avoid getting bad reviews.

Here’s the truth: Bad reviews can (and probably will) come. When that happens, it’s best to respond to them directly, kindly and gently. Let them know you’re sorry they had a bad experience, but don’t engage with any points they try to make. Lastly, leave your email or phone number and ask them to reach out so you can speak directly.

If a review is inappropriate or otherwise against Google’s review policy, you can ask to have it removed. The policy works to minimize reviews with personal information, inappropriate content, spam or are suspected of being fake. But you should know that Google will not remove reviews just because you disagree with what someone said.

Google has gone on record saying that any reviews are better than no reviews, so even bad reviews could help increase your visibility online – but of course you want good reviews to offset them.

Updates to the SEC Marketing Rule can open the door for your firm to connect with new prospects, but it’s important to proceed with caution and document your testimonial requests along the way.

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RIA in a Box LLC is not a law firm, investment advisory firm, or CPA firm. RIA in a Box LLC does not provide legal advice or opinions to any party or client. You should always consult your relevant regulatory authorities or legal counsel if applicable.

Topics: RIA Compliance

RIA in a Box LLC is not a law firm, investment advisory firm, or CPA firm. RIA in a Box LLC does not provide legal advice or opinions to any party or client. You should always consult your relevant regulatory authorities or legal counsel if applicable.

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