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Affiliate Marketing Compliance For Fintechs & Banks: A How-To Guide

  • Last Updated: March 12, 2024

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If you’re an affiliate manager concerned with your affiliate program marketing compliance, it’s likely you’re:

  • Looking for ways to vet affiliate partners to ensure they’re legitimate.
  • Wanting to understand the best way to manage the compliance risk of your affiliate partners’ content. 
  • Searching for a tool that can help you monitor affiliate marketing compliance more easily as you scale your program.
  • Experiencing pushback from compliance teams to expand partnerships.

Managing the compliance risk of your affiliate marketing program is about ensuring your partners’ content adheres to regulatory rules and your brand’s standards so you can protect your reputation and customer trust and avoid fines from regulators. 

Although various industries need to ensure their affiliate programs are compliant, the financial services sector is particular. Fintechs and banks need to keep up with frequently changing regulations, fluctuations in product offerings, rates and offers, and the need for more trustworthy customer experiences that comply with consumer protection laws.  

At Fintel Connect, we help financial services companies set up, manage and grow the affiliate marketing channel. A big part of that is managing compliance risk. In this article, we’ll be focusing on how to maintain compliance in your affiliate program if you’re a bank, or financial services company. 

Specifically, we’ll be talking about:

  1. The risks of non-compliant practices in your financial services affiliate marketing program
  2. How to ensure your affiliate program stays compliant 
  3. How to maintain compliance with Fintel Connect
  4. How a tool like Fintel Check works in a real life situation

Are you a financial services company looking for support in keeping your affiliate program compliant? Reach out to us to learn more about how we can help you.

 

The risks of non-compliant practices in your financial services affiliate marketing program

The reason affiliate marketing can be such an effective way to acquire customers is that it’s a scalable word-of-mouth channel. Consumers turn to people or outlets they trust, like YouTubers, bloggers, social media influencers, and publishers, to get recommendations for products.

This is especially true for financial products, which belong to an industry that’s highly regulated for consumer protection, where trust in the person or publication giving the recommendation is even more important. Providing accurate information is essential for building and maintaining trust in the brand, the publisher and anyone involved in a financial product’s promotion. This is why customers are more likely to lean on people and outlets they deem reliable or with relevant expertise to help them in their decision-making around money. 

So, creating a trustworthy affiliate program for financial services is crucial from the start. If you’re starting or scaling your affiliate program, you may want to be aware of two aspects that, if not managed appropriately, can impact even the most long-standing reputations and customer loyalty: fraudulent marketing activity from bad actors and non-compliant content from your affiliate partners

Dealing with fraud from bad actors

You may have heard of, or even encountered, unethical practices from bad actors within affiliate marketing. These are fraudsters who:

  • Claim to manage a website that they don’t.
  • Create fake accounts or use bots to commit click fraud or artificially increase traffic and sign-ups. 
  • Send you high volumes of low-quality applications.

Fraudsters can even misrepresent your financial product and brand if they think it will boost their conversion rates. The major risks of not identifying fraudulent affiliates before you start working with them can include paying excessive commissions for poor-quality results, suffering legal action from misleading endorsements, harming your brand’s reputation, and losing customer trust. 

Another affiliate practice you may want to be careful with is working with publishers that have non-transparent sub-affiliate partners or networks. In cases like this, your partners may be  running placements in places you don’t necessarily want your brand to appear. If they’re using sub affiliates, these URLs will be harder to track, making adhering to compliance more difficult. 

Non-compliant content from legitimate affiliate partners

More commonly, you’ll work with legitimate affiliate partners, both within and outside the financial services space. They typically spend years building a loyal audience to generate stable followers or traffic and an income, so it’s unlikely they would risk jeopardizing their audience trust with bad marketing practices. These are partners who are used to working with financial brand guidelines and adhering to compliance needs. However, like with anything, human error and miscommunication can occur and result in non compliance.

This type of non compliance is easy to avoid if you’re managing a handful of affiliates in your channel. However, once you’ve onboarded multiple affiliate partners, it’s a lot harder to control and monitor a greater volume of affiliate activity and catch any non-compliant content. This can lead to regulators flagging your affiliate’s content and scrutinizing your company more frequently. But most importantly, non-compliance to regulatory requirements can erode customer trust when it becomes public knowledge.

Considering these uncertainties, what are the best ways to manage the compliance risk of your affiliate program? Here are three different ways you can maintain compliance of your affiliate marketing practices:

How to ensure your affiliate program stays compliant

1. Manually find, vet and manage affiliate partners

You can manage the channel manually if you’re in the early stages of your affiliate marketing journey. A do-it-yourself approach can be a good way to test the affiliate marketing channel, as it allows you to explore different messaging and types of partners before scaling.

Manually vetting new affiliates allows you to personally choose and reach out to the publishers, bloggers, YouTubers and other partners you want to work with. You may already know if potential affiliate partners are legitimate and are a good fit for your brand if they are renowned and long standing, like NerdWallet or Bankrate. 

One downside here is that you’ll be the one setting up all the separate legal agreements, payment methods and tracking for each affiliate partner, which can be time consuming. Another downside is if you’re new to affiliate marketing compliance, you may not be able to spot fraudulent accounts easily. 

Manually controlling and monitoring the content your partners create can work at the beginning, but quickly gets resource intensive, especially after you onboard more than a few affiliates. You’ll have to manually search all the pages where you’re mentioned and make sure each has the right product information and messaging. This also means taking your own screenshots, storing the data, and regularly checking affiliate partners’ content to ensure it remains compliant over time (i.e., changing interest rates). 

Once you scale to more than a handful of affiliate partners, that’s when it can make sense to implement affiliate management tools.

2. Use an affiliate network for finding affiliates

Once you’re ready to scale, you may consider joining an affiliate network or platform to help find more affiliates. You may find platforms with thousands of affiliates and the technology to allow you to track performance marketing. Usually, you join the platform, add details explaining what type of affiliates you’re looking for and will then start receiving applications from affiliates that want to work with you as well as reach out to affiliates you want to work with.

Although this may seem efficient, many platforms may not audit the partners that join their network. That means anyone can create an account, which is how you can end up with hundreds of applications from low-quality affiliate sites. These might be fraudsters creating fake accounts that trigger commissions, spoofing and using fake-click data that isn’t legitimate. This setup also makes it easy to miss the legitimate partners you may want to work with. 

Within these platforms, there may even be affiliates who don’t have experience working with financial services, and know nothing about maintaining compliance and adhering to certain regulatory rules. If you plan on using an affiliate network, make sure you have the right team in place to filter through the applications and find suitable and legitimate partners.

3. Use a PR tool for monitoring content

Once you find legitimate partners, you can also use a tool to monitor their content and manage compliance risk. One option that financial brands often use is a PR tool that will monitor and track all the pages that mention the brand name. These tools typically crawl the web and their main use case is for brand monitoring, integrity, and public relations.

Although using a PR tool is more effective than doing this manually, you might end up with a lot of data points that may not be relevant for compliance monitoring. For example, as a financial services company, technically you are only responsible for third-party content, where you have a commercial relationship with the affiliate partner. But PR tools will share all the content where you’re mentioned, making it difficult to focus on the content that you really care about. This means you may also need to hire additional team members to manage sizable data, making it a more expensive option.

If your priority is marketing compliance for financial services, you may want a tool that can monitor the specific URLs you care about, as well as set up specific rules that will automatically tell you if the content is compliant or not.

4. Fintel Connect: a finserv affiliate marketing tool with built-in compliance monitoring

At Fintel Connect, we operate as an all-in-one affiliate marketing platform, network, agency, and compliance engine purposely built for financial services companies. The challenges with affiliate platforms and PR tools are some of the key reasons we built Fintel Connect–a high-quality affiliate network and partner management technology.

Fintel Check is our compliance engine that allows clients like Tangerine Bank, Scotiabank and Ramp to automate the monitoring, evaluation and auditing of their affiliate partners’ campaigns and marketing materials. More importantly, the tool is specific to financial services, which allows you to focus on critical compliance issues that could have important repercussions for your brand, business, and customer trust.

How to maintain compliance with Fintel Connect

Here’s how Fintel Connect helps you manage the compliance risk of your affiliate program: 

1. Partner with vetted, high-quality affiliates

It’s hard to find high quality, legitimate affiliates to partner with if you first have to sift through hundreds of low quality applications.

At Fintel Connect, we carefully audit every single affiliate that applies to join our 5000+ partner network. We have specific technical and content requirements that affiliates have to follow to create an account on our platform. For example, we make sure their email address domain appears legitimate and matches their business domain used on their site. 

We also have specific criteria that affiliates should follow in order to join, such as whether they have experience creating financial content, their content is high quality, and they cover appropriate topics. We only allow affiliates onto the network that pass these requirements. 

That means that when you work with Fintel Connect for your affiliate marketing, you can rest assured that there is low risk of spam or fraud and that you only work with high quality, vetted affiliate partners. Our partners are also much more likely to be aware of the compliance processes and requirements needed from a financial brand.

We are also a proponent of transparent networks. We help you have greater oversight by reporting on specific referral URLs hosting campaign tracking links to give as much visibility as possible into who is promoting your brand.

Fintel Connect also makes it easy for you to keep your vetted affiliate partners’ promotional materials and campaigns up to date. You can easily and automatically inform affiliates of product information changes with a click of a button via our affiliate management platform. 

Learn how to use influencer marketing for your financial services company with Fintel Connect.

2. Monitor and apply content rules to pages so you can quickly see which content is compliant

Once you’re working with vetted affiliates, the next challenge is monitoring and maintaining compliance throughout all the content they create. This is where Fintel Check, our compliance engine, comes in.

Fintel Check allows you to specify which URLs you want to monitor, which means you won’t have to sift through every single URL mentioning your brand. You can then set specific rules that will pass or fail on certain pages, and on your dashboard you’ll be able to see at a glance which content is not compliant.

You can monitor your own website URL, as well as the URLs of any third-party website, like NerdWallet, or a fintech partner. If you’re already working with Fintel Connect for your affiliate marketing, the tool will already know where to run just by the tracking links your partners have in place.

Fintel Check will run scans and apply your rules automatically to the relevant pages or campaigns. It will also quantify the impact if a rule fails by measuring the amount of traffic, impressions and clicks a page received when it wasn’t compliant. This allows you to measure and report the potential significance if a regulator flags the content.

affiliate marketing compliance rule settings in Fintel Check

3. Store and keep records so you can find proof of compliance at all times

One of the most time-consuming parts of managing compliance risk in affiliate marketing for banks and financial services is keeping a record of the content your partners publish and maintain an audit trail to satisfy regulator inquiries.

You can now build an audit trail automatically with Fintel Check. You can automate the taking and storing of screenshots and decide the frequency of these records. This allows you to report on when a change happened, the time it remained non-compliant, and what the infringement entailed. 

It enables you to keep an audit trail which you can refer to if the regulator asks for proof of certain compliance, saving your team hours of manual work.

4. Get support setting up a compliant affiliate program

If you’re new to affiliate marketing and compliance, it can be challenging to know how to set up your program correctly from the start. What clauses should your affiliate agreements include? Which affiliates are best suited to your brand? And how can you get your compliance team to collaborate with affiliate marketing from the start?

That’s why we’re also an agency at Fintel Connect. Our financial services experts help you put your affiliate marketing strategy together, get your compliance team on board, and give recommendations on what rules to set up to monitor compliance. We’ll also help match you with high-quality affiliates on our platform who know how to work with financial services companies and that we believe will have a good return on investment as well as know how to maintain compliance for your product. 

Looking for PerformLine competitors? See how Fintel Check compares. 

How a tool like Fintel Check works in a real-life situation

A great way to understand how a tool like Fintel Check works is to see how it could have helped solve a real-life situation. In July 2023, Jason Mikula, fintech expert, wrote about how a fintech company called Maza used non-compliant language on its website.

The fintech company is based in the US and helps undocumented immigrants apply for US individual tax ID numbers. In July of 2023, the language on their homepage described the product as a “banking service” and “banking platform”. However, it wasn’t clear these services were from their banking partner, Blue Ridge

Maza example of lack of affiliate marketing compliance

Image: Screencap of Maza’s site as of 6/28/2023 (via Fintech Business Weekly)

They also made other claims such as “no hidden fees” and that users can “open accounts in minutes.” Jason explains in the newsletter that the website clearly violated compliance rules. The compliance risk here lay with Blue Ridge, the banking partner and license holder.

With Fintel Check, Blue Ridge would have been able to immediately identify these violations on the Maza website. They would have used Fintel Check to set up rules that would monitor for words like “hidden fees” “IRS” or “Department of Treasury.” The tool would flag it, and the Blue Ridge compliance team would have been able to proactively identify and resolve the content issues with Maza before the regulators did. 

Affiliate program compliance: have processes in place to help vet affiliates and monitor their content

If you’re looking to manage the compliance risk of your affiliate marketing, make sure you’re focusing on both:

  • Vetting the affiliates and ensuring they are legitimate and high quality.
  • Monitoring their content so you can maintain customer trust.

If you’re just starting out, it makes sense to do this manually. But as you scale your program, make sure you use tools that make your job easier and are built specifically for your needs. 

Reach out to us to learn more about how to get help with maintaining compliance in your affiliate program through Fintel Connect.

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