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The Department of Labor (DOL) recently finalized the rules that address conflicts of interest by financial advisers in providing retirement advice to consumers. The rule describes the kinds of communications that would constitute investment advice and types of relationships in which those communications would trigger fiduciary investment advice responsibilities. These communications are referred to as “covered investment advice.” But there are types of communications not covered that offer huge opportunity for innovation in capturing customer mind share.

The DOL rules have sent life insurance and retirement marketers into a panic to calculate where the line is drawn in their conversations that could trigger fiduciary responsibility. And the urgency is justified: The penalties for breaching fiduciary duty include restoring all losses incurred during the fiduciary relationship.

Green Light for Education

One of the types of communication that does not trigger fiduciary responsibilities is education, because ostensibly educational content does not provide recommendations, but only knowledge. The Department of Labor believes that “education about retirement savings and general financial and investment information is beneficial and helpful to plans, plan participants, and IRA owners, (as long as) the content doesn’t broach a level of recommendation as defined in the final rule.” So education sounds like the new champion of financial marketing, right?

There’s only one rub: Education doesn’t exactly sizzle with excitement or entice with engagement.

Edutainment: An Engaging Tool for Financial Marketing

Edutainment can improve engagement for financial education.

Edutainment can improve engagement for financial education.

Learning through entertainment dates back to Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack that amused and instructed colonists with its mix of maxims, weather forecasts, math lessons and puzzles.  The term “edutainment” was coined by The Walt Disney Company in 1948 to introduce the True Life Adventure series. In the 1990’s Bill Nye The Science Guy was immortalized by his quirky and fun TV show that became a modern-day model for edutainment. And in the 2000’s even brainiac physicists like Brian Greene were able to convey concepts as complex as String Theory to the masses with his “edutaining” mini-series.

Today, though edutainment is used widely in applications targeting early learners in kindergarten and elementary school, it isn’t fully leveraged in adult learning, especially in the financial industry. Maybe it’s because the financial industry has been driven to solemnity by regulation.  Maybe because it has a reputation for gravitas.  Maybe it’s time for a change.

Today, web video has opened up an insatiable channel for video on demand and programming limited only by the imagination. The convergence of this technology breakthrough, the DOL endorsement of education as a strategy to delay triggers, and the public’s growing appetite for “alternative” content, clearly cry for innovation.

The application of “edutainment” is one innovative and engaging way to leverage these trends. Creative content strategies such as this can help retirement product and service brands prosper throughout the DOL rule era by helping producers snap out of panic and get comfortable with doing business as usual, with a few modifications.

Adding interactive layers to entertaining videos enable a “create your own adventure” platform. Likewise, using guided path learning strategies with video and animation can provide deep engagement and effective learning.

A couple new video content formats along these lines include:

  • Short-form video series focusing on individual typical consumer financial situations within various stage/life style segments. How do they deal with it? How would viewers differ in their approach. How are decisions made and what is the model for the adviser to act in the customer’s best interest?
  • Brand sponsored dramatic comedy (“dramedy”) web video series starring life-stage specific cast with a central theme around financial crises, decisions, and resolution. Real life financial situations aren’t neatly bundled into categories. Instead, they are a complex combination of personalities, habits, early learnings, past behaviors, and events. A faux reality series like this could engage at the entertainment level, identify with consumers at the situational level, and provide real solutions by example of success.

Edutainment ideas for financial literacy are endless. In fact, this approach could be an entire cultural initiative for financial brands wanting to build intimate relationships with consumers before crossing the fiduciary threshold. The bottom line is getting your stakeholders to realize it’s pretty simple. They just have to do the right thing for the customer. Only now they’ll have a bit more “CYA” work to do in the process.

GroPartners Consulting video edutainment platform addresses these opportunities with subject matter expertise in financial products and services, relevant wit, and cinematic quality.

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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from Amazon.com.