January 23, 2020 by Jennifer Adkisson
The internet has opened up expansive possibilities for financial services professionals. At the same time, the decades-old world wide web still feels a bit like the wild wild west. The rules of engagement are not exactly clear, and hit-or-miss consequences for reckless and rude behaviors only add to the unpredictability of online engagement.
Complicating matters is the fact that the internet brings out strange behaviors in otherwise reasonable people. Although lapses in judgment may be temporary, they can have lasting consequences, particularly for professionals in regulated industries like financial services.
Luckily for credit union professionals, there are rules in place to help guide appropriate use of the internet. Unfortunately for credit unions, team members still have ample opportunities to make costly mistakes. Here are some of the more common ones our compliance team works with credit unions to guard against:
Not following policy: Every credit union should have a social media policy that guides the online behavior of its team members. Beyond simply having the policy in place, credit unions should be updating the document annually at a minimum and providing training on the policy each time it’s updated. New employees should be provided a copy and allowed to ask questions, particularly when it comes to social media use on their personal time. If an employee’s personal social media presence makes it clear they are on staff at a credit union, you may require them to follow the social media policy at all times.
Going it alone: A compliance officer, or another individual with specific expertise on regulations like Regulation Z and Truth in Savings, should review every, single social media and website post before it goes live. An extra set of eyes can dramatically lessen the chances of publishing inappropriate or noncompliant content online. These reviews also create ideal opportunities for “teachable moments.” It’s one thing to be aware of the rules; it’s quite another to put them into practice. A compliance expert can be a terrific educator, helping the credit union’s social media and web users perfect their tone and content over time.
Getting personal: When an individual – credit union member or not – brings a concern or a question to a credit union, it’s a best practice to respond in a timely manner. However, when that outreach happens in a public forum – say via Facebook or Twitter – two-way communication can quickly dip into tricky territory. A well-meaning team member can easily reveal too much about an individual’s personal situation. Things can become even more dangerous if the team member is feeling misunderstood or attacked. It’s a best practice to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible, explaining to the individual (and everyone else witnessing the digital discourse) that your policy requires you to speak in person or on the phone to protect the individual’s privacy.
Misunderstanding the medium: In 2013, the FFIEC issued guidance advising credit unions that all federal consumer protection and compliance laws apply to activities conducted via social media. Therefore, it’s incredibly important for credit union professionals to treat social media as they would any other form of advertising. Any social media use by a credit union is well within the scope of an examiner’s review. Posts on Facebook, for example, would be considered advertising, and would, therefore need to comply with Reg B rules that prohibit language that may discourage a reasonable person from applying for a loan.
The above pitfalls are far from an exhaustive list of potential trouble spots in the online realm. Social media and the larger web of online and mobile sites can be a terrific way to make connections with members; but, like every other form of communication these days, there are rules that must be followed. If you have any questions about the content of your messages in these mediums, our website and social media review team is ready to take your call. Give us a shout anytime.