PANC 2010: Technology and the Modern Adviser

Whether it’s fear of “teenyboppers” or compliance issues, plan advisers have many questions related to social media and networking sites.   

At the PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando, plan advisers were able to listen and ask questions to peers who have “seen the light” when it comes to how social media can be leveraged within the financial services industry.

Teenagers are on Facebook – why should I be? 

One of the two biggest concerns regarding social media is simply, “What’s the point?” It’s true that Facebook started as a Web site for college kids, and the verb “to tweet” sounds absurd–but the panelists told the audience to move past these negative connotations. It’s all about creating an online presence or “footprint.” 

Jim Stueve, President of Ridgeworth Investments, asked the audience to think of any age demographic–were they using Google five to ten years ago?Probably not.And now, no one can live without it. He predicts the same will happen to Facebook.   

Think of it as the next step in “Googleization,” said John Stone, Founder and President of Revenue Architects.“No one walks into a store and buys a flat-screen TV anymore, first you research your choices online. Same with the financial industry,” he said.

And when someone does an online search for financial advisers in your region–you want to be sure your firm appears in the results.It’s called maximizing your visibility online, or SEO–“search engine optimization.” And there are certain things you can do to ensure your firm gets the attention it deserves.

The panelists suggested that the first place advisers should go to build an online presence is LinkedIn.  Henry Yoshida, a retirement plan adviser with the Maresh Yoshida 401(k) Group, said he uses LinkedIn much more than Facebook or Twitter, referring to it as his “hub.” 

“It’s my way to stay in touch with industry folks and to prospect for clients. I probably know more people online than in the real world,” he said.   


He pointed out that the average age of a LinkedIn user is 41, and that although the site might not help you actually get a new client, it will help you indentify the right people in a company who you can then reach out to. Most importantly, as long as you use key words when writing your profile, your LinkedIn page has a good chance of coming up in a web search.   

Once you have a LinkedIn profile, Yoshida and the other panelists also suggest having a Facebook profile.However, they did differ slightly on the best way to approach it.   

Yoshida says to keep it focused on your business, rather than going back and forth between business and your personal life.Stone, on the other hand, says you can talk about anything on your Facebook page to start up a conversation, and then you can weave in your business.  No matter which approach you take, you can also make a “profile page” specifically for your business, which would include a link to your company’s Web site.And the more places your company’s Web site is posted, the more likely people are to click on it.   

This brings up the importance of having a well-designed Web site. All of these social networking tools are a part of building your online presence–and this presence needs to take viewers back to your Web site, said the panelists. 

Your Web site has to be more than just a “glorified business card,” said Yoshida, including more information than just your phone number and location, because once people have that, they would have no need to go back to it.  He suggests posting articles or writing a blog to keep the site active and interesting.   

But my compliance officer said… 

The idea of posting or commenting on online forums, or writing a blog, feels like risky territory to many financial advisers, due to compliance issues, and the panelists understood that fear.

“We’re wrestling with it,” said Yoshida, describing the way the financial industry is somewhat behind in the social networking world–not because the industry is “stupid,” but because there are rules and regulations that need to be ironed out.   


Jaime Benedetti, moderator of the panel and Owner/Financial Adviser of Benedetti, Guccer & Associates, mentioned FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulation Authority.  He said that it took FINRA a while to discuss social media, but they have recently published some guidelines. These guidelines differentiate between direct online communication (a blog), versus a public appearance (commenting on someone else’s article).  Benedetti pointed out, however, that compliance rules can vary widely from firm to firm and it’s best to confer with your compliance department before doing anything.  Yoshida said that he himself is a member of 11 professional groups on LinkedIn, but he only “receives” information and doesn’t post anything in order to “avoid that Pandora’s box” of compliance issues.

The fact remains, social networking is here to stay.  

Each panelist left the audience with several “take-aways.”

Stueve wanted the financial advisers to remember that this all comes down to search engine optimization.  Your presence online needs to be popular, relevant, and accessible, he said.  And accomplishing these things requires an investment and dedication to making your “footprint” count.   

Stone told the advisers to think about their own practice when crafting a social-networking strategy.  Are you simply trying to gain more visibility? Or are you looking for new clients?Or trying to retain old ones? Stone said there is a whole range of uses and you need to think about what’s appropriate for you.

Yoshida wanted all the advisers to go home and do a “vanity search"–Googling yourself. If you or your practice is nowhere to be seen–it’s time to get started.