NEW YORK Wall Street banks clamour to underwrite stock for social media companies like LinkedIn and Twitter, but the online networking sites are largely off limits to the banks' financial advisers.
Now, the country's largest retail brokerage, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, has become the first major wealth manager to allow its brokers partial use of Twitter.
And it is the latest wealth adviser to permit the use of LinkedIn (LNKD.N), the professional networking site that went public last week.
The change will start slowly next month with a test group of 600 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney advisers, according to an internal memo obtained by Reuters. Within six months, the program will be expanded to the firm's entire force of 17,800 advisers.
"The emergence of social media has changed the way in which people communicate with each other and companies interact with clients," Morgan Stanley Smith Barney U.S. wealth management boss Andy Saperstein said in the memo.
Communications by brokers, whether to clients or to the broader public, is closely monitored by regulators guarding against investment scams or misleading advice. Old-fashioned media like recording of telephone calls and emails are retained, archived and screened.
Yet brokerage firms grew anxious as hundreds of millions of people -- including their customers -- embraced Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as their preferred way of communicating with friends and getting information. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority last year established rules for social media use, but Wall Street has been slow to let brokers participate.
To comply with regulatory requirements, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney will install technology to capture and retain all communication on approved social networking sites, according to the memo.
Brokers will be allowed to distribute research and content, such as status updates and tweets, but only those approved in advance by the firm.
The test group includes Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's elite "Chairman's Club" brokers and about 100 advisers who have been testing use of LinkedIn. The retail brokerage is a joint venture of Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N).
A Morgan Stanley spokesman said advisers will be permitted to use interactive features of LinkedIn but will not be allowed to "recommend" themselves or other financial advisers. They also cannot be recommended by others because of regulatory restraints on the use of testimonials.
Tweets on Twitter and status updates on LinkedIn initially must be approved by the firm, such as official company views on market outlook or specific events, the spokesman said.
Other wealth managers have been wading in to the social media waters.
Bank of America Corp's (BAC.N) Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC.N) and UBS Wealth Management Americas UBSN.VX permit advisers to maintain LinkedIn profiles displaying contact details and biographical information, but they do not allow links to other profiles.
LinkedIn allows users to create profile pages with a photo and details about themselves. It is used largely for professional rather than social interaction. At the end of March, LinkedIn had 102 million registered members
LinkedIn Corp's red-hot initial public offering last week was led by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N). (Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone; additional reporting by Helen Kearney; editing by John Wallace)