Advisers hope Pinterest will draw client interest

NEW YORK Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:49am EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Pinterest page for Brian Wruk's advisory firm has little in the way of investment advice - and not just because he is concerned about sticky compliance issues.

The firm, Transition Financial Advisors Group, has turned to the social media scrapbooking site as part of a strategy to attract new clients by posting search-friendly and potentially viral content on the Internet.

Wruk is something of a pioneer among financial advisers in using Pinterest, which allows firms like his to "pin" photos and other visual items to virtual bulletin boards. Other users can then find and repin the material to their own boards.

A handful of other financial advisers, investment firms, credit unions, tax preparers and personal finance advice sites are testing Pinterest to see if the primarily visual medium lends itself to the financial services industry.

Wruk, whose Gilbert, Arizona-based firm manages $100 million in assets, caters mainly to Canadians moving to the United States and Americans moving to Canada who need help with the financial implications of the transition. His Pinterest page caters to them with moving tips and glamorous photos of famous sites in the two countries, as well as cover shots of Transition's latest publications.

The new page only has two followers so far, but Wruk plans to try to attract more after as tax season ends.

"It's part of an overall integrated package to let people know we're out there," he said. "Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook - all of that drives traffic to the website."

So far, the experiments by Wruk and others are at best tangential to giving investment advice or managing money, but some of these test cases may help sort out best practices for advisers considering Pinterest as a way to attract business.

WORTH THE EFFORT?

First, consider whether it is worth the effort for just a little branding.

Pinterest was the fastest site to hit 10 million users and now has 25 million. But is that enough to justify hiring a social media manager to coordinate postings and assigning a compliance officer to review them?

For Betterment, the answer so far has been yes. The Web-based financial advisory firm with more than $160 million in assets under management has found that the most popular board features pictures of its staff in fishtail suits, wearing funny hats, or posing with the Geico Gecko.

"It's a nice way to show some personality," says company spokesman Joe Ziemer, who thinks that the photos help clients connect with the advisers on a personal level.

But with fewer than 200 followers, the page has not delivered many people to Betterment's website.

"We see a little inbound traffic, but it's not substantial," says Ziemer. "It's the hardest social network for us to track in terms of engagement. But we do hear that people like it."

Bill Winterberg, a technology consultant to financial advisers at FPPAD.com in Atlanta, says Pinterest offers a potentially high return on investment as it grows, pointing to how saturated Twitter is with financial planners.

"When Pinterest begins to attain critical mass and the size of traffic you see on other social sites, it just becomes more attractive because it reaches more people," Winterberg said.

NICHE WORKS BEST

A specialty like Wruk's can flourish on Pinterest because of the way users can stumble across the page when they search for keywords.

"When you are going after the mass affluent, you have to go niche," says Amy McIlwain, president of Denver consulting firm Financial Social Media. "When you know exactly who you are trying to find, you can find them. There's a Pinterest board for everything; there are ways to reach out."

For example, one of McIlwain's clients advises people who have spinal cord injuries and suddenly come into a lot of money because of insurance settlements. The adviser's Pinterest page focuses on advice for that audience. Users who search for information on accessible products, for instance, might come across the page.

The idea is to find clients where they are, says Winterberg. "It's a living, breathing information stream. It doesn't always have to be financial."

REACHING WOMEN

Besides reaching small interest groups, financial advisers can also get to a broad swath of women through Pinterest. Women are five time more likely to use the site than men, according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

That is one reason LearnVest.com puts effort into the Pinterest page it started about nine months ago. The financial advice website, which recently introduced a financial advising service, has about 4,600 followers now and hopes to double that by the end of the year with more contests and other outreach efforts.

"We typically don't have any financial advice (on Pinterest)," says Carrie Sloan, vice president and editor in chief of LearnVest. Instead, the company focuses on lifestyle issues with boards for mothers, do-it-yourself projects, piggy banks and financial inspiration quotes.

LearnVest has seen inbound traffic from its Pinterest efforts, and Sloan says it is growing exponentially.

"It's the form of social media that's growing fastest for us," she says, "because it is collaborative and interactive."

(This story is corrected in the 11th paragraph, corrects the assets under management of Betterment to more than $160 million, not $90 million.)

(Additional reporting by Mitch Lipka; Editing by Jennifer Merritt and Lisa Von Ahn)

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