Morgan Stanley gives tweeting brokers some leeway

NEW YORK, June 30 Mon Jun 30, 2014 6:25pm EDT

NEW YORK, June 30 (Reuters) - Morgan Stanley is further opening the social media door for its brokers by allowing them to post self-authored content on firm-approved Twitter accounts.

Morgan Stanley, the world's largest brokerage firm as measured by its more than 16,000 financial advisers, has until now limited them to tweeting scripted messages it prepared on the economy, general investment themes, wealth management concepts and some lifestyle topics.

The company told advisers on Monday that if they take an online training course that can be completed in about 20 minutes and have at least 15 followers - a pittance by the standards of Twitter, where Justin Bieber has 52.6 million followers - they can create their own 140-character messages and retweet content from others.

Morgan Stanley is the first of the big U.S. brokerages - the others are Wells Fargo & Co's Wells Fargo Advisors, Bank of America's Merrill Lynch and UBS AG's UBS Wealth Management Americas - to allow such leeway, said Valentina Chtchedrine, executive director for digital marketing strategy.

The firm has allowed self-created messages on LinkedIn since July 2012, and has not run into any regulatory problems, she said.

To date, about 6,500 Morgan Stanley advisers are approved to use LinkedIn, with 1,300 of them also approved to tweet.

Advisers used to instant gratification with their personal Twitter accounts will have to put up with delayed gratification in their professional lives. All messages and status updates are moderated by a supervisor, with a decision on approval generally coming within several hours, Chtchedrine said.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry's self-regulatory arm, has told firms they must keep records of all social media communication and that content must adhere to federal laws and rules limiting advertising and testimonials. Brokers are not permitted to write about particular investments, offer forecasts or discuss more risky offerings such as commodities or structured products that require disclaimers.

"It's basically common sense," Chtchedrine said.

The firm initially expected social media to be used by younger people, "but we find it's being adopted by advisers, clients and prospects of all ages," she said.

FINRA has brought only a few actions over social networking violations.

The most notorious involved Jenny Ta, founder of a small firm called Titan Securities in Dallas. On Dec. 15, 2009, for example, she tweeted: "Its going 2 b a good Xmas & 2010! Ck out AMD! Like I have said, it should b @ least a $10B co. which should b @ $ 15/shs. HappyTrading!"

In September 2010, she consented to a fine of $10,000 and suspension from the securities industry for a year for using Twitter to promote stocks in which she and family members held positions, including Advanced MicroDevices.

According to FINRA's BrokerCheck website, Ta, who worked for seven brokerage firms over 15 years, is not currently licensed to sell securities. (Reporting By Jed Horowitz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)