April 6, 2010 / 1:54 PM / 9 years ago

Wealth Manager: To blog or not to blog

* Blogs can be a useful marketing tool for advisers

* Firms restrict adviser blogs

* New guidelines emerge

By Helen Kearney

NEW YORK, April 6 (Reuters) - If you think blogging is something better left to your teenage daughter, think again. Financial advisers who have jumped into the world of social media say it’s a big hit with their older clients — and a great way to attract new ones.

“My retired clients spend a lot of time online. Their kids have set them up on email and they have more time to look around,” said Andy Millard, a Tryon, North Carolina-based independent financial adviser who recently started a weekly blog.

COMPLIANCE HEADACHES

Of course, it’s not as easy as sitting down at a computer and typing away. Blogs have caused headaches for firms trying to work out how to control their content, and regulators have provided little help. But things are changing. In January, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority issued guidance for firms and brokers using social media.

The regulator said blog postings were considered “static content” and should be treated like advertisements. This means they need to be approved by a firm’s compliance department before being posted, and should be archived.

Any comments that a member of the public posts on the blog generally do not require pre-approval by the firm. But Finra does recommend that firms monitor these posts.

Still, many financial firms remain nervous about social media. The industry leaders — Bank of America/Merrill Lynch (BAC.N), Morgan Stanley Smith Barney <MS.N, Wells Fargo Advisors (WFC.N) and UBS UBSN.VX — do not allow their advisers to have blogs associated with their jobs.

Other firms are more lenient. Securities America, a Omaha, Nebraska-based broker-dealer, allows advisers to have blogs but requires that their posts be approved by the compliance department. It does not allow advisers to have interactive features, so people cannot comments on their posts.

But that is likely to change, says Phyllis Nelson, a compliance officer at Securities America. She says the firm is looking at software programs that would capture all communications on the blogs and archive them in case of compliance issues down the road.

At the moment, Nelson says only a handful of the firm’s 1,900 advisers have blogs, but she expects more to use them once the compliance side becomes easier. “The new guidelines provide flexibility, and we want to take advantage of that,” she said.

WHAT TO SAY

Blogs face the same restrictions as advertisements under both Finra and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, so advisers should not make specific investment recommendations or promises about future performance.

Compared with regular websites, blogs gives advisers a better chance to communicate who they are, says Marie Swift, president of Impact Communications, a Leawood, Kansas-based firm that runs social media workshops for advisers.

She suggests advisers post a short clip of themselves being interviewed. “It lets people see you interact. It’s much better than just talking at the camera,” she said.

Swift also recommends minimizing links to other pages that can take readers away, and summarizing a point of view in the adviser’s own voice.

Millard, who oversees $60 million in assets for 175 clients, blogs about a variety of topics, from books he has read to tips he picks up at industry conferences.

He posts a new entry every Monday and believes consistency is key to a successful blog. “If you start a blog and don’t update it for six months, it says you’re someone who doesn’t follow through on what they started,” he said.

Millard also sees his blog as a good way to introduce himself to prospective clients who are likely to do a little online research before considering him as an adviser. “It gives them a sense of who it is they’re working with, so they have a comfort level at the first meeting that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said. (Reporting by Helen Kearney; editing by John Wallace)

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