Planners who complained about BrightScope's advisor listings now have the chance to make changes -- to parts of their listings, anyway.
The independent research firm -- which first established itself as a ratings service and directory for 401(k) plans -- has invested more than $1 million recently to enhance its searchable database of more than 600,000 advisor profiles, according to Sonia Ahuja, the firms executive vice president of strategy and business development. The firm re-launched its Advisor Pages tool this week in hopes of becoming a combination Yelp, LinkedIn and Match.com for consumers seeking planners, she says.
We believe technology is going to play a much bigger role in helping consumers find planners, Ahuja says. One day I see people using BrightScope as a verb, like Google, when they check out a planner.
By assembling and simplifying publicly available data, BrightScope aims to help consumers perform due diligence on any advisor in the country, says industry consultant and Pinnacle Advisory Group research director Michael Kitces -- an early skeptic who has since become one of its advisors. (He received a tiny amount of stock options in return, he says.)
Most other offerings in this category solely feature a list of advisors who have paid or met other various tests to be shown to consumers, Kitces says. BrightScope is materially different, in that the basis for the listings is to show every registered advisor, and provide consumers with public regulatory information, including any disciplinary actions that may have occurred.
The website's advisor dashboards show, at a glance, a planners disciplinary history, work experience, client profiles, compensation methods and other key pieces of information. Data for the profiles comes from the SEC and FINRA as well as about several other online sources, including CFP Board and FPA web listings, Ahuja says.
When the firm first launched Advisor Pages in 2011, many advisors called to complain that the firm had published online profiles without their consent, Ahuja says.
Since then, she says, more have come to accept the tool and the fact that they cant avoid increasing transparency in their industry. When they found out that their information is on a public website, that doesnt make them happy, she says, but it takes time for us to educate them ... that transparency is coming.
BrightScope eventually hopes to add Yelp-style consumer reviews of planners, she adds, but has has held off until it understands the compliance implications of doing so.
The enhanced site also allows advisors to alter certain components of their profiles at will, Ahuja says -- a feature not available previously. Among the items that advisors can change are total assets under management, address, phone number and compensation disclosures, she says.
Other sections of the profile remain off-limits, however: work history, licenses and disciplinary records.
Those advisors who have never had a regulatory problem may elect to put a badge icon on their page to promote their clean records to consumers, she adds. While advisors must have zero history of disciplinary problems with the SEC or FINRA to use the badge, sanctions or other actions from other certifying bodies will not count against them for now, she says.
Another new feature: For fees of $25 to $95 a month, advisors can now build out their profiles to add tag lines and greater descriptions of their practices. At the higher price point, Ahuja says, they also can access analytics showing them which consumers have been viewing their profiles and for how long. They can also see which sites those consumers used to find their profiles and which search terms they used, she adds.
Delia Fernandez, a planner in Los Alamitos, Calif., says she wasnt pleased to discover an error on her newly enhanced BrightScope profile.
It's irritating that they list my years of experience as seven at the top of the page and 20-plus years at the bottom, Fernandez says. Ugh! Given the regulation of our industry, I think they're taking the risk of irritating a lot of advisors with inaccurate information.
Ahuja says there will be BrightScope employees standing by this week to correct any mistakes that advisors find in their profiles.
Angel investors ponied up the additional funds to build out Advisor Pages, says Ahuja. That has helped BrightScope bring on more than 50 people to scrub, clean and update data on Advisor Pages.
And the company is hoping that a good user interface will help boost its profile with consumers.
The closest competitor to BrightScope is frankly the regulators themselves -- tools like FINRAs BrokerCheck, Kitces says. Except BrightScope has the potential to provide consumers a lot more information, and is far easier for consumers to use.
Even Fernandez supports providing more information about planners to consumers. I suppose if [BrightScope] becomes popular it could be helpful, she says -- although I find my usual marketing and online presentation of myself when someone Googles me is doing just fine.
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