Just as it is inconceivable to think an advisor would not have an email address as a source of contact, we are likely nearing the day —probably sooner rather than later— when we can’t imagine an advisor not having a presence on one of the main social networking platforms.

But while Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are increasingly becoming part of doing business, many firms are hesitant to embrace social media because confusion still reigns on the compliance front.

Rather than wait for an official guideline that may or may not come from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Cambridge Investment Research has decided to take matters into its own hands by introducing a software tool to its advisors that will essentially serve as a compliance check for any social media sites they use to market their practice.

Cambridge teamed up with Socialware, an Austin, Texas, firm that provides a social media management and analysis platform through which firms can review activity and enforce company policies for network usage. More than just monitoring activity, Cambridge’s compliance department is able to pre-review information before advisors post it to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other sites.

The program is currently in the midst of a pilot phase for Cambridge and is being utilized by 12 of its advisors. If successful, the Fairfield, Iowa-based broker-dealer is expected to launch the initiative across its entire network in August. This could make Cambridge the first big independent broker-dealer to initiative a social media review process. In an interview Thursday, Amy Webber, president and chief operating officer for Cambridge, all but assured that the program will be extended across its network.

“Unless compliance finds out that somehow Socialware can’t deliver, I’m committed to making this available to our advisors,” she says. “The pilot program was done more to gauge the compliance resources we have available for this tool. Social media will work only if you can review it in hours instead of days.”

Julie Gebert, assistant vice president of compliance for Cambridge, says that during the pilot program the review process has thus far averaged about two hours. This process could take longer at the end of quarters when everyone starts sending out their quarterly reports and there’s more for her department to review.

Cambridge is planning to have a break out session for its advisors on social networking at its national conference in September. An expert will also be there to speak on social media and help advisors learn how to use the network to create an effective marketing tool.

Gebert says that even if advisors aren’t necessarily going to be updating their Facebook every day or Tweeting every hour, many of them at least want to have a presence on these sites. “After our national conference in September there is going to be a lot more excitement for it,” she says.

Cambridge’s social networking plan was borne out of the New Century Council, an initiative led by Webber that brings together advisors in the under-45 age group. One of the objectives of the group is to identify the tools and infrastructure needed to serve clients in the wealth management space over the next 10 to 20 years. The council asked Cambridge to prioritize the assessment of business-related social networking platforms for advisor use. Although FINRA issued some guidance for firms in January on the use of social media, it has never really established any official rules for advisors to follow. This has caused some confusion about what is acceptable use of the medium for business purposes.

“I would argue that FINRA has basically said that you have to follow the same rules you have ever followed from any communication before,” Webber says. “It’s just like 10 or 15 years ago when advisors wanted websites or wanted to use email and FINRA basically said follow the rules you have always followed for communication.”

Although Cambridge is not requiring its reps to have a social networking presence, it clearly recognizes its potential value. In fact, the broker-dealer recently launched its own internal social media site for its home office staff and is considering a similar platform that will allow its advisors to communicate easier among each other.

“I certainly believe personally that social media is not a fad, it’s not going to go away and it’s going to be a bigger way how people communicate,” Webber says.



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