Can we talk?

Gerber Kawasaki wants its 2,700 clients – and every prospect – to communicate with one another.

The innovative Santa Monica, Calif., firm plans to launch an app at the end of January that will allow its clients to share posts, ideally about their planning goals, through an online community it intends as a core offering. The firm’s advisors will participate in the ongoing discussion, answering client questions and, hopefully, attracting new clients in the process.

“This is really going to be a fun one next year to see how this works,” says the LPL Financial-affiliated firm’s co-founder, Ross Gerber. “It’s in beta, so right now we are testing it. People in the public are signing up for it. What we are really trying to see is what is the engagement and what are the glitches.”

Called My Money Page, the tool already is accessible through the firm’s home page for use on desktops and laptops, free to anyone who wants to try it out. By the end of next month, the free app also will be available via mobile phones and tablet computers, according to Gerber.

The firm built LPL’s account view tool into the app. That way, the large independent broker-dealer assures the security of client accounts.

“We didn’t want to deal with security,” Gerber says. That’s why the tool doesn’t allow users to upload data for their brokerage, bank and credit card accounts. Typically, other online planning services like or LearnVest ask users to enter passwords for those sites.

“We didn’t set it up as an automatic download system,” he says. “That’s something people are uncomfortable with. When you see the data breaches with places like Target, I wouldn’t use [an automatic download system] personally.”

The firm hopes to attract users as clients by offering them automatic downloads of their Gerber Kawasaki account information to keep the app updated. Those users who don't become clients of the firm will have to update and manually repopulate all of the information in their accounts, a potential disincentive to use.

But Gerber is gambling that the allure of participating in an online community focused on financial planning issues will keep users coming back, despite this hassle. Users can sign in through their Facebook account to see what Facebook friends who use the app are doing. The firm’s Twitter account will run through the app. It also will feature a selection of links to daily financial news stories that Gerber Kawasaki advisors think their clients should be following.

Users who regularly complete tasks such as updating and checking their financial plans will receive points, the tally of which will be visible to other users. The company will periodically award modest incentive prizes to those with high point tallies, Gerber says, such as a Starbucks card or a $50 American Express gift card.

After switching its broker-dealer relationship to LPL from Sagepoint Financial last year, Gerber says the firm has been building its base of clients and assets under management. It has grown to about $190 million in AUM this year from about $100 million last year.

Gerber says he isn’t concerned that his clients -- given free rein to communicate with each other about anything they want, including his firm – might air complaints for other clients and prospective clients to see. For that reason, he says, the content won’t be rigorously monitored or approved prior to posting.

“Our clients love us,” he says. “We want to know if people are not happy. They already can [write reviews] on Yelp anyway.”

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