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Paul Kiser

Can your investment advisor write a blog about his or her job? Can they Tweet that they just read a great article on oil futures and add a hyperlink? Can they post that they had a big day in the market? Prior to January 2010, the answer was no…not unless they wanted to risk her or his job.

Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules didn’t specifically prohibit business-related Social Media participation, but SEC regulations on advertising and communications have been presumed to extend to online engagement and in a vacuum of good guidance, most major firms took the position of forbidding their representatives from participating in Social Media formats. This removed the fundamental aspect of Social Media that benefits commerce on the Internet, the one-on-one connection.

In January 2010, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 10-06, which gave investment firms parameters for allowing their representatives to use Social Media within the bounds of SEC and FINRA regulations. The reaction was not instantaneous because firms had to solve the issue of how to supervise agent’s online communication. Protocols had to be established, software had to be adapted and installed, and training of agents had to be implemented; however, there has been a rapid Social Media ‘evolution’ in investment advising during the past 12 months.

For some firms, a deliberate, but ‘conservative approach’ to implementing Social Media engagement is being employed. One industry representative said, “…we had to help agents know what they can talk about and what they can’t talk about.” But she added, “…I’d rather be doing this now than wait three years and try to figure it out…Social Media exists and it’s not going away.”

For New York Life the direction was made very clear according to Ken Hittel, Vice President, Corporate Internet, who said, ” Our CEO, (Ted Mathas) made it very clear that agent participation (in Social Media) is a requirement.” New York Life uses a software program to meet SEC and FINRA regulations of supervising agent’s Internet interactions. Hittel said that the implementation of the program, “…went smoothly and was completed in a couple of months.”

The SEC regulations on advertising and adviser/investor communications are not new and apply to all methods of interactions, including those performed via the Internet. A FINRA podcast outlines five issues that apply to all forms of investment communications. All statements made by an agent must:

  • not be exaggerated or misleading and all material facts must be disclosed
  • clearly identified the firm and agent
  • not include or imply any forward-looking statements
  • provide the customer/investor a sound basis to evaluate the services or market
  • file any statements regarding mutual funds, variable products, and/or exchange traded funds within 10 days of being published

Each investment firm is expected to train their agents on how to comply with SEC and FINRA requirements. Hittel said that the New York Life agent training program is “..not just compliance.” He pointed out that Social Media creates 12,000 “Brand Ambassadors” for the company and they based their Social Media training on a “best practices” approach. Hittel said that there is a saying at New York Life, “…that you can do anything, not everything,” which is reflected in New York Life’s approach to Social Media engagement. The firm has established a progressive program for Social Media participation by their agents…within the scope of SEC and FINRA regulations.