Whether it is the font size, color palette or prose descriptions on a firm web page, M.J. Nodilo appreciates that he gets to make the decisions.
Nodilo, co-founder, president and portfolio manager of Pathlight Investors, prefers that autonomy to following rules developed to keep 20,000 employees abiding by regulatory obligations, which was the situation before he left UBS Financial Services five years ago.
"Ultimately, it's myself or my partner who decides," he says about web, social media and other marketing material that the firm develops to ensure that it follows compliance rules.
The new freedom has allowed Nodilo to use a novel marketing approach. He has begun distributing video portfolio updates and video quarterly market reviews, material that he would have never gotten past his wirehouse's massive compliance infrastructure, which, he recalls as "a group of attorneys on the other side of the country."
But Nodilo also wants to stay inside the bounds of regulatory requirements. That happens only if he or his partner, and not the Phoenix-based RIA firm’s other advisors, share final say-so about whether marketing material goes online.
Wendy Lanton agrees with Nodilo that centralizing such decisions simplifies compliance challenges for independent firms testing the boundaries of new freedoms with online marketing.
She is the chief operations and compliance officer for Lantern Wealth Advisors in Melville, N.Y., a broker-dealer that also has a recently launched investment management unit.
The independent firm’s management "tries to be as accommodating as possible" to advisors who want to develop their own online and offline marketing material, Lanton says.
But, at the same time, she alone makes the ultimate decisions.
Lanton tries to make advisors more likely to propose compliant material by schooling them in advance about "what they can and cannot do," she says.
BRANDING AT B-Ds
When he left Waddell & Reed Financial Advisors to start his own firm, Mark Suszan took advantage of new freedoms and achieved individuality in his online marketing.
His firm, Mark A. Suszan in Franklin, Mich., is affiliated with Raymond James Financial.
He received help, too, from compliance officers at Raymond James, who helped his creativity soar but within compliance boundaries.
At Suszan’s old employer, Waddell & Reed, each advisory team’s website displays prominently the company’s branding in a manner that dwarfs any of its individual advisors’ online profiles. But on his own firm’s website, his personality stands out.
The firm’s name is the only brand name on the top of the website’s landing page, with the Raymond James affiliation appearing in small type at the bottom.
Suszan wanted the site to look distinctive, and he has been satisfied with clients' and prospective clients' responses to the website.
"It's who I am. I may not be the most polished guy, but I wanted it to be like you are talking to a friend, your neighbor," Suszan says.
Miriam Rozen is a reporter for Texas Lawyer who writes about financial planning and services.
This story is part of a 30-day series on going independent.