Wealth management firms are still gradually introducing their financial advisor forces to social media, but three years from now they fully expect the new medium to have fully taken hold in the industry.
That conclusion came from a panel of experts from large and regional wealth management firms at a social media seminar held by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in New York on Friday.
“I feel like the cold call will go away,” said Lauren Boyman, head of social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “If you’re a new advisor just starting out in this business, sitting down with a phone book is not going to bring you the success that it did 10, 20 years ago.”
Besides Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which launched its own pilot program to 600 financial advisors last year, the panel included other firms such as Wedbush Securities, which launched new social media efforts firm wide in January. The firms reflect the new approaches to social media by the wealth management industry—whether the companies are large wirehouses or regionals.
Karen Walsh, director of the wealth management division at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, sees collaboration as the big result that will come out of social media in the next several years. That will mean it will be more possible to form public and private groups and communicate via mobile-to-mobile communication.
Regulation surrounding social media, which is still in transition, will likely also become more defined in the next several years, Walsh said. “We’ll have very clear regulations,” she said. “We’re all going to work together on that.”
The expectations come as the firms are also ramping up their efforts both internally and externally to accommodate the demands from their financial advisors to engage in social media.
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney plans to roll out a more formal effort following its pilot in the next couple of months, Boyman said. The firm is also currently working on a mobile application that will be able to distribute content on iPhones and iPads. The firm’s financial advisors can first get comfortable with social media by using an internal social media site, FA Insights.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch is also providing its own internal social media offerings, which has allowed for faster and more efficient partnerships, Walsh said.
“It’s a good place for advisors to cut their own teeth, because it’s within their own communities,” while it has also helped managers get to know the advisors, Walsh said. “From a retention and a loyalty point of view, the manager is also getting the value of that information being available to them,” she added.
For Wedbush, a smaller regional firm based out of Los Angeles, social media has been an opportunity to build its brand and visibility, according to Vice President of Marketing Natalie Taylor.
Wedbush partnered with technology provider Socialware last year, resulting in another communication channel for the financial advisors in addition to phone and in-person meetings, Taylor said. While some of Wedbush’s financial advisors have readily embraced the new medium, some have not been as quick to pick it up.
“The biggest issue we’re having right now with adoption is age,” Taylor said, citing the 50-year plus average age of financial advisors at the firm. Another hesitation has been a fear of mistakes in a real-time social media environment, she said.
Initial efforts have already begun to show early signs of value to the firms’ bottom lines. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, for example, has had examples crop up through its pilot program where financial advisors have been able to bring in new assets from new connections on LinkedIn and Twitter.
But getting to that point where financial advisors are building those relationships will take some time, Morgan Stanley’s Boyman said.
“You just have to believe that this works, because it does take time for relationships to develop and it doesn’t happen immediately,” Boyman said. “I would encourage them not to get discouraged.”
Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.