If they can do it…

Yesterday, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney announced that it would allow its advisers to use social media platforms, providing all 18,000 advisers access to LinkedIn and Twitter in June and graduating to Facebook soon after that.

It is the first large financial firm to do so, marking a sea-change in the industry’s resistance to adopting potentially confidentiality-threatening tools. Morgan Stanley’s only real social toe-dipping to date was the infamous report on How Teenagers Consume Media they commissioned from a 15-year-old on work experience.

However, Andy Saperstein, head of wealth management says, “Many of our clients have been demanding social media. Many of our advisers have been demanding it.”

Of course, it’s the clients that probably made the most impact. Staff are one thing, but when the guys who pay you big bucks start to demand something, you sit up and listen.

Finance is a very private thing. We’re eager to broadcast both our passions and our work, but as the ill-fated Facebook Beacon showed, the idea of broadcasting our purchases or wealth (or lack of it) makes us uncomfortable. It’s an example of the technology colliding with a deeply held cultural taboo and a self-protective reflex which kicks in however safe these apps promise to be.

On the other hand, we are finding it increasingly difficult to communicate in a personal, transparent and networked way in some areas of our life and not in others. And this is where the how comes in. Financial companies absolutely need to become more social – people are demanding it, after all – but they will need to do it in a particular and appropriate way. Ironically, transparency will be key – not in the sense of laying bare confidential information, but in being very clear to both clients and colleagues about which purpose each platform will serve and where the public/personal boundaries will lie. Here’s a nice deck from Monica Hamburg with some basic rules for finance professionals:

God knows what their guidelines are going to look like, and it will undoubtedly take some careful revision of existing processes and internal barriers, but this is a heartening example of just how much companies are starting to value social. In the language these folk use, the benefits now outweigh the admittedly big risks.

We’ve worked with big companies in both finance and pharma, so we know this is true. But how could social media add real value to you as a financial client? How would you like to see wealth management companies embrace these tools? And what would you not want to see?

Molly Flatt