As someone who has a background in marketing to the financial services industry, and who is also social media consultant, I have been watching, with interest, some of the forays into the social web by companies like Vanguard and Fidelity. I have also noticed that many who profess to be holding back on entering into social media actually have most of their registered reps active on LinkedIn and Facebook, but have no real policies in place to guide and support their reps.
I remember that there was a lag time between when email and the Web 1.0 world began to dominate how companies communicated, and when FINRA (the financial services regulatory authority) was able to address this new technology. While these forms of communications were, basically, electronic versions of paper-based communications, the social web is not only more complex, but it supports conversations and information sharing where there is equal participation by all involved.
Companies can guide, but not ultimately, control theses conversations, and they definitely cannot control the technology that supports social sites.
I don’t envy FINRA’s task of trying to set regulations and provide guidance in this new environment. I took some time and read through much of what FINRA has said about social media, as well as some input provided to FINRA by some its member firms. I then took what I saw as some guiding principals that they were espousing around the concepts of interactivity, real-time exchange of information, and what constituted approval or entanglement with content from third-parties, and suggested a framework in which to create a fruitful dialog between FINRA and their member firms. I know that there is a balance that can be struck between protecting the public and allowing financial services firms to reach out and connect with their clients where they now live – in the social web.