Editor’s Note: Spying has quite a strong moniker these days, but we live in an age of ever expanding transparency, possibly both a good and bad thing. From a business perspective, reputation management is more critical than ever. People still snap to judge on first impressions – and when it means managing finances and investments, even moreso, as Mr. Morua points out in his article. We would add one additional thought on due diligence. Don’t forget that often in the referral process, a prospective client’s children will be the ones who are savvy and performing the preliminary lookups online. Insuring you know your digital presence is strong is key here for that first impression. Especially insuring a consistent message, contact information and how you differ from competitors being evident on every online property where you’ve claimed your name and brand.
Word of mouth is still the most reliable way clients will find their future financial advisor. Existing clients chatting with their friends and family may bring up their advisor’s name during a conversation circling around money, investing, or the 2008 financial meltdown. Suddenly your name pops up, “Here is the name and number of my planner. Call her and tell her I sent you.”
In the past, which was not that long ago, people simply trusted someone’s referral, hoping the newfound financial planner (you) would do the right thing with their portfolio and retirement goals. The perfect storm of press coverage of the Bernie Madoff scandal, a global financial meltdown and regular media bombardment of financial ‘bad new’ has both created a heightened awareness of the need for more due diligence, as well somewhat muddying the waters of the public perception of financial professionals.
People are perhaps not as naïve (or you could call it innocent) as they used to be. Someone gets a referral but it’s no longer the client just calling to make an appointment with their future prospective financial advisor.
Hello Google! People will more than likely do some research regardless of the fact that they were referred to you.
Of course the first place someone goes when looking someone up is a search engine. A prospect is likely to Google your name (or your firm’s name depending upon how they were referred to you). It is highly recommend you do this for yourself regularly to understand what someone sees on pages 1 and 2 of search results.
Being the digital era, it is also highly likely someone will use their preferred social network to look you up – likely what we call the Big Three – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If nothing else, be certain someone can learn enough about you on LinkedIn to move to the phone call or preliminary meeting stage.
They may also:
- Search YouTube for videos and other interactive materials,
- Search out each of the associate’s names they find on your website,
- Explore third-party review sites like Yelp.
More formal steps exist that a prospect may follow, if they are informed about them, such as:
- Going to FINRA’s site and typing in the firm and advisor name http://brokercheck.finra.org/Search/Search.aspx,
- They can get copies of Form ADV for a SEC-registered investment adviser http://www.sec.gov/foia/docs/invafoia.htm#.U_UunPldWSp
- Reading through sites like Paladin Registry http://www.paladinregistry.org/quickguide/quick-guides.php
- Checking with the Better Business Bureau
So this means an advisor can be easily investigated. Technology and various Social Media platforms have made it easier for people to research financial advisors. There are other websites for financial oversight of RIAs, CFPs, IARs and the like, but those listed above are probably the most straightforward vehicles of investigation. Certain things like Yelp reviews cannot be controlled but others can. Think about the things you post on Facebook and Twitter. Or Blogs you write, or tutorial videos you post on YouTube. Also be aware of your current client relationships and know that if you do wrong, it can be a smudge, or permanent scar on your public records (yes, this stuff is easily searchable).
Prospective clients are watching.