Financial Industry Is Slow To Get Social, Restrained by Regulation

Series 1 on Social Media in Highly Regulated Industrieslocked keyboard

Some in the financial industry think it simpler to abandon social media, but for most, they are stuck in a difficult juxtaposition as they are expected to grow their book of business, but then told they cannot use all the tools available to do so. My Edwards Jones money manager is forbidden to use Facebook for business, and the company won’t allow her to have access to the site from her office.  Merrill Lynch just recently began allowing their employees to use LinkedIn, but under strict guidelines.

With social media in full swing these days, what is it that keeps the highly regulated industries from swimming with the rest?  The difference might be in the government regulations rather than in the social medium.  Banks are regulated by the OCC, investment firms are regulated by the SEC and other industries like legal and real estate are heavily regulated at the State level.   The biggest challenge is that companies would need to monitor online activity for all of their employees and make sure no laws are broken, or invest in social media training as a matter of prevention. This costs money, but does the cost outweigh the benefit? Facebook and Linkedin have already been shown to be rich oil fields of prospects and clients, so how can these companies maneuver safely and confidently within those realms?

For several years, I worked with a large family owned real estate company headquartered in Connecticut, where we immersed more than 2000 agents in social media training. This occupation is about relationships, yet agents were fearful of the platform, mainly because they could not grasp how to use it. I heard more than once, “I don’t want people to know my phone number, my address” To which I replied “isn’t it the same as posting a sign with your face and phone number in front of your customers’ houses?”

On a similar level, companies are fearful of employee missteps online where everything published can be tracked.  Every highly regulated industry has guidelines for conduct, but now these guidelines must be extended to social media channels.  Training on acceptable use of social media, and monitoring, must be implemented to ensure those guidelines are followed.

Social media has already knocked on the door of each and every company and will not go away. Time will tell who manages to work within strict regulations to take advantage of the growth opportunities of social media, and who gets left behind.

Thanks to contributing writer Lori Vintilescu.

2 thoughts on “Financial Industry Is Slow To Get Social, Restrained by Regulation”

  1. Do you find that financial institutions are slower in general than any other large business? I suspect most large corporate structures are slow to integrate social media concepts because of how frighteningly fast something can go wrong.

    If a professional correspondent yells at a client on the phone, the client might be able to tell a few dozen people what happened, but it’s filtered and limited. If a professional correspondent sends a client an inflammatory, derogatory email, that client can forward it to a million people, post it on Facebook, and ask others to forward it around. Suddenly a corporate entity has a crisis on its hands because a middle-manager equated a specific type of person to unwashed gorillas, and the whole company comes under the microscope. That’s their nightmare scenario.

    Especially in a business where it’s important to be seen as conservative and responsible (because you’re handling others’ money) that’s not the kind of nightmare PR you want. ;-) So it may in part be regulations, and it may in part be the fear of human nature.

  2. I once worked in the Financial Services industry and our approach was: if you can’t archive social media, then you must block access to it – which is what we did. Aside from creating rules and protocols around accepted use, it’s important to adhere to the industry regulations that apply to your organization as well.

    A good summary of the rules set forth by FINRA, the SEC, HIPAA and the FDA is here:

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