A year ago, the firm’s more than 4,000 advisors in the United States had to manually submit each post in advance for review. Now, Raymond James Financials has automated the compliance and publishing process, to speed up communications with customers.

Raymond James Financial’s more than 4,000 advisors in the United States interact every year with more than two million clients.

Until October, each piece of advice about investing or comment on the state of the economy had to be run, one at a time, through the compliance department of the St. Petersburg, Fla., firm. Posting to a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn page could take days.

Now, the company is trying to open up – and speed up -- communication with customers. The investment advisory firm is streamlining the process of finding ready-to-go content and comments to post and automating the process of assuring compliance with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority guidelines, company policies and applicable law, as well as publishing the results.

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“Prior to our opening up social media to our advisors, advisors were allowed to have a presence on social media,’’ said Katie Berg, product manager, digital assets, at Raymond James. “But it was pretty static and everything they did had to be manually submitted to compliance before they could actually publish to their social media accounts.’’

The social media team’s task: Find the means to protect their advisors and the company from possible FINRA and Securities and Exchange Commission regulatory violations, while making it easier to interact every day with customers.

The approach Raymond James took in the past six months was to move the process of content creation, compliance approval and publishing into an online system that would allow them to manage, monitor, and archive their social media traffic, as well as make it easier to pre-build and schedule daily contact with customers, via advisors’ Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

“It’s much more of an automated process,’’ now, said Berg.

The company installed two packages from social media software firm Actiance. One, called Socialite, manages the compliance process. A second, called Engage, sets up and tracks the actual communication with customers.

Raymond James requires that all its advisors sign up for Socialite, to make sure any postings they write on their own, that they refer to from any source or that they draw from an internal source passes muster.

About 1,300 have signed up for both modules and most are active users, according to Berg.

Here’s how it works.

An advisor writes a post, enters it in the system and submits it.

The post gets kicked over to compliance. If the post passes muster, it is approved by a member of the compliance department and, once approved, automatically published to the advisor’s designated social media account or accounts.

“If it’s not approved, the next time an advisor logs in to their social media sites, they’ll get a dashboard that tells them they have something that has been rejected,’’ said Berg. “When they click on it, they can see the notes from compliance why it was rejected. Then, they have to go through the process of retyping and submitting (the post) again.’’

That can take a day or two. However, Raymond James has more than 220 compliance specialists helping out, who support its advisors in regulatory and risk management. This includes advertising and social media content compliance.

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But the company has tried to make it easier and faster for advisors to post to their accounts, by developing an editorial calendar and creating content for that calendar. The content gets written in advance, submitted for review by compliance and posted ahead of time, once approved.

That way, an advisor can draw from a library of pre-approved salutations and advice and schedule communications with customers ahead of time.

On a Sunday afternoon, for instance, the advisor can pick out 10 different pre-approved posts and set them to run at different times in morning and afternoon, one each for each weekday, Monday through Friday, if he or she so chooses.

That timing makes sense, said Joanna Belbey, social media compliance specialist for Actiance, because the most effective times for communicating with customers on social media sites is between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. Before the workday begins and immediately after it concludes, before customers head home.

When postings are composed, the automated system scans messages for words that could indicate a regulatory or risk problem. These can be prices, product names or a word such as “guarantee.”

A financial firm’s advisors “can’t guarantee a stock market increase,’’ Belbey notes. But the advisor may “only be guaranteeing a victory by the Giants in the Super Bowl game,’’ she notes. That, of course, would not violate any securities laws.

The pre-approved content even includes messages on non-financial topics. That can include golf tips, wine commentary, travel advice or book recommendations, for instance.

The idea, Berg notes, is to make social communication more social. And help establish connections between advisors and their clients.

Tom Steinert-Threlkeld writes for Securities Technology Monitor.





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