When Josh Decaire, an associate adviser with Hartzman & Associates Personal Investments in Kingston, Ont., wants to find new clients, he hits LinkedIn and starts hunting.
The 26-year-old financial adviser is only a year into his new career, after leaving mental health research, and has never had to learn how to prospect the old-school way: cold calling strangers on the phone. Instead, he peruses his social media networks to find millennials who have good jobs and are roughly his age – his target market. And it works. In one year he has built a respectable client base simply by sending messages via LinkedIn and setting up meetings over coffee.
He says those face-to-face meetings are still critical, particularly when tech-savvy investors are going the self-directed route or turning to a robo-adviser and are wondering if they need an adviser at all. Sure, robo-advisers are often seen as the cheap, simple and transparent choice, but when markets hit hard times, he's the one who can hold your hand.
"I think there's still this feeling that with something as important and personal as their finances and plans, people really want someone who they can sit across the table from and have things explained to them," he says.
Yet many investors don't want the traditional yearly visit with an adviser, instead opting to turn to them only to ask the odd question or keep up on financial trends and forecasts through an adviser's Twitter feed, LinkedIn message or a text.
In fact that's the preferred route for a sizable chunk of investors today. A 2016 report from MyPrivateBanking Research in the United States recently showed that 20 per cent of survey respondents consult an adviser, but ultimately make the decision to buy or sell themselves. Meanwhile, a 2016 J.D. Power self-directed investment satisfaction survey shows there are more of these "validators" now at 25 per cent, up from 21 per cent in 2015.
The trick for advisers is to find ways to merge technology with advice in order to be accessible and convenient. That might mean setting up Facetime or Google Hangouts meetings, posting how-to videos on YouTube, tweeting in real time while attending an investing event, or communicating with clients on a Facebook page.
"If social media is the fastest growing medium of communication, how do we not have a response to that?" asks Stuart Raftus, president of Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Toronto.
His firm recently became the first investment business client of Hootsuite.com, the social media dashboard, which allows his firm's advisers to chat in real time with clients online.
The launch was only able to happen after a year of discussion and tinkering to ensure all of those virtual conversations would meet the industry's stringent compliance requirements, however. The company says it monitors all static and active content, as well as real-time discussions and direct messaging. "There is no communication that occurs online that isn't captured and archived per IIROC regulation," a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.
Advisers aren't allowed to endorse, give testimonials or recommend specific investment products online or in advertising without it being vetted first – or in some cases, archived and examined later so it can be removed if needed. They also cannot publish exaggerated, unwarranted or misleading statements or claims about, say, equity index annuities. (Or any other kind of investment vehicle.)
Debbie Hartzman, a certified financial planner in Kingston, Ont., and mentor to Mr. Decaire, says she tends not to write her own material when posting on social media, using canned content that comes from partners such as Great West Life or news stories. It's the safe choice.
"You have to understand that we're in a highly regulated compliance regime like we've never been in before," she says. "If you don't understand the rules of engagement and how to use social media, you're going to end up in trouble."
Meanwhile, it's Hootsuite's sophisticated algorithms that allow the real-time chatting at Canaccord to remain compliant while still being useful, says Mr. Raftus.
"Under an old system, if I tried to send you a message over social media that said, 'I guarantee you those Blue Jays are going to win Friday night,' that would get kicked out because of the word 'guarantee,'" he explains.
But because the new platform is better at grasping context, the message would now get through.
Being able to communicate with clients in real time is especially important today, says Grant Maddigan, a 23-year-old financial adviser in St. John's, Nfld. He's had his Facebook page approved by compliance and will book meetings with friends using messaging, but doesn't offer advice that way, preferring to call them instead. He also lets clients text him, which he says he always responds to quickly.
"That's really key. They can't wait until tomorrow, especially in the world of investments," he says.
Even so, the average adviser might think they're being more responsive to their clients' needs using social media and technology than they really are. One 2014 EY survey results showed that 40 per cent of financial advisers say they interact with clients via social media, but only seven per cent of clients said that was true. Apparently, posting the odd article on LinkedIn just doesn't cut it.
Ineffectual social media posting doesn't seem to be Jackie McCann-Scott's problem. The financial adviser in Conception Bay South, Nfld., has built nearly an entire career around it. Three years ago she received funding to hire a marketing coach who encouraged her to write a blog for a local online newspaper. She also opened a Facebook page for her business, Invested Mama, and posted comments there, too.
She's convinced that, as long as she doesn't break compliance rules, being herself online and letting her personality shine through with every communication has been her best calling card for attracting new business. She's now so busy, she admits she has to push herself to find time to blog. "For me, I think to really use social media to connect with your clients, it has to be in your own authentic voice," she says.
Not that everyone agrees with her tactic. After she posted a blog that mentioned some personal details about her own life, a senior adviser pulled her aside to say, "I wouldn't be sharing that much with people because it can come back to bite you," she remembers.
She shrugged off the advice.
"Well, if it does come back to bite me, I can regret it then," she says. "I don't regret it now."