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Are Social-Media Contacts Fair Game for Breakaways?

February 3, 2015

Advisors who take anything but the most basic client information from one employer to another can get themselves sued. But they may have a bit more leeway with contacts made through social-media outlets like LinkedIn, says The Wall Street Journal.

Most firms haven’t crafted legal guidelines regarding such issues, the newspaper says. So, if such a loophole “can be exploited, it should be exploited” by transitioning FAs, one attorney is quoted as saying.

Obviously, it’s a bad idea to open a new social-media account days before switching firms. And advisors who pursue connections with whom they never actually worked are asking for trouble. Furthermore, lawyers tell the Journal, time restrictions on contacting former clients spelled out in employment contracts do apply to social media.

If the advisor’s old and new firms are both signatories to the broker-recruiting protocol, things are fairly simple. Protocol guidelines say departing advisors may take client names and contact information with them — and social-media contacts essentially replicate that information, the Journal says. For example, at Wells Fargo Advisors, advisors who use LinkedIn can keep their contacts if they leave, “since the LinkedIn account belongs to the individual, not the firm,” a WFA spokesman tells the paper.

At non-protocol firms, it helps to set up social-media accounts using a personal e-mail address rather than your employer’s. That can make it “harder for firms to argue that such contacts are the firm’s property,” according to the paper. The Journal also notes that LinkedIn automatically sends out “blast” announcements to a user’s connections when that user changes jobs. Since advisors who switch firms don’t send the notification themselves, they can’t be accused of prospecting.

By Murray Coleman
  • To read the Wall Street Journal article cited in this story, click here if you have a paid subscription.