Wirehouse Wells Fargo Advisors prefers to limit its registered representatives’ use of social media to ensure strict compliance with retention and supervision rules, according to the firm’s social media and compliance head.

When it comes to the use of social media, the biggest worry for broker-dealer firms is the potential for unauthorized use of accounts by their registered representatives, as reported.

Wells Fargo provides its advisors with corporate phones, which makes it easier to control their social media use, Stephen Bard, the firm’s wealth investment management social media and communications director, said last month at the Finra Annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Critical messaging supervision considerations for Wells Fargo are policies, education, monitoring, and blocking, according to Bard.

“For social media, we block recommendations and new features until we can digest them,” Bard said.

At Wells Fargo, Bard said “folks will not have free rein to go to third-party websites,” which also includes a block on file storage or downloads.

The wirehouse uses a “static versus interactive” approach to supervising, according to Bard.

The compliance team tries to “keep it simple” to make the procedures “pretty easy to follow in a space that’s very complicated,” he said.

Wells Fargo uses a simplified traffic light approach: green means unfettered access to a website; yellow means slow down and red is a no-go, “such as making recommendations on social media that we can’t approve,” according to Bard.

Bard said the compliance team is also pondering some other ways its advisors use social media, such as when a simple exchange of thoughts and ideas becomes open to rule violations.

“For example, when they say they like their iPhone and how great the enhancements are, when does [that comment] then become a recommendation for the stock?” Bard asked. “We have to review that.”

Sheelagh Howett, chief risk officer and chief compliance officer at independent broker-dealer Cantella & Co., said the firm’s “base is independent advisors,” so it doesn’t have the same controls that Wells Fargo has over the use of social media.

For Cantella & Co., “it all boils down to training and education,” Howett said at the conference.

Shayna Beck, head of advertising and communications and Vanguard, noted at the conference that “what’s challenging is social media is changing so rapidly, outpacing proprietary and vendor solutions.”

And because of that, it's critical that marketing and compliance teams “figure out the best way to supervise and capture” the social media use of advisors, Beck said.


At a straw poll conducted during the social media and communications session at the conference, social media emerged as the top digital marketing approach used by broker-dealer firms. Around 89% of the respondents said their firms use social media; followed by email or text messaging (73%); and content marketing such as blogs, e-books and white papers (57%). The respondents were told to choose all approaches their firms use.

Wells Fargo’s Bard said he would have liked to see the breakdown of how many of the respondents use email compared with text messaging because at the wirehouse, text messaging is not an approved messaging tool because “it’s hard to retain” records.

Howett said that’s the same issue Cantella & Co. has with Instagram.

“The problem we came up with is you cannot capture direct messaging on Instagram,” Howett said.

At Cantella & Co., the firm’s advisors use their group accounts to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube for work-related communication, according to Howett.

Howett said the advisors must opt-in with Cantella & Co.’s compliance archiving solutions. “If you don’t have the ability to capture, you will have a big problem with retention and supervision,” she noted.