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Financial Advisors BEWARE of LinkedIn Endorsements
Posted on November 9th 2012
LinkedIn launched its new Endorsement feature several weeks ago and many of us are still trying to determine if we like this feature or not. There is no lack of discussion on the usefulness of the feature and the annoyance of those emails we’re getting every day that provide us with the first name only of a person who has endorsed us, hoping we will reciprocate. Putting aside for a moment the big-picture ramifications of this feature, I want to focus on the effects this feature may have on LinkedIn users in regulated industries, like financial advisors.
Let’s take a giant leap here and assume your company is forward-thinking enough to have permitted you to participate in LinkedIn in the first place. It’s likely you are one of the many who fall under the SEC and FINRA regulations requiring your activities be monitored and forbidding testimonials. That being the case, you must take immediate steps to disable this feature so you don’t have to waste valuable time each day handling endorsements made by well-meaning people hoping to boost your ego while giving your Compliance Officer fits.
Before we get too far into this topic, remember we’re talking about Endorsements, not LinkedIn Recommendations. If you’re a financial advisor, you’re prohibited from having recommendations appear on your LinkedIn profile too. To be clear, for the rest of us, these recommendations help us establish trust and credibility. They help us prove we are who we say we are and we are the “expert” we claim to be. As a financial advisor, you aren’t permitted to take advantage of this LinkedIn feature.
Endorsements And Financial Advisors
LinkedIn has spent a significant amount of time and money getting financial advisors active on the network. They clearly value the financial advisor community. I wonder if they gave enough thought to the ramifications this feature is having on those LinkedIn users who are regulated by the SEC and FINRA.
At least with a Recommendation you have to approve it before it appears on your profile. With the Endorsements, all you have to do is have the Skills & Expertise section up on your profile and any connection you have may endorse you and it shows on your profile immediately. The only time you are involved in an approval process is if your connection wishes to add a new skill to your profile.
“Past performance is no indication of future returns.” Ever heard that phrase before? Since 1940, the federal government has been trying to protect unsuspecting clients from financial advisors who might want to share their past experiences in order to gain new clients. That is why Recommendations and Endorsements are prohibited by most firms.
Think about this though. Technically, an endorsement from a connection who is not a client for a skill that doesn’t relate to your ability to invest funds isn’t a violation of any regulation. The issue should only arise when a client endorses a skill directly related to your ability to invest funds or give investment advice. But I digress.
Unfortunately, Broker-Dealers and RIAs are responsible for monitoring LinkedIn profiles so it’s easier for the larger firms to simply prohibit the use of any sort of recommendation or endorsement on the LinkedIn profile whether it is from a client or not.
The Skills & Expertise Section
My guess is that many large firms have already or will very soon; prohibit the use of this section on LinkedIn profiles. Though I think that’s a shame for many reasons, the least of which is that it will affect your ability to appear in search results, I think it’s a reality.
As I see it, you have at least two options:
- Delete the Skills & Expertise section from your profile entirely. Go into your profile and delete each of the skills you have listed and the section will disappear.
- Retain the Skills & Expertise section in your profile and monitor it carefully removing endorsements immediately as they appear.
Here’s an idea: include a sentence in your summary telling people the SEC & FINRA prohibit you from displaying recommendations and endorsements on your LinkedIn profile and choose number 2 even though it’s a bit more time intensive. If you do choose number 2, to remove an endorsement click on “Edit Profile” and go to your Skills & Endorsements section. There you will see the people who have endorsed you. Click on the arrow next to the skill and a window will open with everyone who has endorsed you. Next to their name is a button that says “Hide Endorsement.” You may click on that button and the endorsement will disappear. Please understand this action is irreversible.
Obviously, you are going to have to decide what is best for you and your firm in consultation with your Compliance Officer. Personally, I think if you are a reputably broker-dealer or RIA you should be permitted to have both recommendations and endorsements and people should know what your former clients think about you. Unfortunately, I don’t make the rules. Fortunately, I know what the rules are and I can help you comply with them.