Financial information website BrightScope Inc. said Thursday that financial advisers who want to make changes to their online profiles on the firm's Advisor Pages platform will be able to do so free of charge, following adviser complaints over the past few years about having to pay to correct mistakes on the site.
The updated Advisor Pages platform will now allow advisers to claim and maintain their profile at no charge. In addition, BrightScope lets them gain access to new marketing tools with two premium account options, and it is also releasing what it calls “badges” that let advisers highlight their experience and conduct.
Because BrightScope is used as a due diligence tool by consumers, advisers still won't be able to modify the portion of their profile that details disciplinary history, state registrations and regulatory oversight.
The updates are designed to help investors more easily find wealth managers with clean regulatory histories and desired industry experience, according to Sonia Ahuja, BrightScope's executive vice president of business development and strategy.
Ms. Ahuja, formerly the chief strategy officer at independent broker-dealer First Allied Securities Inc., joined BrightScope a year ago to help it expand its relationships with broker-dealers, custodians, banks, record keepers and asset managers.
“When I joined last year, the first thing I said was, 'We have to open up this platform.' Now, every single adviser has a profile on BrightScope and they can go in and modify their information for free,” she said.
In April 2011, the company launched Advisor Pages. Available online to consumers for free, the pages help them find information and conduct due diligence on nearly 600,000 financial advisers and 40,000 advisory firms.
BrightScope obtains its data from publicly available sources, including required regulatory filings from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Any adviser registered with the SEC or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. has a profile and can modify it on the BrightScope site.
Advisers took a dim view of BrightScope when Advisor Pages launched, pointing out errors in assets under management figures and other outdated ADV filing data.
In May 2011, Nancy Caton, an independent adviser with Raymond James Financial Services Inc., complained that charging advisers to fix misleading information felt like extortion.
“They are basically saying, 'We are going to report what's easiest to get, and if you want to change it, pay for it,'” she said.
Ms. Ahuja acknowledged that BrightScope was aware of the controversy.
“In the past, we didn't allow advisers to go in to modify. We had to make money to justify updating the information. Those processes are manual. But the perception in the industry at the time was we were holding the information hostage,” she said.
Allowing advisers to modify their information for free will have a significant impact on the adviser industry, Ms. Ahuja believes.
“Social media is becoming a tool for advisers to use, just like any marketing tool, especially the younger generation,” she said. “It will be like LinkedIn. If you're not on LinkedIn, everybody wonders why not.”
The updated Advisor Pages offer advisers one of three new profile options:
• Basic (free): Advisers can update basic information on their profile in the place where investors do their due diligence and answer investor questions in BrightScope's Financial Q&A forum.
• Plus ($25 a month): Advisers can highlight their specialties and differentiate themselves from the competition by adding a tagline and expanding the description of their practice.
• Pro ($95 a month): Advisers can get more exposure to BrightScope's 350,000 monthly visitors by being featured in geo-targeted advertisements.