Financial advisers award LinkedIn's Pro-Finder service a poor grade so far in terms of helping them identify worthy prospects who have become clients. But they're not giving up hope on the business development tool.
About a year ago LinkedIn began piloting the new feature aimed at connecting its members with financial advisers. The company also offers consumers links to other professionals who provide services for a fee, such as executive coaching, public relations or legal help.
For financial advice, consumers submit a request in which they can specifically seek out a Certified Financial Planner, or other type of financial professional, and the electronic networking tool sends the consumer back five proposals from advisers who respond. Some advisers complain about how quickly they must answer to be one of those five.
"It is first come, first serve, so the request goes out there and advisers of all stripes jump on it," said Jamie Ebersole of Ebersole Financial. "You need to be sitting at your computer and see the email alert right as it appears."
Mr. Ebersole said the opportunities tend to disappear within about 20 minutes because the proposal has already received five responses. He has responded to about 10 requests so far and is still engaged in conversations with a few prospects who came through the service. No one has become a client, so far, he said.
"I think it's a great way to leverage the LinkedIn network," Mr. Ebersole said. "But it needs some fine-tuning so that the screening process results in advisers who are a better fit for the client, and vice versa."
All of the professionals on LinkedIn's ProFinder platform have either applied to be part of the service and been approved, or they have been personally invited to join the platform by the ProFinder team based on the strength of their profiles, such as their expertise, recommendations and skills, said Kenly Walker, a member of LinkedIn's corporate communications team, in an email.
The team invites advisers to respond to a particular proposal based on the skills needed for the project, as well as their location (giving priority to those close to the consumer), and whether they are part of the consumer's network of contacts.
"The team will look for relevant pros in the client's network or extended network first," Ms. Walker said.
Financial adviser Michael Pennica, founder and president of Pennica Financial, said the LinkedIn tool hasn't led to more clients, but he was not expecting it to be the kind of thing where "the heavens open up and you have a flood of clients."
He still likes LinkedIn as a tool for getting to know people and for starting relationships, he said.
Victoria Fillet Konrad, a partner with Blueprint Financial Planning, said she plans to sign up for ProFinder.
For advisers and other service providers, the first 10 proposal responses through ProFinder are free to submit; after that, the provider needs to have a LinkedIn premium business subscription. Then they can answer an unlimited number of service requests, according to the LinkedIn website.
"It's worth a shot," Ms. Konrad said. "In a digital world where everyone does everything on their telephone, as advisers we need to be part of every social network we can."
Ms. Walker would not say how many consumers had been matched up with advisers to date, but she said "the platform has been met with positive reception and results thus far in this category."
Within the financial services category, the leading requests through ProFinder are for financial advisers, followed by Certified Financial Planners, she said.
Many advisers may not even know about the LinkedIn ProFinder service.
"I don't think most advisers realize it's out there as an opportunity for them to develop business," said Maria Semple, a sales and marketing consultant who works with financial advisers.