For better or worse, financial advisory firms — and the advisers who work for them — are often judged by what comes up when they are the subject of an Internet search.
That's why managing an online presence is so important.
"You can almost never get a bad thing removed," Patrick Ambron, co-founder and CEO of BrandYourself.com, said. "The best bet is to bury it with positive stuff."
To do that, advisers need to be proactive.
Simply typing in a name or firm will bring up hundreds of entries in a search engine. It's important to know what clients and prospects see when they go to search. "[Advisers] are getting looked up every time they get a referral and the bad results can happen to very good people," Mr. Ambron said.
BOAST ABOUT YOURSELF
Firms and advisers may not be able to control a search engine, but they can control the content that best represents them. Typically, websites, social media accounts, blog posts and articles show up at the top of the search engine results. Coming up with a plan to populate the web will help stay advisers maintain a strong online presence.
Another way advisers can improve their chances of favorable search engine results is to make sure their profiles on such social media sites as LinkedIn and Twitter are complete. Building interactive websites with multiple pages and links to articles that mention them also helps.
"You don't want to wait for it to be too late," Mr. Ambron said. Being active online through various platforms will keep an adviser from being defined by search results.
Alan Santos-Buch, a former broker from Connecticut, was the focus of a 1997 disciplinary case when he allegedly guaranteed a client from losses. As a result, he agreed to a $10,000 fine and a 30-day suspension. Although he is no longer a broker, his settlement is still searchable on the web because of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. BrokerCheck database, which includes profiles and disclosures, good or bad. Mr. Santos-Buch sued Finra more than two decades after the incident, but a judge threw out the case last year.
"There is an afterlife online," Bill Singer, a lawyer in New York who wrote about the case on his blog Broke and Broker, said. While Mr. Singer said he had sympathy for Mr. Santos-Buch, who would not have known that in a matter of years the Internet would be such a used and searchable part of society, but said that he agreed with the judge's decision because of the significance a disclosure can have for potential clients.
It's even more imperative for the younger generation of advisers to be aware of their web presence, he said, since they grew up with it.
"They've grown up in an environment where digital history is very critical," Mr. Singer said. He said he gets calls from people who didn't realize two or five years ago that admitting to a misdemeanor, like a prank, would affect them later in their career.
In that regard, avoiding a settlement may be the best route for a financial adviser, since it will end up in a disclosure notice.
“Sometimes, when you fight it, you'll prevail,” he said.