Will Jeffrey Gundlach's Trump-like approach on Twitter work in financial services?

The DoubleLine CEO's attacks on Wall Street Journal reporters is igniting a discussion on what's fair game on social media

Aug 18, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Jeffrey Gundlach's new aggressive Tweeting style has sparked a discussion as to whether it makes sense in the financial services industry.

The founder and CEO of DoubleLine Capital, a $111 billion asset management firm specializing in fixed income, has been​ expressing himself on Twitter in ways that have been compared to some of the unfiltered tweets by President Donald J. Trump.

Over the past several days, Mr. Gundlach has been aggressively tweeting about an upcoming story by the Wall Street Journal, describing it as a "hit piece" and "fake news," and calling out reporters for their tactics.

Mr. Gundlach, who opened his Twitter account in May as @TruthGundlach, has nearly 34,000 followers, despite posting just 120 tweets.

The appeal, aside from the obvious direct perspective from one of the country's leading bond-fund managers, might be the kind of candor Mr. Gundlach has been expressing toward various media outlets.

But, what makes for a good tweet isn't always the same as a good business strategy, according to April Rudin, founder of RIA marketing firm, Rudin Group.

"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something," she said. "I would never advise clients to do something like this themselves, but I think people are feeling empowered or enabled by what the president is doing on Twitter."

Controversial or not, and many of Mr. Gundlach's tweets are light-hearted and outside the realm of asset management, the DoubleLine company perspective is that this is one of the advantages of running a private business.

"DoubleLine is a very unique firm that is independent and privately held, and Jeffrey is his own man and he speaks his mind," said Loren Fleckenstein, DoubleLine analyst and spokesman.

He added that, similar to the popularity of Mr. Gundlach's public speaking and quarterly conference calls, "registered investment advisers love what he's doing, and they've told him that."

Paul Schatz, president of Heritage Capital, who is also not shy about expressing his views on Twitter, thinks Mr. Gundlach should rise above whatever negative press coverage DoubleLine is receiving.

"He clearly loves the spotlight, but it seems only on his terms," Mr. Schatz said. "He's a masterful fixed-income manager, but he should leave it at that."

Carolyn McClanahan, founder and director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners, also believes​ fights on social media can become petty.

"I prefer respectful discussion and discovery of where points of view come from with a focus on possible solutions," she said. "I wish we could quit the 'gotcha' mentality that is pervasive on Twitter."

That wish might be comparable to the challenge of putting toothpaste back in the tube, according to Jason Lahita, president and co-founder of FiComm Partners, a public relations firm specializing in the financial services industry.

"Twitter has effectively become, particularly in recent years and accelerated by Trump, a powerful PR tool and must be managed as such because anything on it is fair game for reporters to use," he said. "The Trump-crazy approach does not work in financial PR, so one hopes Gundlach is not borrowing from that playbook, but his tweets do bear resemblance to The Donald's."

In practice, however, what works might depend on what you're trying to accomplish.

"All I can say is, Gundlach always seems to be right in his judgment, even if he isn't always gentle in his delivery," said Bob Veres, owner of Inside Information.

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