BROKER’S WORLD: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Brokers Text Away

BROKER’S WORLD: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Brokers Text Away

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)–Morgan Stanley Smith Barney to its brokers: U can text now.

The rule change, delivered in a memo in late January, allows brokers with firm-managed BlackBerries to use them for texting. It was prompted by requests from staff in the field, said a spokeswoman from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the brokerage joint venture of Morgan Stanley (MS). It makes the company the only big brokerage to allow the practice.

About 2,000 advisers and managers have firm-managed BlackBerries and are affected by the policy. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney will keep a record of the texts, to comply with industry regulations that it retain all electronic messages for three years. The company also says it will use the same process it has in place to review its staff’s emails.

A Morgan Stanley Smith Barney broker based in the Midwest said he doesn’t expect to start texting with his clients, but since he only carries one phone, he’s happy to have an easier way to communicate with his wife.

“For me, it’s more about how can I be the most productive, and that helps a little bit,” said the broker, who requested that his name not be used.

Spokeswomen for Bank of America Corp.’s (BAC) Merrill Lynch, and UBS AG’s (UBS) UBS Wealth Management America said their companies don’t allow brokers to use company-issued mobile devices to text. A spokesman for Wells Fargo & Co.’s (WFC) Wells Fargo Advisors said the company doesn’t issue mobile devices to its financial advisers, and those who use their own aren’t allowed to text clients.

As forms of electronic communication multiply and become more popular, financial services companies are struggling to keep pace in terms of policies and regulatory compliance issues. With the growing influence of smart phones, as well as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the industry has been debating how to help brokers expand the ways they can reach out to clients.

“I think there is a very keen interest in the industry right now on how firms can utilize different technology to engage in business communications,” said Joseph Price, senior vice president of the advertising-regulation division of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-policing organization.

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s new policy could put it a step ahead of the curve. Dan Nemo, chief operating officer of TextGuard, a company that helps firms monitor and archive communications sent through mobile devices, said he has spoken to brokers who have been frustrated when they have received texts from clients, but couldn’t reply.

“The broker wants to communicate with the customer and client the way the customer and client wants to communicate with them,” Nemo said.

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