Old Way/Social Way: Advisor Log-ins Vs. Web Authentication

As inspired by our dear departed Yahoo Internet Life’s Old Way/Net Way feature years ago, we last month teed up the idea of contrasting some Old Way/Social Way examples. This is the second in an occasional series. 

Old Way: Advisor Log-ins

Nearly every mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) Web site has a financial advisor area that requires registration. The old old way (still practiced on some sites today) is to present all unregistered or un-logged-in advisors with a roadblock—a page with nothing on it but a form to use to register or to log in. More progressive sites (see Wells Fargo Advantage Funds and Lord Abbett) start communicating even as they’re asking advisors to register for more.


Our perspective on site registration has evolved. Registration is not necessary to surface new names for asset managers. There is a finite universe of professionals licensed to sell investment products and it’s available from Discovery. The typical asset manager has access to this database and works with a CRM that includes records of advisors’ augmented by Sales’ notes.

An argument might be made that "leads" come in the form of advisor registrations to the site. But Sales tends not to value these. With some notable exceptions, asset managers have yet to fully integrate registered advisor Web activity and CRMs. If there is a link, it tends to be weak (i.e., registrations may be noted but subsequent site use not noted, not reported and not consulted by Sales or Marketing).

Finally and most germane to this discussion, the majority of content behind a password is Compliance-approved for client use. By and large, it is not content that only advisors can see. We expand on that below.

In other words, the practical value of site registration has fallen far short of the theoretical argument for it. Oh—and this is what we’ve grown increasingly sensitive to—registration on a site satisfies asset manager requirements. Customization and personalization is offered on some sites today, but user experience was never the primary motivation for registration.

Site functionality that favors the site sponsor and not the user? That's the old way.

Social Way: Web Authentication

Elsewhere with Web-delivered communications and increasingly on mobile phones and televisions, people are connecting. While the majority of people are still spectators (see Forrester’s Social Technographics ladder), they’re showing a strong interest in content that’s shared and endorsed by their community. The integration of content and community adds relevance and heightens the value of the experience of consuming content. Hence, the hundreds of comments on blog posts, live chats during podcasts, the Twitter crawl on CNN.

Developers are hustling to accommodate the growing preference for what’s called “social browsing.” Here are just a few examples.

On the desktop:RockMelt is a browser launching in beta this week that frames the browsing experience with the social activity of the browser’s Facebook and Twitter connections. The first six minutes of this video with Robert Scoble and the developers will give you an idea of the interaction that’s being delivered.

Using applications:Flipboard is an iPad app that attracted a lot of attention when it launched a few months ago. I can give personal testimony to my ride on the bandwagon. Flipboard is an awesome way to keep up with the content that’s being recommended by the people I follow on Twitter and my skimpy collection of Facebook friends.

Over the weekend I read a Fast Company blog post that reported that 21-29 year-old females spend as much as five hours per day on Facebook. The finding: Social browsing including reading status updates and clicking on content links had “largely replaced all other forms of Web browsing.”

There were lots of skeptics and critics among the commenters to this post. But I realized that it’s true of me (not the five hours on Facebook part) and I am neither 21-29 nor an enthusiastic Facebook user.

Because of the experience Flipboard provides and the integration, I spend most of my recreational (versus purpose-driven) browsing time with the content endorsed by my social circle. (We’ve commented on the power of social circle search results before. This is a step further.)

Take a look at this screenshot from my Flipboard app. It shows an article from Mashable. Yep, I'm connecting with my favorite site publishers on Facebook. I like this better than reading the same article on the open Web, and see how easy it is for me to weigh in and see what others have to say. Flipboard may push me to do a better job of connecting on Facebook just to include others as content curators.

Bottomline for content publishers: Want to get my attention or the attention of other social browsers? Get somebody to endorse it on the social sites.

On the television: Among its innovations, the Google TV platform enables the watching of a Twitter feed on the same screen as a televised event—think of watching the World Cup or the Dancing With The Stars finals and related tweets on the same screen. To see that specific feature, go to 1:25 on the video below.

Authentication For A Different Purpose

So by now, are you thinking what I’m thinking? The maintaining of advisor-only Web sites that require proprietary registration schemes is at odds with the social sharing that’s sweeping the Web today.

At the highest level, your firm produces content for advisors to use and, ideally, share. What are the obstacles? It’s not that advisors don’t share—of course, they do, as can be seen daily on AdvisorTweets.com, in their LinkedIn and Facebook activity and on their blogs. It’s not that your content isn’t high value, it is and you’re steadily working on improving it. The obstacle is what years ago was meant to serve as an obstacle.

What if asset managers flipped this whole authentication procedure on end? First, how about offering a second option for signing in? Options include Web authentication standards Facebook Connect (the most controversial and yet most ubiquitous), OAuth (used by Twitter) and OpenID. (See this article for a great current discussion of the differences between the three.)

The screenshot below shows the log-in menu on WashingtonPost.com, one of more than 80,000 sites that had integrated Facebook Connect which had been used by 60 million people as of December 2009. See how it accommodates two sign-in procedures that would yield more information to the publisher and yet it also offers the Facebook Connect sign-in.

In the Facebook scenario on a mutual fund or ETF site, the advisor who wants to maintain his social identity would sign in using a fast and easy process that links his Facebook account to the site. In doing so, he authorizes the site to publish his interaction on the site to his Facebook news feed. A Facebook activity feed plug-in could be added to your site showing what other Facebook users' have recommended and shared from your site.

No doubt, there is a continuing reason to insist on site-specific password registration for sensitive information (account access, for example) or for true advisor-only messages. But we'd push for the password requirement to be invoked less broadly than it is today. It needs to be limited, to keep from turning away advisors seeking information.

Imagine a freeing of your content to be integrated with other content in an advisor’s newsfeed or shared across an advisor’s connections. You’d be able to track reactions, good and bad, from advisors, other advisors in their networks and non-licensed others who see your freed content. You want people talking about your firm, after all.

Some of the commentary would likely fail a Compliance review. But remember that the discussion would be taking place off your domain, as it has for years out of Compliance’s reach on Yahoo! Finance Message Boards, Morningstar and elsewhere online and offline. The difference is that you’ve enabled it and that the content you produce would finally be part of the “conversation.”

We know there’s huge untapped value behind the log-in on advisor sites. At a time when it’s getting easier and easier to navigate and interact with most other Web site content, the password-restricted advisor site will be left behind by all but loyalists. It’s the old way.

We encourage you to start thinking about the social way and its potential to drive advisor interest in what your firm has to communicate. What would you give up? What would you gain? What size mountains would need to be moved?

There are zillions of technology, practical, policy and people issues and we don't minimize them. Try not to let them intimidate you. Asset management firms can't afford to wear blinders to changes in the way advisors and investors are gathering their information today.

If thinking about the possibilities intrigues you, we have two articles for you to read next, both from Jeremiah Owyang, Web strategist and Altimeter Group industry analyst: