Politics has long been an untouchable topic for financial advisers — and for good reason. In the overtly partisan landscape this year, throwing support behind a presidential candidate has the potential to offend half of the voting population, and consequently alienate as much as half of an adviser’s prospective client pool.
The allure of social media, however, may be changing established norms. In recent weeks, advisers have increasingly taken to Twitter to express their views in a contentious election year. While this might just be another reason to grab the popcorn, keep in mind that when industry professionals aren’t arguing on social media, they’re positioning themselves as providers of sound financial advice.
Some advisers say financial professionals should table conversations about politics and keep financial planning and retirement top of mind. Online political wrangling dilutes the importance of the financial wellness message advisers strive to deliver to clients. Advisers also risk losing the appearance of objectivity, which can undermine their reputations as astute financial planners.
Political awareness, on the other hand, has become part of the new digital discourse, and some advisers believe their political leanings should be expressed as freely as advice on how to roll over a 401(k).
There’s no doubt Americans are increasingly voting with their consumption dollars and using new investment categories — most notably environmental, social and governance investing — to make sure their money supports their political and social values.
Assets into ESG funds hit a high-water mark of $21.4 billion in net flows in 2019, which was four times the previous record for a calendar year, according to recent data from Morningstar.
Just as clients are looking for investments that match their values, they may be interested in advisers who share their world view as well. While there are significant risks, there’s also the potential for savvy advisers to turn their political leanings into an effective marketing plan, as dozens of advisers have already begun to do on social media.
As the U.S. becomes increasingly polarized and clients look to effect social change with their pocketbooks, wealth managers may be forced to enter the political fray. A report from Forrester projected 2020 to be the year when businesses are forced to engage with a more civic-minded population on taboo topics like politics. The experts predicted three-quarters of chief marketing officers in all industries would consider such campaigns — but only half would be successful.
Ultimately, it’s not just about the potential for losing prospective business, but how political viewpoints can impact the adviser-client relationship. It’s well demonstrated that losing focus on the financial plan can spell disaster for clients. While it’s important for advisers to offer up their personality online — and that includes their political points of view — diving into a political maelstrom is akin to playing with reputational fire.
As with all hot-button issues that beg to be discussed, advisers should choose to enter political debates on social media platforms with a well-thought-out agenda — and an overabundance of caution.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.