NEW YORK ( TheStreet -- Financial firms that embrace social media now can get the inside track on the competition as most companies resist using the tools.

According to a recent report by Aite Group, 84% of advisor firms prohibit the use of social media, citing compliance concerns. But that could change as the advisors that do use social media on a professional level say it helps them with prospecting and makes their business more visible.

Still it appears the advisors themselves are more aggressively using social media as Aite's research found: "More than one in four RIAs registered investment advisors use Twitter, while one in five maintains a blog."

Some brokers like Vincent Esposito have gotten so frustrated over the inability to use social media tools that they have walked away from traditional brokerage firms in order to grow their own businesses and stay current.

Esposito went off on his own so that he could have more freedom to send tweets and prospect clients online. He maintains that he operates within regulatory guidelines and is careful about how he uses the tools.

Esposito believes using social media will be vital to his business in the future and in order to keep his business growing, he felt he had no choice but to strike out on his own. He is equally certain that the old fashioned ways of dinosaur brokers will have to change with the times.

Schwab ( SCHW - Get Report) is one of the brokerages that attempts to be social media friendly. The company has a variety of Twitter channels it uses but only at a corporate level. Its brokers are clamoring for more access to use these tools, but Schwab says it hasn't given permission as of yet.

"Over time the rules will become more clear and the functions better understood," says Lindsay Tiles, a spokesperson for Schwab, "Everyone is trying to analyze it now."

Stephanie Sammons of Wired Advisor, which consults with financial firms on e-marketing strategies, says she knew wirehouses would not let advisors get involved right away.

"It's not that different from when e-mail arrived," says Sammons, recalling how long it took for wirehouses to allow brokers to converse with clients via e-mail.

The firms frequently cite compliance and regulatory concerns and it's a fair argument. FINRA has clear rules and guidelines when it comes to advertising and client communication.

However, when the topic turns to social media, the guidelines become a more grey. As example, FINRA sees a static posting as advertising and a principle has to approve the posting beforehand. But if there is interactive communication, then it doesn't require approval. Most blog sites have a comment function, making them interactive. But what is it when a broker posts content but then no one comments? Is it considered static or not? FINRA says the sites are both -- static and interactive. That certainly clears things up.

FINRA is equally vague about recordkeeping when it comes to social media. Advertising, letters to clients, all have hard and fast years of retention rules. When FINRA was asked specifically how long should a Facebook post be retained, the FINRA spokesperson said they had to check. TheStreet is still waiting on a response.

Financial firms like Goldman Sachs ( GS - Get Report) are willing to make a huge investment in Facebook, but don't look for any icons on the Web site suggesting you join them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Some exchanges have completely embraced Twitter like the CME Group ( CME), which has 768,124 followers and actively sends out tweets during the day. It ranks as one of the top followed financial firms for Twitter. Some hedge fund managers have ventured into social media. Anthony Scaramucci of Skybridge Capital for example, tweets on a regular basis.

Here are some of the top financial firms using social media tools:

LPL Financial

" LPL Financial ( LPLA - Get Report) is one of the most forward-thinking firms when it comes to social media," says Stephanie Sammons of Wired Advisor.

The company is also one of the largest broker dealers working with independent advisors. Even its competitors have taken notice. Goldman Sachs has a buy rating and a $40 price target on the stock, while William Blair rates it at outperform and Morgan Stanley is at overweight. Several other firms are neutral on the stock, mostly based on valuation. The shares went public in November 2011 at $30 and raced up to $37, it has since pulled back to $34.

Ameriprise Financial

Ameriprise Financial ( AMP - Get Report) was the financial advisor arm of American Express. The company offers itself up on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. The Twitter feed is only for confirmed followers however. American Express is also very web friendly. The company has more than 113,000 followers on Twitter, and it tweets roughly 10 times a day.

Charles Schwab

Schwab wants a presence in social media, but is approaching it carefully and methodically. While the company hasn't given its general broker population the ability use social media, there are select individuals that have been allowed certain social media privileges. Lindsay Tiles of Schwab acknowledges every compliance panel that meets has social media on the agenda. "We're going to need to figure it out," she said.


Morningstar's ( MORN - Get Report) investment consulting service is Morningstar Advisor.

This media friendly arm publishes a magazine and tweets @MStarAdvisor and also has a blog on its website at The markets and economy blog is updated on a fairly regular basis by a variety of contributors.

--Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.

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