When a financial planner’s political post goes viral

By Michelle Schriver | November 9, 2023 | Last updated on November 13, 2023
5 min read
Financial advisor speaking with a young couple at an in-office meeting
Adobe Stock/Prostock studio

The quandary

Using a profile that includes your real name and occupation as a financial planner, you regularly participate on social media, commenting on a wide range of topics. After a series of posts in which you criticize federal tax policy, allude to the low intelligence of specific politicians, and say you’re disappointed that “F Trudeau” flags are out of stock on Amazon, your number of followers surges. How do you proceed with your posts?

The experts

Markus Muhs, senior portfolio manager, Muhs Wealth Partners, CG Wealth Management, Edmonton, Alta.

Criticizing federal tax policy — like the changed rules for corporate-class mutual funds or the FHSA [first home savings account] — is well within the bounds of what a financial advisor might comment on.

But there are obviously lines not to cross. I’m on Twitter, and my posts are filed with the firm and monitored. Tweets would get flagged if I talked about stocks, for example, or used profanity, or “liked” an offensive post or one with profanity.

I certainly wouldn’t make ad hominem attacks about Mr. Trudeau or another politician. Even commenting on such posts would probably be going too far; it could show up in my feed. (I also think twice before replying to someone’s tweet if they have a million followers and could bring a lot of attention to my post.)

I’d probably delete the post [described in the scenario above]. Posts reflect back on me as a financial planner, the firm and my business. Clients across the political spectrum follow me online, and I think about what they’ll think if they read my posts.

But it’s not honest to pretend you’re apolitical about everything just to appease everybody. What clients respect more is if you share your stance on issues, so long as you do it in a respectful way. You can get good, intelligent followers by having good, intelligent political discussions. There’s not much to gain from getting a bunch of new followers by taking the approach in this scenario; you’ll probably get flak from reasonable people. I’d rather say something intelligent and provide evidence, so that even a client with the opposite opinion would say, “You know, Marcus has a point there.”

Being totally corporate and official on Twitter and just sharing your firm’s articles — it’s not going to get you anywhere. I get extra follows when I comment on the Oilers or offer my two cents on the potential Alberta Pension Plan. Be personable on social media, create your own content, and comment on others’ content and share it.

Damienne Lebrun-Reid, vice-president, standards, certification and enforcement with FP Canada, and head of FP Canada Standards Council, Toronto

Generally speaking, FP Canada does not oversee the conduct of our certificants in their private lives. We are more interested in client-facing conduct, because our mandate is to protect the public.

But when a financial planner engages in conduct — on social media or elsewhere — that is associated with their expertise as a planner, it becomes a question of whether that conduct impacts their integrity and whether the public would perceive the conduct as reflecting on the planner or financial planning profession. That’s where we become concerned.

For example, if a planner posted a comment [similar in nature to the scenario above] about the finance minister and leveraged trust in the comment based on their expertise as a planner and member of the profession, that could create a public perception that they’re speaking on behalf of the profession. That would be something FP Canada would be interested in reviewing and understanding.

Context is everything. If a planner posts something in their personal feed and it’s apparent that the comment is a personal perspective — it’s not leveraging the trust that Canadians have in financial planners, it’s obviously a personal comment — then it’s much less likely that would create a perception of a lack of integrity for the profession.

As a lawyer, I was trained that when someone in a social context asks for advice, I begin by saying, “I’m not giving you legal advice; this is my personal opinion.” That is something financial planning professionals are learning to do. It’s important that the person receiving the information understands the context in which you’re providing it. So, bring the context into your comments.

A disclaimer in your profile about comments being your own can also help provide context for your comments.

It may be relatively easy to perceive how a comment about the finance minister or, say, a CRA tax opinion could be related to providing financial planning advice. But sometimes it’s the comments that a planner thinks aren’t related to the profession that can come back to reflect on them. The planner hasn’t made the connection that they have to consider how the comments are received and interpreted by the audience, and how the comments reflect back on them and the profession.

Certificants should ask themselves: Is my comment being read the way I intend? Am I bringing my professional hat into the conversation, and if so, how does the comment reflect on me as a professional? If my employer or client saw this, would I be comfortable?

A challenge with social media is falling into a no-break response pattern, leaving no time to pause and reflect, or to ask, What if this were published on the cover of a magazine or newspaper? As professionals, it’s our obligation to check ourselves. Financial planners must be careful that what they’re communicating is received in the way intended. Language matters, the words we choose matter. You don’t control the audience or the sharing, so you have to control the content.

Guidance on off-duty conduct

FP Canada doesn’t monitor certificants’ social media accounts, Lebrun-Reid said, but posts could come to the certification body’s attention if, for example, they’re picked up in the media.

FP Canada previously received a complaint from a member of the public about online homophobic comments, Lebrun-Reid said. It turned out the comments weren’t made by a certificant. Still, the complaint serves as a reminder: “What you’re saying can go beyond your one tweet; it can have an impact,” she said.

In guidance on off-duty conduct and professional integrity, FP Canada explains that professional regulators are increasingly scrutinizing professionals’ social media posts. Posts that are “highly inappropriate or unprofessional” have been found to constitute professional misconduct, the guidance says. It provides several examples of court cases that raised the issue of conduct, such as comments about religion made by a teacher on Facebook.

The guidance also notes a case in which the court found that a regulatory body can legitimately impose requirements relating to civility, respectful communication and other matters that impact a professional’s ability to express themselves freely, and that failing to abide by such rules has been found to constitute professional misconduct.

“Think carefully before posting, liking or following anything on social media, and consider whether you would be comfortable having clients, colleagues or employers see it,” the guidance says.

FP Canada will discuss off-duty conduct at an ethics session on Nov. 22 during its financial planning conference.

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Michelle Schriver

Michelle is Advisor.ca’s continuing education editor. She has worked with the team since 2015 and been recognized by the National Magazine Awards and SABEW for her reporting. Email her at michelle@newcom.ca.