* Financial firms watching their reps online
* Schwab responds to online critics within 15 minutes
* Customers surprised by the quick response
By Jennifer Hoyt Cummings
NEW YORK, Feb 29 (Reuters) - For online brokerages, social media, despite possible pitfalls, can be put to good use, especially when a firm is attentive.
Charles Schwab Corp, for example, monitors Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites for comments from dissatisfied customers, and attempts to respond with a call to the customer within 15 minutes, Kelli Keough, vice president of active trading, said on Wednesday at an Online Financial Services Symposium sponsored by Thomson Reuters.
Schwab's response typically prompts customers to update their complaints to let people know the company resolved the issues, Keough said.
The big brother ethos doesn't seem to bother customers. Some are just surprised and glad someone is paying attention to their concerns, she said.
Social media have been putting financial services firms in a conundrum of balancing the reputational and compliance risks of these sites with their marketing power.
Financial advisory firms are having a particularly tough time navigating this area because many of their advisers are demanding to get access to the sites -- but can't always be trusted to speak wisely online. For instance, think of the compliance headaches should an adviser tweets that he can "guarantee returns."
Despite the risks, Joshua Brown, a New York-based financial adviser with Fusion Analytics and panelist at Wednesday's conference, said advisers don't have a choice but to get on social media.
"I love the fact that we're talking about this like it's optional," Brown said. "E-mail at one point was optional."
Brown said he no longer uses traditional methods for finding new clients, like cold calling or getting involved with charities. Instead he has used his blog, The Reformed Broker, and social media sites to establish himself as a thought leader. Now clients seek him out, saying they've been reading his blog for months and they agree with his thinking.
Lauren Boyman, director of content and social media for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, said the venture of Morgan Stanley and Citigroup has about 600 of its approximately 18,000 advisers on social media.
Advisers who are apprehensive about the sites are starting to change their thinking after seeing the success tech-savvy peers are having in attracting new business, she said. But there are some advisers she doesn't encourage to go online.
"If an adviser doesn't have a website or brochure, they shouldn't be on social," she said.