Lead-Generation Firm Gets Rave Reviews from Fake Brokers
“I’m bringing in 30 new leads a month from LinkedIn using the social media automation tool,” Alan Neesee, an independent financial advisor, chortles in a testimonial for AdvisorStream, a service that offers pre-selected news stories, feature stories and other “content” for brokers and registered investment advisers to send to prospects and clients.
“I’ve seen a 25% increase in website traffic, which is leading to an average of 17 new leads a month,” reports Kyle Greer, a satisfied customer at Great Brock Capital.
Joel Aegor, CEO of HTPD, is especially appreciative of how well the AdvisorStream product “integrates with [his] compliance software.”
Never heard of the advisors or their firms? That’s because none of them exist, despite photos of the endorsers that the two-year-old AdvisorStream was splashing on its website page until AdvisorHub began asking questions.
The Toronto-based company, which for $125 a month sends pre-selected news stories, feature stories and other “content” that brokers and registered investment advisers can send to prospects and clients, took down the testimonials within an hour after chief executive Kevin Mulhern said he was unaware of the fiction but believed “the quotes were real, for sure.”
Mulhern, who is listed on the website as an “award-winning consultant in financial services” with 20 years of experience at Canadian online brokerage firms, said that a firm hired to build the marketing site may have fiddled with photos and quotes.
“I sent a message saying to remove any quotes on any sites related to AdvisorStream temporarily that I have not personally approved while we investigate,” he wrote in an email.
The four testimonials contained photos of anonymous models available from Shutterstock, a database service. The model identified as Great Brock Capital’s Greer is described as “closeup of a smiling African American businessman, isolated white background.” The alleged executive named Aegor is a “confident handsome businessman in suit.”
One of AdvisorStream’s webpages lists the logos of LPL Financial, Ameriprise Financial and Envestnet Inc. among 12 “satisfied customers” who Mulhern said have approved its services for their advisor clients. An LPL spokeswoman said AdvisorStream is not a member of its affinity vendor program and could not comment on the listing. A spokeswoman for Ameriprise did not return a call for comment, and an Envestnet spokeswoman said she could not provide comment by deadline.
Pseudonymous or false testimonials, a growing issue in the age of social-media and other online sites such as Instagram and Yelp, are likely to prove especially galling to registered investment advisers who are not allowed to use client testimonials.
AdvisorStream’s own “terms and conditions” statement cautions users against registering under false names. “You may not (a) select or use a name of another person with the intent to impersonate that person; (b) use a name subject to the rights of any other person without authorisation; (c) use a name that Website, in its sole discretion, deems inappropriate or offensive,” it says.
It also warns users that it is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any information contained on websites it links to. “If you decide to access any of the third party sites linked to this Website, you do so at your own risk,” it says.
It’s unclear what, if any, issues AdvisorStream’s fictitious testimonials could create.
“We are very very interested right now in online testimonials,” said a spokesman at the Federal Trade Commission, who said he was unaware of the AdvisorStream claims. The U.S. agency typically sends a cease-and-desist letter charging deception or unfair practices when it learns of problems and can impose fines if companies do not comply, he said.