Contributions by Molly Herndon and Carolyn Bird
The recent Financial Blogger Conference, and the tweet-ups that accompanied the event, shone a light on how many financial blogs exist out there in the webisphere. It seems like everyone with a computer and a half hour of free time in their day is creating a blog, and many are doling out financial advice. Some may be seasoned financial professionals and others might have no business at all giving financial advice. How can you encourage your clients to become financially savvy and to safely use the Internet to their advantage without getting taken advantage of?
Be Wary of “.com”
The Web address designation is the first step in identifying the source of information on the web. The “.com” stands for “commercial” and that means the entity posting the information is a for-profit organization. There are a variety of ways a company can profit through its Web site, including the sale of advertising space or goods or services. Either way, the important thing to keep in mind that making money is the primary purpose of this website, not distributing unbiased financial advice.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t great advice to be had on .com sites. Many reputable news organizations, blogs, and trustworthy financial authorities have .com web addresses. Other useful Web site extensions for your clients to know are:
• .org – these are sites are hosted by non-profit organizations
• .net – this extension is most commonly used by web hosting companies and business’ Intranets
• .gov – indicates sites that are hosted by U.S. government agencies
• .mil – extensions are reserved for the U.S. Department of Defense
Take Information with a Grain of Salt
Regardless of the source of information, advice provided on a static page is general advice. It’s not tailored to meet the needs of any one person’s specific financial situation. The web is a great resource for general information to familiarize yourself with a topic, such as checking accounts or investment trends. It is a great way for service members to do background research to gain a sense of the number and variety of options available. But when it comes to their personal situation, specific advice should be sought by speaking with a Personal Financial Management Program manager or counselor. Nothing can replace a genuine conversation about a family’s finances.
Make the Internet Work for You
The Internet is a virtually unlimited source of information. Savvy Internet browsers can learn a great deal about finances online. Encourage your clients to become a part of the conversation online by signing up for web alerts around topics they’re interested in learning more about. Google Alerts offers this service and articles on client’s selected topics will be emailed to them each day. Many financial blogs allow users to subscribe so new posts are delivered through email or via Facebook or other social media tool. And encourage clients to share their resources with others. Tweet it, post it to Facebook, save it to a page bookmarking service like Diigo, and email it to your cousin; these capabilities are what make the Internet so great. Sharing information creates dialogue about the topic and that increases the likelihood the user will invest in learning more about the topic.
How has the Internet helped or hindered your work as a PFMP?