Three months after the sub-group was launched, though, many of the hundreds of financial advisers who are members of the British Expatriate Networking Group seem reluctant to give up the limelight of its main home page, according to Rebekah “Bex” Saunders, one of the group’s two unpaid moderators, and sole owner of its new British Expat Financial Subgroup.
The other moderator of the main group is – probably not coincidentally, given the expat advisory’s industry’s interest in the group – Simon Pitkin, a United Arab Emirates-based senior financial consultant of the deVere Group, said to be the largest international advisory firm.
Pitkin, who has been a member of the group for around three years but a moderator for just one, said he is among those advisers who have found the group useful a vehicle for introducing his business “to potential clients”.
“Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool for all industries, and the financial advisory sector is no different,” he noted.
“There are, I understand, several [other] groups on LinkedIn [also] offering information to expatriates on financial matters.”
Pitkin did not confirm that, as some group members from rival advisory companies have suggested, he removed a discussion thread in December that contained some negative comments about his employer, but added: “Any unfounded allegations against any company that are posted in the group will be removed. Posting defamatory remarks is not what this group is about.”
Thus far the British Expat Financial Subgroup has just 60 members, compared with the main group’s more than 3,200 – of which some 460 describe themselves as current employees of deVere. Another almost 100 of the British Expatriate Networking Group’s members work for Globaleye, another major IFA firm specialising in looking after expatriates.
More than half of the 3,100 members describe themselves as working in “finance” or “financial services”. A relatively high percentage, 12%, live in the UAE.
“Before the IFAs discovered the site, we used to have some fantastic discussions taking place,” said Saunders, a social networking expert and British expat who has been living in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the past five years, and moderating the site for around 18 months.
“But beginning about a year ago, it got so that almost every single posting was either an IFA engaging in self-promotion, or some other kind of spam. It got very dull.”
For such advisers, she said, echoing Pitkin’s comments, the online networking site is evidently an irresistible marketing tool, given that it costs individuals nothing to post comments, and the reach is potentially global.
Thus it was that by last September, offshore financial advisers keen to introduce discussions about such topics as QROPS in particular were so totally in control of the LinkedIn group’s main discussion page that “nobody [else] was opening up any new discussions at all,” Saunders said.
This is why, on 9 Nov, she unveiled her solution to the problem – the British Expat Financial “subgroup” to the main group, in which finance-related postings could be ring-fenced.
In a message to the parent group’s members, she explained that the decision to set up the subgroup had been made in response to a “recent increase in postings of a financial nature”.
“All members of this group are free to join, and you are free to invite others to join too,” she went on.
“We request that all future financial postings be placed in this subgroup. We will be deleting content more aggressively from this point forward, and anything considered to be spam or inappropriate will be removed.
“We are making this move in the hope that it will kick-start more discussions and networking, which is the whole purpose of the group.
“Please do get involved when you have a moment. We would love to hear more about you and your experiences living and working overseas.”
A recent visit to the main British Expatriate Networking Group’s home page, however, revealed that some of the discussion topics still concern financial matters.
Someone who refers to himself as simply “Erwin”, for example, considers how tax-efficient trusts can be used to help the non-British spouses of British expats who, he says, face potential tax problems if their UK-born spouse dies before them.
The British Expatriate Networking Group was launched in 2007 by Adam Apps, a native of Essex who moved to the US in 1993 and currently lives and works in New York for a NASDAQ-listed software company, where he is in sales. “I get involved [in the group] as needed but the group needs little maintenance, since membership is open, and content is submitted by the group’s members.”
Apps says he not surprised by the interest of financial services executives in his networking group, since the “demise of traditional lead-generation tactics” like cold calling and direct mailing have fallen out of favour, and would be problematic for anyone trying to reach a peripatetic audience of expatriates.
“It’s a natural progression for a referral-based business like financial advising to turn to social media outlets like LinkedIn for new contacts,” he noted.
200 million LinkedIn
Launched in 2003 and based in California, LinkedIn is a social networking website aimed at people working in professional occupations. It went public in 2011, and as of January, added its 200 millionth member. More than 64% of its members are said to be located outside of the US, and it is available in 19 languages.
India has the second largest number of LinkedIn members after the US, with 18 million (to the USA’s 74 million), while Turkey, Colombia and Indonesia are described as its fastest-growing markets.