(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
By Hilary Johnson
May 30 (Reuters) - Scott Kauls, a Merrill Lynch adviser in Minneapolis, has found that mobile technology can help clients make tough decisions.
At one meeting, his firm's new iPad-enabled "Clear" retirement planning platform helped a couple decide to build a new single-family home, rather than stay in the retirement community they had chosen.
They came to the decision by using the iPad to pinch and expand colorful circles labeled "home," "giving," "leisure," and four other areas. The husband and wife agreed on the change after ranking their priorities.
Though the interaction was enabled by the iPad, the experience was not about bells and whistles, just a productive and revealing conversation, Kauls said.
"That's exactly what this app does," he said. "It creates conversation, and it directs dialogue. It drills it down to the detail and resonates with the client wonderfully."
The Clear platform is just one example of how firms and advisers are harnessing mobile technology to better interact with and serve clients.
UBS Wealth Management Americas, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo & Co all have mobile devices and applications available to their advisers.
Independent advisers may choose to be even more cutting edge with their mobile technology choices. They use cloud storage applications such as Dropbox, one-way texting and online investment management and trading.
Sean Cunniff, investment management research leader at Deloitte, said financial advisers should be early adopters.
"Advisers should embrace mobile technology as a key part of the customer service ecosystem," he said.
Brad Bofford and Mike Flower, managing partners at Financial Principles, an investment advisory firm in Fairfield, New Jersey, discovered the wonders of cloud storage, after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused their office's power and a backup server to fail.
An account with Dropbox Inc has since allowed them to store and access client files and email anywhere and at anytime, on their mobile devices.
"It made our practice management a lot more efficient," Flower said. "It strengthened our relationship with clients, and it's been an effective practice management tool. The contingency part is almost secondary."
Kile Lewis, co-founder of Oxygen Financial in Atlanta, is an avid hunter, but never ventures out without his smartphone. Even when waiting for game behind a blind, he can quickly respond to client requests by accessing their accounts on an eMoney app.
"There's no 9-to-5 workday anymore," he said.
Bill Winterberg, a technology consultant and founder of FPPad.com, said advisers must pay special attention to security and clients' comfort level and preferences around technology, but suggests that shunning mobile technology now puts an adviser at risk of being out of touch.
"Advisers should invest in tools that give them the flexibility to respond to clients," Winterberg said. "Then the technology disappears. The client isn't aware of the cloud, they just know they got the answer. That's what matters. The adviser helped them and the client can move on with their lives." (Editing by Tim McLaughlin and G Crosse)