With mobile technology and social media gaining prominence as effective tools for facilitating client relationships, appetites have grown among financial advisors for greater flexibility from their firms in using these tools.

Advisors surveyed for Investment Executive‘s 2016 Report Card series are embracing these newer technologies. Survey participants noted that their responsiveness to a client’s needs is inextricably tied to the ability to interact with their clients from anywhere and beyond traditional methods.

This recognition is evident in the marked increases in the overall average importance ratings for the “support for mobile technology and the mobile advisor” and the “firm’s support for using social media,” which rose to 8.3 from 7.4 and to 7.0 from 6.0, respectively, year-over-year.

“We have to be able to move around to client’s homes or place of business,” says an advisor in Ontario with Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

“Networking and finding prospects [through social media] is becoming important,” says an advisor in British Columbia with Toronto-based CIBC Wood Gundy.

For the most part, many firms lag in providing their advisors with a full suite of mobile technology or sufficient support for taking advantage of what social media has to offer. Still, there are several standout firms in one or both categories.

Regarding mobile technology, most advisors said that being untethered to their office at work by having the ability to access sensitive files remotely on any device, process documents electronically and conduct business even while away on vacation are aspects of being truly mobile.

For example, RBC advisors mentioned the portable signature pads the bank has made available. They have become a time-saving solution that cuts the redundancies of having to file the work twice, on paper and electronically.

“We’re actually probably the first [bank] to go paperless,” says an RBC advisor in Ontario. “The mobile technology coming down is pretty incredible.”

In fact, all the documentation that RBC advisors prepare electronically is reflected in a client’s online account for easy reference, says Michael Walker, vice president and head of branch investments with RBC.

As well, every RBC advisor, Walker adds, is given a laptop, a 4G mobile “hotspot” and a mobile printer to carry out his or her work while on the road. Because many RBC advisors serve clients at more than one bank branch, this technology gives advisors the flexibility they need.

Similarly, advisors with Toronto-based brokerage Richardson GMP Ltd. praised their firm for giving them the ability to work from virtually anywhere. For many advisors, going on vacation doesn’t mean completely withdrawing from their high net-worth clients – and advisors’ need to be available at any given moment drives demand for more robust technology.

“I have remote access capabilities, so I [can] work from anywhere in the world,” says a Richardson GMP advisor in Quebec. “I was on the boat for the past two weeks, using my Cisco mobile app [for advisory work].”

Richardson GMP takes a “menu-driven” approach in supplying its advisors with mobile tools, says Scott Stennett, chief operating officer. This approach gives advisors the flexibility to pick and choose which combination of tools – laptop, smartphone, tablet – make the most sense in their practices.

“Every single advisor has his or her own technology budget, and it varies based on production,” he says. “[This policy] allows teams to tailor their solutions.”

Similarly, advisors with Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. praised their firm for allowing them to access important information on their laptops or mobile devices, which gives advisors the ability to meet clients at their preferred location.

“We are in a remote area, and all of our mobile tools are very important and help us do our job,” says an Investors Group advisor in Alberta.

“[Our advisors] have the ability to take their device into their client’s home, and have a good discussion about their financial plan,” adds John Wiltshire, senior vice president of marketing with Investors Group.

On the social media front, advisors lauded firms that offer dedicated support to teach their advisors how to leverage social media, provide a steady supply of relevant articles and make compliance approval easy.

That kind of support is especially important these days. Many advisors surveyed cited social media’s usefulness in increasing their online visibility, connecting them with a particular niche and helping them stay in touch with clients.

“[Using social media] is good exposure. You can direct people to your business,” says an advisor on the Prairies with Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd. “[The firm] has a strong platform tied in with compliance that makes it easy to post something quickly.”

Adds a Richardson GMP advisor on the Prairies: “With one blast [on Twitter or LinkedIn], I can connect to 1,800 people.”

With enough guidance, advisors view the benefit of using social media as a form of “free advertising.” Some firms, such as Mississauga, Ont.-based RBC Life Insurance Co., rely on Hearsay Social’s social media marketing platform, which helps advisors push out compliance-approved articles to their online feed.

In addition, RBC Life advisors praised the firm’s social media department, which was created about a year and a half ago, for providing advice and recommendations regarding using social media.

“We have opportunities for social media support to tell us where we can improve,” says an RBC Life advisor in Ontario.

© 2016 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.