As the financial services sector makes more services available through mobile and social media platforms, various technology companies are offering communication tools that could change the way financial advisors do business.

Enterprise social networks – communication tools designed for use by organizations such as institutions and businesses – can bring your various digital communication channels together in one place and enhance your ability to communicate with clients and colleagues.

Platforms such as Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp.‘s Yammer and San Francisco-based Inc.‘s Chatter provide advisors and other businesspeople with the ability to communicate with any individual within their company’s network. Those functions have recently expanded to include interacting with clients and others outside the company network.

“When you [consider] how people exchange information in their personal lives using Twitter or Facebook,” says Summeet Khanna, office business group lead with Microsoft Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., “and compare that with how we exchange information in the workplace, we find that things are still very ‘silo.’ We want to change [that aspect of] the way people are communicating.”

More than 50 providers

Major software providers, such as Microsoft; Salesforce; Armonk, N.Y.-based International Business Machines Corp. (IBM); and Mountainview, Calif.-based Google Inc., have been competing in the digital business-communications market over the past several years. More than 50 providers now operate in that space.

“Today, many people start their day by opening their email,” says Jeff Schick, vice president of social software with IBM. “But there are also a lot of conversations that people have to have immediately, and that isn’t happening in the inbox anymore.”

Those exchanges are taking place in other channels, such as mobile texting, instant messaging and social media. Enterprise social networks are opening the door for you to communicate instantly by using those channels.

According to a recent survey of U.S. firms by Framingham, Mass.-based Internal Data Corp. (IDC), 85% of survey participants have a corporate-sponsored enterprise social network. And while email remains a primary mode of communication in business, communication methods are beginning to evolve, says Vanessa Thompson, research director with IDC.

“The nature of business communication is changing dynamically,” Thompson says, “as organizations are increasingly looking to solutions that are more mobile and social in nature to support the changing nature of work.”

To that end, enterprise social networks provide users with a “dashboard” interface that incorporates all business communications. Similar to a social media “newsfeed,” the dashboard acts as the hub of communication channels, such as various social media platforms, email, mobile texting and instant messaging. The dashboard provides immediate access to any discussions and interactions that occur via these channels throughout the day.

These new tools enable you to exchange information instantly with colleagues within your firm – or invite a client to interact with you – in a private setting. Documents can be shared instantly and edited in one place, so they no longer have to be emailed for revisions.

Group discussions

Also, you can set up group discussions to share information with your team or a compliance officer, for example, as well as plan events, train staff and access shared calenders.

Some platforms, such as Chatter, have a “listening” tool. This feature can be set up to send an alert when a client posts a message on social media containing keywords that indicate life events, such as the birth of a child or plans to move.

These platforms are relatively easy to integrate with existing systems and contain tools most social media users are familiar with.

“The lines between work life and personal life are now blurring,” Khanna says. “People are used to communicating in a certain way within their personal network, and they want to participate in conversations [using] a tool set they are comfortable with.”

As a new generation enters the workforce, companies will see a rise in demand for social media tools, says Simon Mulcahy, senior vice president and general manager of financial services industry with Salesforce.

“The younger generation are only using email when they absolutely have to, and prefer to use social tools such as texting,” Mulcahy says. “As more digital natives come into the workplace and then move into managerial roles, we will definitely see a reduction in email.”

Already, adoption rates of enterprise social networks are on the rise. More than 200,000 companies worldwide use Microsoft’s Yammer network, while 52,000 companies use the IBM Connections network – including several Canadian financial advisory firms.

“I think there was a bit of hesitation in the beginning, when these tools were introduced,” Schick says. “But now we are seeing a great willingness to use them because of the business advantages.”

Privacy can be a major concern when implementing new social media tools. But these systems may be more secure than email.

“Security with online technology and cloud storage is much more advanced today,” says Andrew Peebles, director of business development with Gallop Labs Inc. in Toronto. “Privacy could be more of an issue when sending a document via email. Working within a network could prevent documents from being intercepted. The documents are all encrypted and are not being sent out[side] the network.”

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