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Adviser Tech Survey: Tablets Are What's Hot Now

For financial advisers, the introduction of iPad over the past year has changed everything. Notoriously resistant to new technologies, advisers have become envious of the remarkable advancements taking place in the consumer tech market.

This is seriously changing their expectations of software and hardware from custodians and asset managers.

Following are highlights from Financial Planning's 2011 technology survey of 3,200 advisers-as they pertain to asset management firms looking for a competitive IT edge.

Tablet explosion, led almost exclusively by the iPad, has been historic. Never have so many advisers deployed a new technology so fast. Last year, only months after its launch, 17% of advisers had iPads. Another 51% planned to buy one. They made good on their word.

Overall, 38% of advisers now own one or more tablets, and 33% plan to buy one. The vast majority, 85%, of tablet owners have an iPad, and among those planning to buy one, nearly as many will be heading to an Apple store.

Twenty-one percent of advisers own an Android tablet, and another 22% plan to buy one. Just 3% own another brand of tablet, and 8% plan to buy another brand.

With this sort of market penetration, iPad apps from asset managers are a must. Client-facing apps are also a must, since clients are also in sync with the iPad craze.

Software for mobile devices is also critical. Half, 49%, of advisers use an iPhone, followed by 31% using Android phone.

BlackBerry users made up just 25% of respondents, down markedly from 37% last year. In terms of satisfaction ratings, BlackBerry's fate comes into focus. Last year, 35% of users were satisfied. This year, it's a mere 19%.

Conversely, satisfaction ratings for the iPhone exceeded last year's impressive showing. Seventy-five percent of users are very satisfied, up from 64%. Another 19% are somewhat satisfied, leaving a very small pool of unsatisfied users.

Among advisers-who tend to be a demanding and critical lot-this is a monumental showing. By comparison, only 25% of Windows Mobile users were very satisfied, suggesting that even if the next version matches Apple's iOS 5 in features, it will be an uphill battle to wean advisers off their iPhones.

Advisers are also altering their desktop and laptop purchases. More than 11% have at least one computer running on the Apple operating system, more than double last year's total and nearly fourfold from 2009.

Another significant development: Windows 7 has finally overtaken the antiquated, decade-old Windows XP as they most-used operating system by financial planners, used by 58%.

Among customer relationship management systems, MS Outlook has been dethroned as the category leader. The new champion: Redtail CRM from Redtail Technology, the choice of nearly 32%, up from 23% in 2010.

As many advisers know, MS Outlook is not CRM software. Unfortunately, many survey respondents have yet to catch on, so MS Outlook came in second at 23%, unchanged from 2010.

In the portfolio management category, this year's winner was Albridge, for 28%. FP analysis found that the firm's popularity among advisers has grown since it became affiliated with Pershing.

This was followed by usage of Schwab Portfolio Center among 18%, up from 16%.

Morningstar Office ranked third among survey participants, with a 16% share, on par with last year.

Advisers expressed their greatest enthusiasm for their custodians, with Charles Schwab leading the pack for the second year running. Forty-six percent of advisers are very satisfied with Schwab's technology, and another 40% somewhat satisfied. That 86% approval rating is on par with the 88% Schwab received last year.

TD Ameritrade also posted gains. The very satisfied number rose to 38% from 35% in 2010, and somewhat satisfied advisers totaled 43% vs. 42%.

Fidelity Investments is making progress, too. While the very satisfied clients totaled 26%, unchanged from a year ago, somewhat satisfied clients inched up to 52% from 48%. FP's analysis found Fidelity's numbers have been handicapped by the lack of third-party software on its WealthCentral platform. However, Fidelity recently announced a significant expansion of WealthCentral's integration partners, and we suspect the firm's showing will improve.

Pershing held steady, with 24% of advisers very satisfied and somewhat satisfied advisers at 52% vs. 49%.

State Street Global incurred a drop in very satisfied clients, to 34% from 38%-but a big jump in somewhat satisfied clients to 42% from 33%.

While TradePMR experienced only a small drop in very satisfied clients, its somewhat satisfied clients surged to 48% from 37%.

Scottrade, a laggard last year, showed strong improvement. Very satisfied clients rose to 18% from 14%, and somewhat satisfied clients increased to 45% from 33%.

Looking forward, usage remains an ongoing issue. The number of advises who found software very easy to learn grew slightly to 10%, from 8%. But the number of advisers who find software somewhat difficult (38%) or very difficult (3%) was essentially unchanged and still noticeably high.

Asked what was the single biggest challenge they would like technology to help them solve, the No. 1 answer, for 40%, was workflow, followed by time management (20%) and client communications (18%).

Joel Bruckenstein writes for Financial Planning.