Barton Close, a Chattanooga, TN-based financial advisor with Raymond James, is spending more face-time with his clients, but that doesn’t mean jumping on planes or driving down endless highways. He’s using web conferencing tools, like the virtual meeting tool WebEx, to talk with clients directly. He can make eye contact and pick up all the subtle clues that come with a personal meeting. He and his clients can “co-browse” financial performance metrics, prospectuses and long-term forecasts.

An increasing number of his clients are choosing to run the meetings over mobile tools like iPads or smartphones instead of at their desktops, he says. They can chat on their own schedules, in an airport layover, say, or after they are home for the evening. And with about 20% of his client base contacting him through iPhone and iPads already, it’s becoming clear this is a trend that is sticking.

“It’s just like being there from the client’s perspective,” he says. “And we can deal with much more details than a discussion that’s just on the phone.”

Mobile media is still at the tipping point in financial services, but not for long. Consider that consumers are quickly adopting these tools in other facets of their lives. They use Skype to communicate with family members, iChat to talk with friends, or use Facetime to speak with their family doctor – all online, all available as mobile applications, and all at their own leisure. It stands to reason that they will want the same convenience of online conferencing and mobile apps to connect with their financial advisors—particularly younger investors, such as an affluent client’s adult child.

More than half of all U.S. mobile phone users now have a smartphone, according to comScore MobilLens data. Tablet penetration stands at 70 million or about 29% of U.S. Internet users, according to eMarketer. Already, 49% of investors with an average of $1.9 million in assets use a mobile app to manage and monitor their finances, according to a November survey from SEI. Of the same group, 56% said their “engagement with the Internet and digital technology” contributed to their ability to create wealth.

Mobility On The Map

Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates Private Client Group finds mobile apps and devices so powerful that he turned in his own corporate laptop nearly two years ago for an iPad. His firm just launched a mobile app for clients and at the end of December rolled out mobile-optimized versions of more than 2,000 advisor websites.

“Clients already have that preference and advisors are catering to how their clients want to be advised,” he says. “We understand the fact that there are generations of clients choosing to communicate differently than they have at the past.”

Adam Moseley, Schwab Advisor Services’ managing director of technology and business operations consulting, is hearing more often from reps about developing their own mobile apps, or how to hire an outside party to help them. If not focused on developing a specific tool, Schwab’s reps are at least working on their websites to make them more mobile-friendly.

“Mobile tends to be one of those discussions we’re having more often than not,” says Moseley. “It deepens that experience [with the client] and creates something more dynamic and interactive.”

Josh Bohlander, director of the technology advisor group at Raymond James Financial,says only about 10% of its advisors are using video conferencing when communicating with their clients today, but of those who are using it, they are doing so frequently.

Alexander Camargo, the wealth management analyst with research and consulting firm Celent, says that even while the majority of wealth clients prefer print outs and face-to-face meetings, that is changing. “Even older clients, we’re talking 60 and older, are becoming more comfortable with technology, such as paying bills through online checking accounts. And that is spilling into the wealth industry.”

On The Clock

They can also make reps more efficient, says Jon Patullo, TD Ameritrade Institutional’s managing director of technology platform management.

“Imagine having to drive half an hour to meet a client, and then drive back and not be able to work,” he says. “It’s becoming more acceptable to communicate through electronic communication.”

That allows advisors a chance to grow their business without necessarily growing their costs. A lack of mobile and social media skills will hamstring that effort particularly for advisors hoping to add young clients — or looking to keep the children of their older more affluent clients.

“Your client’s children are texting all day, not talking to people, and expecting a completely different experience,” says Patullo. “Over the next decade there will be big shift in getting clients, and how advisors are interacting with clients with technology. That next generation of clients want things now.”