A few months ago several representatives from Trust Company of America walked into Financial Planning’s offices and laid a row of sleek computer tablets on the table, including the iPad and several Android devices.

All the devices ran the asset custodian’s newest offering for advisors, the Liberty platform. Liberty allows investors and their advisors, wherever they happen to be, to retrieve, sort and analyze account information, according to Dennis Noto, TCA’s chief information officer.

One of Liberty’s most compelling features is the ability for each firm to put its own brand, logo or other identifying mark front and center before a client wherever that client’s iPhone, Droid or Blackberry goes. And considering how much investors cherish their smart phones and computer tablets, a mobile app with your firm’s name on it makes a lot of sense.

There are tens of thousands of mobile applications available for the Apple, Android and Blackberry operating systems. Most industry professionals who know their mobile apps say each and every firm should have one, especially those that claim to be serious about being accessible to their clients.

“The first thing a client will do is pop up their favorite app,” Noto says. “They are going to look at movies their kids have recorded, photos, or look at newsworthy information.”

It does seem safe to say that — especially when markets are volatile — clients will want to check on how their portfolios are performing. It certainly couldn’t hurt if those clients could turn to their advisory firms first for that information.

Firms that decide to own a piece of real estate on the mobile app terrain should bear a few simple rules in mind, according to industry professionals:

-- Make the information as targeted and specific as possible. Treat apps like portals, not Web pages, exactly. 

“We recognized there was a shift taking place from the Internet traffic hitting our pages,” says Eric Clarke, President of Orion Advisor Services, which offers back office services to RIA firms. During 2010, Orion noticed that more than 10% of its Web visitors accessed the site through mobile apps.

-- Make sure the information is valuable. In the advisory business, that means clients want account values, performance reporting, and market commentaries whether in writing or on a video, Clarke says.

-- If you include video, make it concise. Two or three minutes should do it.

“We find our advisors and their clients like the commentary,” says Jim Anderson, chief systems officer at CLS Investments. “We can give them the picture and in a short amount of time.”

-- Before you launch an app, ask yourself: How will I keep this new?

“You cannot just start it today,” Anderson says. “We spend time thinking, ‘What is the next step?’ ‘Is it always fresh?’”

Staying fresh and relevant with mobile apps, then, is one way to keep your firm current and relevant to your clients.

-- Don’t worry — this will not supplant your Web site, blog, social media or any other work that you have already put in online, according to Steve Biermann, chief marketing officer of Advisor Studios, which provides video production, Web development and other creative services to advisory clients.

“It enhances the Web experience,” Biermann said. “No one has to dig around to find what they want.”