The asset management industry's embrace of digital operations is accelerating.

Among the top technologies being adopted by fund companies are mobile apps and iPads/tablets, according to the asset managers surveyed for Money Management Executive's annual technology survey.

Among the top reasons highlighted by asset managers for adopting iPads and other tablet devices is the promise of increased staff productivity the devices allow when traveling or multi-tasking at home.

With mobile apps, staff can access services such as Morningstar while on the move and can access information remotely.

Aaron Izenstark, co-founder and CEO of IRON Financial, says he began investing in iPads and mobile apps two years ago and the decision has paid off. Of IRON's 32 employees, 10 now use iPads, which Izenstark says has been a big boost particularly for sales staffers out in the field who are now able to more quickly file reports and update contact lists.

"As a not giant asset management firm we find that we have to stay at the forefront of technology to keep competitive out there," says Izenstark, who is co-portfolio manager of the IRON Strategic Income Fund. "The biggest issue it has helped us with is productivity."

Cloud computing tied with iPads/tablets and mobile apps in response to what technology products firms were adopting for the first time this year at 17%.

Rusty Vanneman, chief investment officer at Omaha, Neb.-based CLS Investments LLC says iPads have been "a big hit" since being provided to staff a few years ago.

Five portfolio managers on his 13-person investment team utilize the devices.

"The iPads have particularly come in handy for meetings, whether or not they have been internal or on the road," says Vanneman. "There have been a few mobile apps that have also helped productivity, whether they have been used for customer relationship management, travel management, or expense management."

BOARDS ALSO USING iPADS

In addition to asset management employees, fund board of directors are also utilizing iPads more to assist with reporting. Gemini Fund Services purchased iPads for its more than 10 board of directors three years ago and the investment has saved money in the long run, according to the firm's CEO, Andrew Rogers. Prior to utilizing the mobile devices, Gemini needed to print out large pamphlets for its directors at each meeting, but now all that information can be accessed digitally via tablets.

"The board members love it because when they go on a plane all they need is their iPads rather than taking around a big book," says Rogers. "More and more board members are going with online and technologically-driven board books. Most of the reporting we do can be accessed on the iPad so it really provides an efficient way to access this information," says Rogers. "We are definitely embracing the mobile technology out there and using it more and more."

SECURITY CONCERNS

Hannah Correll, director of business development at Orangefield Columbus, says while iPads and mobile apps offer many advantages, the New York-based fund administrator has been a bit cautious, the worry being the security issues that arise should an employee's device get lost or stolen.

"We like to air on the side of being overcautious," says Correll. "We are not moving toward iPads to increase productivity."

Correll added that while Orangefield Columbus employees are not using iPads, efforts have been made to make reports easily accessible on the devices for its clients in the asset management industry.

TECHNOLOGY SPENDING PRIORITIES

The top spending priorities indicated by those surveyed for technology in 2014 included back office/administration operations cited by 33% of respondents, followed by computer security (33%) and analytics/big data (29%). When asked for areas firms expect to cut technology-related expenses in 2014, back office/administration operations (11%) was the top choice followed by distribution management software (7%).

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed by MME (23%) indicated that they plan to spend 5% or more of their operating budget on technology-related purchases. Thirty-nine percent say they plan to increase technology-related spending this year compared to 15% who said they would cut their budget this year.

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