MIAMI - Smartphone shipments began to outpace personal computer shipments in 2011. Now, more than 50 percent of mobile phone users are smartphone users.

And chasing smartphones for fast adoption: Tablets. In the United States, there are now approximately 115 million smartphone and 74 million tablet users, by communications industry estimates.

Which means, for fund companies trying to market their products through wholesalers and advisors, that “it is no longer optional to render sites in a way that will appear on mobile devices,'' said Brian Melter, managing director and vice president for E-Business Solutions at Boston Financial Data Services.

In fact, 76.8% of financial advisors reported using mobile devices in 2012 to conduct business, according to Kasina data cited by Melter at the 2013 NICSA Annual Conference and Expo. That is up from 53.5% in 2010.

But, while 70% of fund firms have strategies for providing mobile apps and data to their wholesalers, only 37% have strategies to get similar apps and data to advisors.

The point is not just to replace paper, said Karl Gouverneur, vice president and chief technology officer at Northwestern Mutual. Its focus is to find ways to “compress the cycle time” between engaging a customer and making a sale. That means finding ways to use the mobile platform to cut out meetings.

That, for instance, can mean getting advisors to adopt iPads or tablets, instead of laptop computers. Opening up laptops creates a lull in conversation, reducing momentum. Getting out a tablet instead opens up conversation.

Northwestern Mutual has taken the process a step further, adding “gamification” to presentations about products. That means rewarding potential customers with points, as they proceed through the presentation.

The points have no real value, he said, but they “add coolness.”

Bill Finnegan, Senior Managing Director, Retail Marketing, MFS Investment Management, said his firm is seeing great demand for moving all laptop apps and capabilities all the way to the smartphone.

"Now everyone wants everything on that little device,'' he said, as a user’s primary computing device.

Prudential Investments has set up a “digital enablement group” to foste rand manage the changeover, said Anita Manchanda, Vice President, Information Systems at Prudential Investments.

Here are Boston Financial’s tips for succeeding at moving operations in the field to smartphones and tablets:

* A ‘standalone’ mobile strategy will be a failure. The strategy must take into account what a company wants to achieve, not just support individual uses of devices.

* The digital strategy must account for both internal and external users (wholesalers and advisors).

* The services provided will need support.

* Watch the numbers. Employee and client activity data will help identify needs, opportunities and gaps.

* Watch for game-changing devices (Microsoft Surface Pro) and cut the cord on obsolete technologies (BlackBerry).

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