Fully 50% of respondents to the 2012 Money Management Executive Technology Survey said that their companies were adopting social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for the first time.
That's a big step up from the 2011 survey, when fewer than 20% of respondents said their firms used either Twitter or Facebook to communicate with present or future customers.
That stepped-up presence was reported by a select sample of 77 director-level and above executives at mutual fund, exchange-traded fund and alternative investment firms. Respondents included top-level executives in technology, operations, marketing and overall fund management.
Of these, nearly a fifth say they are using social media as means of reaching customers and increasing revenue. The top two: Twitter (19%), for communicating with customers; and Facebook (17%) for promoting products or services.
That does not reach the level of Web site usage, for reaching customers and generating revenue, by far. Currently, 74% of fund firms are using their Web sites as the primary use of digital technology to reach out to customers. And 25% are using their sites as direct commerce sites, allowing visitors to purchase or redeem shares.
Still, the shift toward social media as a means of reaching out appears to be picking up mind share at fund firms. In 2011, 84% of respondents cited a Web site as their firms' top means of reaching customers, to increase revenue.
Accompanying that movement is acceptance of the sorts of mobile devices that make it easier for marketing and other staff members to communicate, around the clock, with customers through social media.
Thirty-six percent of respondents said that their firms were allowing employees to use iPads and other tablet computers for the first time; and, another 20% said their firms had begun to embrace iPhones and other 'smart' phones that make it easy to 'tweet' or update Facebook and LinkedIn pages on the go.
In fact, those kind of devices were seen as the number one means of increasing executive of staff productivity. In the survey, 51% of respondents said iPads and other tablet computers were the best technological means of increasing productivity at this point and another 32% pointed to smartphones.
After that: Replacing desktop computers with laptop computers and giving broadband mobile access to the Internet to those laptop computer users.
That embrace appeared also to signal a re-embrace of spending on technology, throughout the fund industry.
Last year, fully 38% of respondents said they could not predict whether their firms' spending on technology would rise or decline.
There was no such uncertainty this time. In this year's survey conducted in May and June of fund executives across the country, 41% expected spending on technology at their firms to pick up. Only 10% expected it to decline. Thirty percent expected no change. Nineteen percent weren't sure what to expect.
Of those that were certain that spending would pick up, by contrast, 13% said it would pick up by 5% or more.
Some of those more aggressive spenders clearly expect to use technology as a means of differentiation. Nineteen percent of respondents said their firms would spend 5% or more of their operating budgets on technology.
That is up from last year, when 16% of respondents said their firms would spend 5% or more of their operating budgets on technology.
And, in 2012, 42% of firms expect to spend 3% or more of their operating budgets on technology.
As with the past, however, firms clearly are expecting their technology departments to do more, with less.
Ranking as the top spending priorities for fund firms were projects involving back office and administrative operations and customer relationship management systems. These each were put at the top of their spending lists by 29% of respondents.
But when these same executives were asked where they expected to cut costs, these two areas also hit the top of the list. Thirteen percent of managers said they would cut back office and administrative operations costs, while another 8% targeted CRM software.
Also high on spending priority lists were risk management systems, given the steady advance of Wall Street reform regulation and the adoption of new cost-basis reporting rules by the Internal Revenue Service. The industry is awaiting a second set of reforms, for instance, in how money market funds can operate, from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But, often, very prosaic, basic information technologies made the top of the spending priority lists.