Ultra-wealthy investors have been quick to adopt technology, sometimes with unexpected consequences for the wealth management firms that advise them, the Institute for Private Investors (IPI) said in a statement on Monday, June 21, announcing the results of a May survey of its members. The new survey is the organization’s third since 1997 focused on technology.

Media devices, social media and social networking have become more integrated into members’ daily lives, IPI said. For example, the survey found that 86% of respondents access news mainly through newspapers and magazines, but 76% said they also use Web sites. Another trend among respondents is the increased use of PDAs and smartphones, with these devices outpacing laptops (“the clear favorite not too long ago”) 47% to 36%.

IPI said that more than 90% of its investor members are privy to the daily dialogue within IPI’s online community, Memberlink. Indeed, the survey found that social media are gaining in popularity: 38% of respondents said they actively participate in social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, forums and blogs. Another 33% passively participate online (“lurk and learn,” in Memberlink parlance), while 28% are not active at all.

How do these trends stack up against those in earlier surveys? IPI said its 1997 survey found investors ahead of their advisors in use of email, forcing wealth management firms to catch up by building online access to accounts and private client intranets.

By 2007, IPI said, private online forums had become an ideal environment for requesting references or comparing fees, revealing opaque charges or hidden fees for all participants in the private online group. “Greater transparency in the wealth management industry is arguably the most applauded of the unintended consequences, and IPI private investor members were among the first to compare notes online with their private online community, Memberlink, in 1998,” the statement said.

IPI has 1,100 ultra high-net-worth investors in 17 countries and 40 U.S. states.

Read a story about IPI’s survey of advisors and investors from the archives of InvestmentAdvisor.com.

Michael S. Fischer (msf7@columbia.edu) is a New York-based financial writer and editor and a frequent contributor to WealthManagerWeb.com.