Financial planner Bill Winterberg says he can understand why many of his peers treat new technology as warily as they would an investment recommendation from someone with no track record. “I think many advisors want to see a proven return on investment, and they want to hear success stories. By and large, the general [advisor] population isn’t necessarily eager to jump on the [technology] bandwagon.”

Winterberg is a special case, though — a certified financial planner with such a passion for technology that his practice has morphed into a tech consultancy for advisors. Driven by people like Winterberg, founder of the FPpad.com website and blog, the tech bandwagon to which he refers is fast gaining passengers and momentum as it hurtles into a new reality where even the most technologically conservative (read: stubborn) advisors are turning to tech tools to gain an edge.

Winterberg, who’s based in Atlanta, caught a glimpse of that reality at a recent conference for financial planners. By his estimation, at least half the advisors there had some kind of tablet computer — in most cases an Apple iPad — in tow.

See also: 5 ways the tablet can enhance your  business relationships

These days, he says, the competitive landscape is such that technology is crucial to growing a client base and a practice, to working more efficiently, to strengthening client relationships and client satisfaction, and to increasing profitability. Advisors can no longer get by on their strategic expertise, sales acumen, interpersonal skills and product know-how alone. They need tech tools.

But which ones? From cloud-based platforms and mobile apps to hardware, utilities and software systems, some of the advisory community’s leading tech minds share their most indispensable, empowering, intriguing and ROI-generating tech tools for 2012 and beyond. Dip your toe in the technology waters with these three classic tools, then check out the rest of our series:

3 apps that let you work from anywhere

5 free apps every advisor should know about

5 social media apps that make networking easy

5 apps for a paperless (or paper-light) office

4 apps for portfolio analysis

 

iPad

1. The iPad.

“I can’t think of another type of tool or product that’s been embraced so quickly by the advisory community,” says Winterberg, speaking about Apple’s iPad tablet. Indeed, the iPad is fast becoming a day-to-day difference-maker for advisors, providing a gateway to all kinds of useful (and sometimes just plain cool) client-facing, back-office and cloud-based tools for business (and, dare we say, for personal enjoyment, too). There’s even a LinkedIn group called “Financial Advisors With iPads” from which a new term for tablet-wielding advisors has emerged: the “iPadvisor.”

Surface 

2. The Microsoft Surface tablet.

A direct challenger to Apple and the iPad, the new Surface may have an edge over its chief competitor because it doesn’t require advisors who are comfortable using Microsoft operating systems and software to step out of their comfort zone to learn the Apple operating system. “The beautiful thing is, you’re using one operating system, whether you’re on a mobile device or at your desk,” says Andrew Gluck, a founder of Advisors4Advisors, a practice management portal, and Advisor Products, a client communications and marketing company, both serving independent financial advisors. Released in late October and aimed squarely at business users, this sleek, powerful tablet runs Windows 8. What’s more, Microsoft is also poised to roll out more retail stores, plus new Windows-based phones, in the months ahead. The Apple versus Microsoft rivalry is about to escalate.

Office 365

3. Microsoft Office 365.

“I think advisors will be moving to the cloud,” says Gluck. “Instead of hosting Microsoft Exchange and Office, they’ll buy Office 365.” And in doing so, they’ll get web conferencing, file sharing, email — pretty much everything available with Exchange and Office — while shifting email archiving and other time-consuming, often costly administrative tasks to Microsoft and the cloud. That can mean substantial cost savings for small and mid-sized practices, Gluck contendsCheck out office365.microsoft.com for a free trial.