I remember first using the Internet while studying finance in business school in the 1990s, and how amazed I was at what could be accomplished. I could run down piles of information on investments online, and then share ideas about them quickly with colleagues via email.

Back then I had no idea of how far it would go.

To really appreciate the state of the online investing industry today, it helped to stop by the annual “T3” conference (www.technologytoolsfortoday.com), as I did in Miami this month. Started eight years ago by long-time financial planners David Drucker and Joel Bruckenstein, T3 is a premier gathering for financial advisors who want to know more about where tech is taking their practices, and the companies who are furnishing the software and services to make it happen.

Three trends struck me as noteworthy:

Your Client Wants It Now. There was a time when investors were content to wait for a report in the mail at the end of every quarter, laying out the state of their portfolio. This is increasingly becoming less so. A 24/7 news cycle dominates the way people learn about the world around them, and it leads them to wonder how it’s all affecting the state of their wealth. Investors place a premium on access to real-time information, and advisors who provide them with the means to do so will strengthen their standing.

By the way, it’s not just about downloading a portfolio update on a home computer or tablet. Investors also want access to their financial planners as well. One advisor told me his practice is now conferring with clients via the online meeting platform Webex 50 percent of the time. It’s convenient for both advisor and investor, particularly as clients retire and move to different parts of the world.

Your Client Wants To See. Numbers can easily make anyone’s eyes glaze over, regardless of what format they’re in. A portfolio performance report in a PDF e-mailed to a client’s computer may be no more inviting than a 30-page hard copy if it’s composed of rows and columns of turgid data.

The good news is the growth of software that shows rather than tells the state of an investor’s financial condition. Just as Mint did so well for consumers looking to save money, strong and colorful graphics visualize for investors how close they are to reaching their retirement goals.

MoneyGuidePro, for example, employs a gauge that flutters along a dial with endpoints of failure and success; the dial’s position shifts as inputs are altered, reflecting changes in the investor’s life—a delayed retirement date, for example, or an unexpected medical expense.

The visual representation of our financial lives helps consumers to more easily grasp the importance of their wealth in their lives and the financial decisions they make. It’s putting it all into perspective.

Your Client Knows More Than You Think. Perhaps the biggest change impacting the industry is a more evolved client.

Just in the last few years, consumers have had more access to real-time information, from scrolling through Twitter on their smartphones to jumping on their iPad at the gym. In fact, a Fidelity Investments survey found that two-thirds of the millionaires surveyed said they would like to use electronic media with their advisors and some five million high-net-worth investors in the U.S. and Canada are already using social media to help them make financial decisions, according to LinkedIn.  

There are real implications for advisors. Clients and prospects “are asking questions they may not have asked five to seven years ago,” Jessica Maldonado, vice president of Searcy Financial Services, told me at T3.

Maldonado (at age 33, she typifies the next generation of advisors) warns that if clients are dissatisfied with the answers they get, they might go searching for a more savvy advisor. They may even avail themselves of new financial planning software, in an effort to do their investment work themselves, cutting out the advisor altogether.

As we all know, that can end in frustration, as investors make the unguided mistakes that damage portfolios and send them “on the hunt for an advisor once again,” Maldonado says.

This is why, even in my own conversations with advisors and asset managers about Finect, I often note that the prolific access to real-time information -- but also the opportunity to use technology to engage and serve clients, even better than before.

The lesson is clear: As clients deepen their understanding of their finances, advisors need to deepen their relationship with their clients – and technology can certainly help.

Jennifer Openshaw is president of Finect, the online network for the investment and financial advisory industry, and author of The Millionaire Zone (Hyperion), based on research about how the wealthy use their social networks for financial success. A longtime columnist for Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, she previously founded Women’s Financial Network, now a division of Siebert Financial (NYSE:SIEB). Twitter: jopenshaw.