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EXCLUSIVE: War For World-Beating Advisor App Still To Be Won

Wendy Spires

15 March 2013

While the wealth management industry has made great strides recently with mobile apps for advisors, technology vendors still have everything to play for when it comes to revolutionising advisor-client interactions, new research from MyPrivateBanking has revealed.

Having analysed the mobile solutions offered by ten of the world’s biggest software vendors, the Swiss research firm found a lot to praise, but also some major shortcomings – particularly when it comes to fostering dynamic client meetings.

MyPrivateBanking found that only 40 per cent of the mobile apps offered allow advisors to produce ad hoc reports “live” in client meetings. Furthermore, not a single one of the apps analysed provide advisors with the kind of “full and flexible” report publishing options, both for standard and ad hoc reports, that the research firm says it would like to see.

That said, 50 per cent of the solutions under examination were found to have good performance reporting capabilities, and 60 per cent provide a comprehensive and detailed portfolio management system. It would appear then, that while technology vendors have moved quickly to offer apps which are rich in content and functionality, there is still a lot of scope for them to tailor their offerings towards client meetings.

Client meetings are clearly an area of focus for app developers since MyPrivateBanking praised existing solutions for the “excellent job” they are doing in terms of helping advisors to carry lots of information into meetings. What they are not doing so well in is addressing meeting dynamics, MyPrivateBanking said. For example, just one of the apps included in the study had a component aimed at helping advisors prepare for a client meeting.

“Existing mobile solutions for financial advisors show the potential for greatly improving the interaction between advisor and client by supplying real-time information, multi-media content and new ways of communication,” said Francis Groves, senior analyst at MyPrivateBanking. Explaining further, she pointed out that up until now client-advisor meetings have been “dominated by heaps of paper, often out-dated reports and portfolio data, with discussison of portfolios and performance where little scenario planning was possible”. 

Design-wise, it was found that vendors are still using wealth managers’ existing platforms (for PC and desktop computers) as their blueprint. The fact that such platforms don’t tend to directly “translate” very well to handheld devices is something which many industries are still grappling with – like publishing, for example. In addition to design concerns, MyPrivateBanking also found that client contacting functions tend to be “unnecessarily limited”.

Over the past few years wealth managers, and the technology vendors which serve them, have made huge progress on the app front. And while it is still not a given that clients will be offered a mobile interface with their institution, launches continue to come thick and fast.

Bottom-up pressure

Increasing numbers of firms are also developing apps for their advisors, spurred, industry figures have told this publication, by the fact that advisors have been anxious to leverage the technology they use in other areas of their life. There has even been a widespread trend of advisors bringing in their own mobile devices to help facilitate client meetings – something which is clearly undesirable from a security and compliance perspective – and so we can expect bottom-up pressure to encourage more firms to invest heavily in this area.

Developers of advisor mobile solutions do face a difficult task however, MyPrivateBanking notes, as they have to bridge the needs of two different categories of user: the advisor (or other representative of the wealth management firm) and their clients. The level of complexity and depth of information that mobile solutions need to handle are also of “a completely different order to that required of most consumer apps”, the firm said. The progress that has been made since wealth management apps first appeared is therefore actually quite impressive.

MyPrivateBanking found a lot to praise in the solutions it examined. Specifically, it said that it was “impressed by the depth of information and sheer numbers of features that vendors are providing in the first-generation of advisor mobile solutions”.

Standout offerings included those from PolarisFT, which was praised for “incorporating excellent design features for financial planning and performance viewing”, and SunGard, which was lauded for its use of mobile visualisation tools, as well as its focus on smaller wealth management firms.

If they haven’t already, forward-thinking wealth managers should certainly be thinking about developing mobile solutions for their advisors – if only to make client meetings as slick in their delivery as possible. It is however clearly a confusing market out there. As such, MyPrivateBanking advises wealth managers to “pay particular attention to identifying the functions required as well as assessing the coverage of markets and operating systems by different vendors”, along with ensuring that the solution is as customisable as they need it to be for their purposes. The firm also advises that testing the app under “real life” conditions is a critical step before signing on the dotted line.

Expensive mistakes are clearly easy for firms to make when they are investing in technology on a “catch-up” basis, and MyPrivateBanking’s report indicates that as yet no one vendor ticks all the boxes. It will be interesting to see which software provider will emerge victorious in the race to develop the definitive advisor app.

(Editor’s note: The ten developers included in MyPrivateBanking’s study were: Advent Black Diamond, Appway, Avaloq, Charles River Development, DST, Finantix, Kony Solutions, MicroStrategy, PolarisFT and SunGard.)