From the August 2010 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

The Technology Coach: Advisors: What Is Your Mobile Technology Strategy?

Anytime, anywhere is the order of the day. Are you prepared?

August is one of the best months to think about new ideas--or in some cases give unsuccessful old ideas a second try with new thinking. Many advisors try to take vacation time in August, because they expect (or hope) the office will be quieter; that is, as long as markets cooperate. So perhaps you are reading this on the beach or some other place away from your office, one where you can appreciate how mobile technology could benefit your firm.

How can your firm leverage mobile devices and smart phones to conduct business and better serve clients? And how are your clients using mobile devices now and in the future to access their account information, either through you or your custodian?

There are striking similarities between the experiences today with mobile technology and that of the Internet in the late 1990s. You might remember "www" was often referred to as the "world wide wait" given the lack of speed and performance.

Today, similar issues are occurring with some of the wireless data networks in large cities like New York and San Francisco, primarily attributed to the increased data usage of smart phones. However, just like the early speed problems with the Internet, I believe that these issues will be addressed. The fact is the recent growth in users of these mobile devices has been tremendous. Most advisors today use their mobile devices to check e-mail, manage their calendar, view news stories, and retrieve market information. These tasks are not very different compared to how consumers use their mobile devices. In fact, the business and personal uses of mobile devices are fairly intertwined. Whatever you do today with mobile technology, it will likely change significantly in the near future, probably more so than any other technology in your firm.

One of the significant advantages of mobile technology is the overall number of applications (or apps) available for devices. Accessing the Internet from a mobile device has been available for quite some time. However, it was a painful experience because of the challenges of navigating on a site not specially designed for mobile devices. Even sites that were designed to be viewed using mobile devices generally had fewer features available than the same site viewed through a traditional Internet browser.

Lately though, apps have significantly changed this experience by offering the ability to receive comprehensive information and data, all within the capabilities of the mobile device. The CNBC Real-Time app is a good example. You can access market statistics, quotes, news stories, videos, and other market information very efficiently and with very little eye strain. The app also has the ability to send market updates and alerts to your mobile device; but be ready, because it can send a lot-even in the middle of the night. We are just beginning to see mobile apps become available for programs used by advisors. For example, Salesforce.com has built an app that allows their CRM users to access client information and execute a number of common tasks through the program. The Salesforce.com app is a great tool for when you are traveling between client appointments and need to confirm information or perhaps would like to initiate a task with your assistant at your office based on a meeting you just had with a client. Essentially, this removes the need to send an e-mail to start the follow-up process, which is how most advisors handle this today.

Several custodians are also beginning to introduce apps for their platforms. The retail side of the business has offered account access via mobile devices for a number of years. However, these solutions did not necessarily have all the functionality or were not well suited for advisors given the advisor's need to access a large number accounts through one point. Therefore, advisors primarily needed a laptop in order to access their custodian's platform while out of the office. However, these new apps will change this situation. It is exciting to imagine the possibilities. Perhaps you are at the airport, waiting to catch a flight, and your largest client calls with questions regarding recent account activity. Today, you would likely call your office to confirm the activity or you would quickly power up your laptop if you had it with you. Regardless, it is not a very efficient--let alone convenient--method for addressing your client's questions. Now with an app provided by your custodian, you would be able to view the client's account through your mobile device and perhaps even answer their questions during the same phone conversation. This is certainly a significant improvement in the overall experience, primarily for you since you can now get on your flight knowing that you provided great service to your largest client.

Another critical area to think about with your mobile technology strategy is how your clients use technology. For years, the majority of advisors' clients had minimal interest in using online channels to access information about accounts managed by their advisor. Most advisory clients are delegators and don't want to invest the time to go through the process of establishing online access to their accounts.

Recently however, as the process of activating online access improved, as well as the other benefits of going "paperless," more clients are willing to use the online channels. I believe the continued advancements and overall adoption of mobile technology will further influence this trend. If all a client wants to do is access the Internet, manage their e-mail, store photos, and other simple processing tasks, then I believe they will be more likely to select an iPad or similar device to meet these needs rather than a traditional computer as their next technology purchase. For the non-computer-savvy user, it is much easier and perhaps more cost effective to use mobile devices rather than buying another desktop or laptop computer. The implications of this for advisors are to make sure that your reports, Web site, and other electronic channels work with these mobile devices.

The overall advancements in mobile technology are certainly good for advisors. Although most advisors conduct a majority of their business from their primary office, having the option to use mobile devices will provide new opportunities for advisors to conduct business and better serve their clients. In addition, the increased access to Wi-Fi networks and performance improvements to wireless networks will make it even easier for advisors to use mobile devices. President Obama just signed a memorandum to free up 500 megahertz of government and commercial spectrum during the next 10 years to meet the increased demand of broadband access for mobile devices. Bottom line, the trend is clear and you will continue to see new programs and tools for your mobile device--especially new apps that have been designed for use by advisors.


Dan Skiles is the executive VP of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at dskiles@ssginstitutional.com.

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