From the May 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Undercover Apps

Can you distinguish between effective apps and company brochures in disguise?

The phrase on everyone’s lips these days is “there’s an app for that.” But in the advisory world, that’s not always the case. There might be an app that sort of does that or tries to do that, but some of them don’t do that at all. In fact, some apps are just glorified brochureware.

Brochures have their place, but not on your tablet. Some companies, like Bloomberg, Black Diamond and PIMCO, are providing advisors with innovative apps. While many financial services firms already recognize the value of tablets, the industry’s adoption of tablets is still in its infancy and offers huge potential for growth.

Early adopters of tablets have higher than average income—$120,000 annually—and advanced education, which make them desirable customers, according to Forrester. If you’re not using a tablet, it’s likely your clients are, and you may be missing an opportunity to communicate with them through this channel, demonstrating innovation and a forward-looking approach to communications. The same opportunities exist for you and how you use the apps that serve your business.

The best apps should do three things: drive sales and efficiency; take full advantage of the medium; and evolve based on your needs.

Driving Sales and Efficiency

Currently, the focus of many tablet apps is research and content reading, as well as data-driven analysis apps that connect to portfolio or fund data and allow for varying levels of investment and portfolio analysis. Being able to read reports or review client portfolio information on your tablet remotely enables you to work more efficiently and, therefore, spend more time addressing your clients’ needs.

As enterprise-level B-to-C apps grow more sophisticated, I think we’ll see the presence of the advisor become more prominent, whether the end client is viewing their portfolio details or reading content that has been curated by their advisor. These apps provide a powerful way for your organization to support your business, as well as a touchpoint that offers two-way communication between you and your client. Moreover, when integrated with social features, these apps become a viable channel for referrals.

Taking full advantage of the medium

A good app often takes advantage of the features offered by tablets, such as location services, the accelerometer (which allows you to switch from portrait to landscape with ease), the availability of content online and offline, and connections to other apps within the device that facilitate additional communications and follow-up.

These days, everyone’s talking about responsive design and what it means for tablets. Responsive design simply means that the design should be flexible for display across platforms and mediums. E-Trade’s app provides a great example of this sort of modular design. Apps should also be optimized for touchscreen (read: fat-fingered) interaction.

App Evolution: Be part of the Conversation

Like an intranet, mobile apps are basically a toolkit. The best toolkits are well-organized and intuitively set up: The hammer and nails are side-by-side.

First and foremost, your toolkit should be well-managed. Hopefully, your organization will allow you to be part of the development process—providing feedback on apps in development, helping to prioritize features, testing these features for usability and applicability and being part of the ideation process when new ideas are presented. The most effective apps are built (and evolve) in response to user and business needs. The best way to know what apps are most effective for you is to try them and offer feedback.

The best apps deliver an enhanced sales and communication experience, connecting research to recommendations to presentation to follow-up. All this functionality may not be contained in a single app, but as part of an app ecosystem. The ultimate app? It’s the one that empowers you to serve your clients more effectively and efficiently—without thinking about it.

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