What’s in an app? Not all that share that appellation would smell as sweet to mobile phone users (with apologies to the author of Romeo and Juliet).
That’s why Boston-based research firm Dalbar rated 45 financial services company apps, according to nine distinct evaluation categories including discoverability, branding, design, navigation, engagement, draw, personalization, support and ease of use.
We include one app that succeeded across the board, and nine others that exemplify excellence in each of these nine categories.
(Check out 10 Tech Trends That’ll Rattle the Advisory Industry at ThinkAdvisor.)
“Mobile technology has evolved from a mere novelty into an absolute necessity,” says Dalbar’s managing director, Kathleen Whalen. “It is imperative for financial services firms to not fall in line with their competitors but blaze their own trail.”
Here are 10 app producers that do just that (with the top app first and the rest in no particular order).
1. ETrade Mobile for iPad
Top Honors: highly rated all-around
Of the 45 apps evaluated, ETrade is one of an elite four (CIBC, Soctiabank and Allstate produce the other three) that Dalbar calls a “trailblazer” — an app recognized for its potential to keep the firm in the customer’s view.
A user can trade stocks, check performance, use a variety of customizable features including notifications designed to sustain user engagement.
“E*Trade Mobile’s easy-to-use and visually appealing app is available to account holders and non-account holders alike. The app provides market data to all and quick and easy access to account details to current clients. New accounts can also be initiated through the use of the app,” writes Dalbar.
Besides its four “trailblazer” apps — those that attained high ratings across categories — Dalbar cites nine “pacesetters” that achieve an exceptional rating in an individual evaluation category. The following nine apps exemplify qualities that financial services companies should be seeking to excel in.
2. RidgeWorth Investments
Honors: Discoverability Champ
Financial services companies want their target audience to discover their app — that is, locate it and understand its function.
That’s what investment research firm Ridgeworth manages exceptionally. The app is prominently promoted on Ridgeworth’s website, which even has a video tutorial of the app to lower any barriers to use.
“Ridgeworth Investments’ iPad app earned a perfect 5 rating in Discoverability due to its promotion of this investment research app on the firm’s website and for its offering of pertinent information in Apple’s App Store,” Dalbar writes.
3. Franklin Templeton (US) for iPad
Honors: Branding Champ
You can have the market at your fingertips — fund returns, capital gains indications, thought leadership topic discussions — and never forget that Franklin Templeton Investments is somehow connected to all of this.
That’s because the mutual fund company — with wise old Ben Franklin’s countenance facing viewers on its logo — is subtly embedded everywhere.
“Franklin Templeton ensures that users are aware of exactly whose app they are utilizing without its branding ever becoming overpowering,” Dalbar writes.
Aside from its branding prowess, the app gets high ratings on navigation, engagement and ease of use.
4. Vanguard for Advisors
The Vanguard for Advisors app’s tasteful design — the execution of the app’s visual elements — make this resource an appealing way to access its product and performance information and market and investment commentary.
“With its use of universally recognized icons, accompanied by legible, well-contrasted text, Vanguard’s menu design leaves no room for questions as to what can be accomplished within this app,” Dalbar writes.
The color combinations are also notably consistent with Vanguard’s branding.
5. T. Rowe Price Personal
The T. Rowe Price Personal app’s exceptional maneuverability strengthens it as a resource where investors can view and manage accounts.
“Because there are headings found at the top of every screen, disorientation is a non-issue as users know exactly where they are at all times, and the arrow found within the menu’s sub-screens helps the user go back easily,” Dalbar writes.
Enhancing navigation, a menu icon is easily located at the top left of every screen.
6. Steer Clear Mobile (State Farm)
Sustaining users’ interest and motivating them to remain in the app longer is something State Farm excels in with its Steer Clear app.
“Not only does the app pique young drivers’ curiosity in the form of quizzes, videos and self-assessing questionnaires, but drivers are also able to earn badges called 'Bumper Stickers' within the app. The app does not outwardly reveal how to earn a badge, and Steer Clear Mobile cleverly engages users by making them analyze hints in order to infer how to earn a particular badge,” Dalbar writes.
Users can tout their badges via Facebook and call an agent to claim their discounts.
7. LifeSales (Transamerica)
Will the app encourage continuous interaction and draw users back? That’s what Transamerica’s LifeSales manages.
“Transamerica’s LifeSales app provides financial advisors with a multitude of tools necessary to support their business on-the-go. The app’s exceptional rating in this evaluation category is earned due to its volume of high-value business support, which draws advisors to continuously seek out the app to complete essential business activities,” Dalbar writes.
With a tap of the finger, the advisor can retrieve new or previously run quotes for customers and find a wealth of sales ideas and presentations.
8. On Investing (Charles Schwab)
The ability of an investor to suit his personal needs can only occur where an app provides depth, something Schwab’s On Investing app excels in.
“Users can save articles, create personalized tabs and reorganize pages to suit their needs. Once within a tab, articles can be moved around to position them on any part of the screen, and notes can be added via a familiar, yellow square paper. Notes can also be pinned to one’s calendar,” Dalbar writes.
9. MyLifeNow (New York Life)
No need to give up in frustration on New York Life’s MyLifeNow app when seeking extra help.
“Beyond offering support for technical matters, the app also displays context-specific help icons which, when tapped, will generate help windows for individual regions within the app. By displaying support in this fashion, important information is provided without forcing users to leave the screen they were previously viewing.”
While an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, the app provides a firewall of support through its Help section and FAQs as well.
10. Schwab Workplace Retirement
Honors: Ease of Use
People accessing a retirement app are older, perhaps, than your average mobile user, so the Schwab Workplace Retirement app’s ease of use eliminates barriers to usage.
“The logical organization of content and straightforward language results in a minimal learning curve to become familiar with this app,” Dalbar writes.
Buttons are large enough to get accurate screen taps, a plus for mobile-klutzy older folks.
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