SunGard hasn't yet targeted the RIA space, and they haven't been very innovative. But that's about to change.
SunGard is one of the world's leading software and technology services companies - a little fact that would surprise those who only know SunGard from the independent RIA world. It has a big footprint in financial services, providing such tech services as disaster recovery, managed IT, information availability consulting and business continuity management software. With annual revenue of about $4.5 billion, SunGard is the largest privately held software and services company, and was ranked 434th last year on the Fortune 500.
So why hasn't SunGard been successful in the independent RIA space? Two reasons: They haven't targeted the RIA space and, in recent years, they have not been very innovative. But that's about to change. The company's soon-to-be-released WealthStation Mobile Meeting application is impressive. The application is currently marketed as a supplement to WealthStation, although it is capable of working with data from other systems. Even if you do not use WealthStation, SunGard's new offer is instructive because it differs from the way many competitors approach iPad apps. Some may find this approach superior.
The development of WealthStation Mobile Meeting was driven by a variety of trends. Smartphone and tablet usage continue to expand at a rapid clip. Mobile Internet usage will soon exceed desktop usage. In addition, mCommerce - transactions conducted on a mobile device - is growing as a percentage of online revenue.
Looking at the financial sector, SunGard cites the growing adoption of mobile banking as an impetus for developing WealthStation Mobile Meeting. In addition, a growing number of financial institutions are deploying iPads. The cumulative effect was to make WealthStation Mobile Meeting a high priority app for SunGard.
As SunGard sees it, there are four principles guiding its mobile strategy. At the top of the list is creating a dynamic client experience. Rather than outputting a static report in PDF or another format, the goal was to provide an engaging user experience and actionable data. SunGard also wanted an app that took into account the person using it and the delivery channel - not take an existing desktop application and transfer it to an iPad environment. For example, advisors might want to view current plan data or perform a what-if analysis, but SunGard is assuming it's unlikely an advisor would want to create a comprehensive initial plan for a client within the app.
SECURITY AND COMPLIANCE FOCUS
As an expert in managed IT services and financial services data, SunGard is well aware of the industry's security and compliance concerns. WealthStation Mobile Meeting is designed with these issues in mind. SunGard recognizes that its standard mobile offerings will not suit every situation, so in addition to this and other apps, it will provide consulting services to firms wanting to develop their own mobile apps.
WealthStation Mobile Meeting is different from many other third-party apps for advisors because it is an entirely new application that appears to be custom-made for a mobile meeting between an advisor and a client. As tested, the app is an extension of the SunGard WealthStation, because the data being fed to the application resides on SunGard's servers and is populated from existing WealthStation data. Mobile Meeting can, however, display data from other sources. Certain types, primarily CRM-type data, can be edited from the iPad provided the software is configured properly, but financial data is generally edited and maintained in the system of record. An exception would be held-away assets that are entered as part of the scenario creation process. These can be saved to WealthStation.
The application is divided into four sections. The first is Contact & Relationship, where a client or prospect's demographic data resides. The area is further divided into four sections: Personal, Family, Interests and Financial. Only the Personal page is displayed when you enter the section, but you can expose a navigation bar that offers access to the other sections by clicking a small tab at the bottom left of the Personal page. The navigation bar also can include a picture. While the first three areas are self-explanatory, the Financial section may not be what users expect. Instead of financial data, it displays a client's trust and banking relationships, mortgages, accountants, lawyers, etc.
The Current Portfolio section is divided into four subsections: Portfolio Objectives, Performance, Investment Purpose and Actual vs. Target Allocations. Users can drill down for further details using the left navigation bar. For example, in the Actual vs. Target section, you can view a summary, or view the results by asset class. You can also view the data by objective if you've created separate investment buckets for objectives such as philanthropy, generational transfers and current income. The Performance section works the same way. You can view total portfolio performance or you can break it down by bucket. Whether looking at the total portfolio or a bucket, you can view performance by sector allocation, style allocation or portfolio holdings.
The Planning for the Future section includes five subsections: Interactive Planning, Interactive Comparison, Retirement Planning, Tax Views and Held-Away Assets. The Interactive Planning subsection allows users to view a client's projected cash flow in any year with various filters. If you tap on a point on the chart, it will show the client's projected pretax income for that year, or after all taxes and living expenses, or after all taxes, living expenses and health care costs. You can add goals as you wish and enter notes. You can also click on the pencil icon, which brings up a worksheet that displays the assumptions within the current scenario.
By overwriting the base case, you can create another scenario. For example, you could change the assumed retirement year, overall inflation rate, the health care inflation rate or other variable. You can save the scenario for later use without deleting or altering the base case.
Scenario planning in the retirement section is even easier and more intuitive. Advisors or clients can manipulate sliders representing variables such as retirement ages of the clients annual retirement spending, mortality assumptions, the impact of additional monthly savings and whether to include Social Security payments in the analysis. When moving the sliders, you can view one of three interactive graphs (percent of plan funded, retirement cash flow, yearly asset balance). The selected graph updates the impact of the changed variable. An icon allows the advisor to alter plan parameters. These are plan-specific assumptions; there will also be a tool assumption icon that will apparently let users set global defaults.
The final section is Reference. There are two subsections: Mobile Meetings and the Document Library. The first is meant to store client-specific documents that you might need for a client meeting. For example, if you are reporting on a client's current situation, the Mobile Meeting app is preferable to using a static PDF file, but perhaps a client will have a question about information in their last quarterly report. The advisor can store a copy of such a document. The document library is for more general information such as financial education materials, interest rates, etc.
Throughout the application, advisors have access to a notes utility. There are three kinds: regular notes anyone at the firm can see, private notes and action items. Each can have an alert date for follow up.
WealthStation Mobile Meeting is still in the beta phase, so a few features were still being refined, but the application is already impressive. The app makes very good use of the available screen real estate and the iPad environment. First-time users may not be aware of the left side navigation bar without an orientation, but once they begin using it the experience is extraordinary. There is also a breadcrumb trail at the top of the screen so that users can always see exactly where they are in the application. In addition, the application makes excellent use of color-coded bar charts at the top of the screen, again optimizing the screen space available to the developers.
GO WITH THE WORKFLOW
The whole user experience is laid out to suit the workflow of a client meeting. Users progress from one section to the next as they normally would: reviewing relationship information to confirm it is current, conducting a review of the portfolio, reviewing the financial plan, etc. Of course, advisors can alter the order, but the default structure is helpful for less-experienced advisors who have yet to put a standard meeting workflow in place.
The security aspects of the app are well thought out. Many advisors create PDFs and store them on their iPads, leaving them vulnerable to theft if the iPad is stolen. With Mobile Meeting, all data is stored on SunGard servers, meaning they won't be accessible to unauthorized users even if the iPad is swiped.
Mobile Meeting is written in HTML 5 and it is optimized for the Safari browser. Although no Android version is available yet, it should be simple for SunGard to optimize it for Chrome browsers as well as for Android users if they so choose.
There are other aspects of the app that make it attractive. It can expose data to other apps through web services. There is an application programming interface that facilitates integration with other apps. It will be able to pull in held-away assets from providers such as Albridge, ByAllAccounts and Yodlee.
In my tests, there was little to criticize. Since the app pulls information from a server over the web, you need a decent web connection, but I had no trouble using Wi-Fi. It took a bit longer to establish the initial connection using 3G, and data-intensive tasks were a bit slower, but overall it was fine for use with a client. Right now, the tax view is limited. It only provides information at client level. You can't drill down for tax information at the account level or the tax lot level. Other than that, there's a lot to like.
SunGard WealthStation Mobile Meeting is a solid example of what an app for advisors can deliver. It's designed for mobile meetings and provides advisors with what they need to conduct them. It takes into account the needs of the user and the delivery channel, plus it addresses security and compliance concerns. I suspect this app will become an immediate hit. FP
Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning editor-at-large, is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today newsletter and conference series, and president of Global Financial Advisors in Miramar, Fla. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com.