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There’s an app for that: Advisors get a lift going mobile

Mobile technology is the future of the wealth management industry.

About 36% of advisors said that enhancing mobile technology capabilities was one of the most important technology initiatives in 2018, according to a Cerulli Associates report. And mobile tech will transform financial planning in one to three years, more than any other technology, according to Financial Planning’s 2019 Tech Survey.

Financial services firms are taking notice and launching new mobile apps of their own. United Capital is the latest, joining others such as Merrill Lynch, LPL Financial, Fidelity and Betterment. The Newport, California-based firm launched its app earlier this month after building it in less than a year.

“Firms that want to keep their clients' attention and stay relevant need to stake out territory on mobile platforms,” Mike Capelle, United Capital’s chief platform officer, said in an email. “Well-designed apps help clients fit their advisors into their own lives, as opposed to forcing a client to rearrange their schedules.”

iphone app mobile technology Jan 16, 2019
The Twitter Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone 6 for an arranged photograph in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. Twitter Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on February 10. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

Like its competitors, the United Capital app lets clients check their portfolios, upload and access documents and receive video messages from advisors, according to the firm.

“In the end, just about every advisor is going to have something,” says Scott Smith, lead author of the Cerulli report.

Practicality and design also play a role.

“An app lets us use the strengths of the mobile platform in ways a web-based app cannot,” Smith says. “That means taking advantage of push notifications and designing the interface in a way that makes more sense for a mobile screen.”

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Still, not all firms can afford to build and launch an app. Smaller firms without the millions in capital necessary to develop an in-house mobile app will hold out or partner with firms that have already built the technology, according to Smith.

Firms that prefer to build in-house can also borrow code instead of starting from scratch.

“We intentionally used the React JavaScript library to code our web application, so porting it to the mobile app mitigated a lot of new code development,” Capelle says. “This allowed us to bring the app to market at a fraction of that cost.”

Either way, offering clients an app won’t make or break their business, according to Smith.

“I think [mobile technology] is a complement to advisors rather than a straight-up disruptor,” he says.

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