Mobile apps have become center-pieces of many businesses the last few years, but asset management companies have been slower to catch on.

A recent study published by MyPrivateBanking Research shows that only about 10% of asset management companies worldwide are offering mobile apps designed for investors or potential investors in their funds. Nearly half (43%) of the fund companies who offer the app say it is available on iOS and Android versions. However, only 14% offer the platform on iPhone and BlackBerries.

"There are too few players in the investment management industry that are diving into mobile apps and those that are, are not realizing its full potential," says Francis Groves, a senior analyst at Switzerland-based MyPrivateBanking. "We were surprised that we found it so hard to find managers that were going into the mobile arena."

While the MyPrivateBanking report emphasizes that the investment management industry is being "worryingly slow to investment in mobile deployment," five fund managers were lauded for their apps serving the investor community. Invesco was at the top of the rankings followed by Franklin Templeton, Vanguard, Pictet AM and T. Rowe Price. The apps were scored based on categories such as availability of information, core functions, support features for clients, user friendliness, integration with other online media and security.

NUMBERS EXPECTED TO RISE

Alanna Nensel, director of retail marketing at Henderson Global Investors, says she expects the 10% number to rapidly rise as mobile becomes increasingly mainstream. She says many asset managers have mobile app programs for investors and advisors in the works and expects a number of launches across the industry in 2015.

"Advisors and their clients are increasingly accessing information on their mobile devices," says Nensel, who has been a vice president of Henderson Global Funds since 2002, "It is growing."

AIDED MARKETING CAPABILITIES

Henderson launched an iPad app in January 2013 geared toward U.S. investors and advisors. The London-based asset manager, which is looking to expand its offering to androids and iPhones in the next year, has gained close to 1,000 users for its pad app since its debut 21 months ago with many external wholesalers utilizing the program in client meetings in addition to investors. Nensel says along with the service being convenient for customers, it has also aided Henderson's marketing capabilities by providing another avenue to communicate its message.

"It is a great way to leverage our content," says Nensel. "The app is a great way to put out whitepapers and videos."

Vanguard was one of the first fund companies to offer an iPhone app in 2009 and now has programs geared to individual investors in other formats including iPads, Androids and Kindle Fire. The Vanguard mobile app, which allows investors to view portfolios, research funds and executive transactions, was cited as an industry leader this past August among 45 mobile applications reviewed by Dalbar. In addition to serving investors, Vanguard also offers an app for the advisory community called Vanguard for Advisors.

John Buhl, principal and head of Vanguard's Retail Digital Services, says roughly 30% of the company's website traffic is now derived from mobile apps. He adds that app users typically log onto Vanguard's site much more often than those who use traditional computers.

"We find that people who use the apps are more active clients," says Buhl. "Mobile is where our clients are so we need to be there."

Franklin Templeton launched its mobile app in March 2012 in response to seeing a need for creating a more "interactive experience" for investor clients. The asset manager has also created mobile-friendly email templates and websites.

"We focused on intuitive interfaces, educational content, and portfolio manager videos, as well as a briefcase feature and folders to help organize content for easy access and recall of frequently used information," explains Wendy Harrington, chief marketing officer at Franklin Templeton. "Distributing this suite of capabilities in an app was a natural choice as it enabled online/offline usage and easy access."

Groves says while a small number of asset managers have rolled out mobile apps in recent years, most are using them to serve the needs of existing clients rather than trying to gain new customers. The MyPrivateBanking research showed that only 29% of fund companies with mobile apps had educational material in the offering. He adds that more should also introduce their investment teams in the app to provide more of a personal touch.

"For a number of reasons, interacting with investors is going to be more important for fund managers going forward," says Groves. "Some fund managers are quite a ways behind."

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