For the future of financial advice, the writing isn’t on the wall, it’s on the mobile phone screen, says Christopher P. Van Slyke, financial planner and founder of wealth management firm, WorthPointe.

Van Slyke, who's based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, says the tipping point for him was when he saw that the local bank, Bank of Jackson Hole, was touting its app in a community paper.

"[Mobile access is] incredibly important for me and my firm,” Van Slyke says. “I am most entirely on mobile. For millennials and younger, it's the only way they want it. It's just a matter of time before that's the only way to do it."

The availability of mobile wealth management products has grown by 300% in the past year, much of it coming from retail banks, according to Avoka, a financial services software company. And when it comes to sourcing web traffic, mobile devices accounted for 63% of 2 trillion web traffic visits last year versus 37% on desktop, according to Stone Temple, a digital marketing agency.

But user experience among established financial firms is still a big hurdle for mobile wealth management, Avoka researchers found in a global study, as many services are hampered by legacy technology.

“Without being digital from end-to-end, banks are not able to offer a streamlined, frictionless experience which is how many of the fintech upstarts market themselves,” says Emad Elhamahmy, North America vice president of product management-wealth at Temenos, a software financial services company. “They can’t offer straight-through processing, and if they are running legacy technology, they aren’t able to offer real-time processing and insights. They do still have a way to go.”

Smartphone usage


Avoka assessed the mobile availability of wealth management products by looking at whether the mobile web page was responsive and if people could complete a transaction successfully, says Don Bergal, chief marketing officer of Avoka.

A mobile web experience where someone has to scroll across the web page and zoom in and out to click on buttons did not count as a successful user experience. Many non-successful experiences also included having people to call a branch to make an appointment. Various product offerings examined included brokerage accounts, an IRA, a 529 student savings account, and CD accounts, among others. If first time customers had to download a native app in order to purchase a wealth management product, it was not considered a successful mobile experience.

Wealth management firms and banks have to follow fintech upstarts and focus on simplification, says Anton Honikman, CEO of wealth management technology firm MyVest, which is now a subsidiary of TIAA.

“The more layers of friction you build into the experience, the lower the adoption,” Honikman says. “That’s an argument in favor of a general mobile responsive experience.”

Some banks are getting ahead of others in delivering good mobile experiences, says Kapin Vora, partner and head of North America wealth management at Capco. But still, he says, the transactions reflect their core of banking.

“If you look at Chase, they have a robust digital experience for personal banking, compared to investing and wealth management, where people have to make an appointment,” Vora says.

The wealth management business is still a relationship business, says Elhamahmy. “We are seeing that banks are looking to, and need to, put in place a strategy that blends digital and offline channels. From what we’ve seen person-to-person interactions are still important, particularly in the planning phase.”

Van Slyke says that provides an opportunity for RIAs to convince clients that mobile should be blended with advisor consultation.

Likening the push to make wealth products online to the one-click shopping option on Amazon, Van Slyke says he thinks clients need to speak to a financial planner before making portfolio decisions. Unlike shipping back a defective item, he says, in a bad trade the money is lost for good.

"Access to information is fine, but the ability to buy products or make trades, it makes me a little nervous. People can do it impulsively," he says. "I would say, let us trade for you and put more thought into it."

Sharon Adarlo

Sharon Adarlo is a Financial Planning contributing writer. She has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera America and The Daily Beast. Most recently, she wrote about science and engineering for Princeton University.