Tony Mayo thinks the iPad is a "game-changer."
He's the chief technology officer of Dreyfus Corporation, manager of more than $400 billion in mutual funds and separately managed accounts. And he's in the process of giving iPads to every one of Dreyfus' 70 salespeople, across three divisions.
Mayo will probably recoup the cost in one year, just in savings on Federal Express billings for overnight shipping of new materials. And his company's chief executive, Jonathan Baum, will rest assured that the firm's sales force always has the latest information, not just on products, but on rules and regulations. It's not only going to change the way sales are made. It'll also change how compliance gets carried out.
Dreyfus is not alone in the Apple iPad push. Merlin Securities, which provides prime brokerage services, has developed an iPad application, Merlin Compass iPad, that provides a way fund managers to access portfolios through their iPad. This gives managers real-time access to intraday performance, exposure and risk metrics.
At Dreyfus, the driver is getting the most up-to-date documents on funds that their wholesalers are trying to move, into their hands. Or at least, onto their screens.
When each logs in in the morning, a representative simply selects the documents he or she needs to see-or selects all-and downloads them. No envelopes to open or big binders to carry. It'll change, if nothing else, the way they look at the trunks of their cars.
Because, until now, those trunks are used as rolling libraries, said Baum. Call them "information retrieval" systems, to borrow a technology phrase.
"If you opened the trunk of a wholesaler, they all look the same. Some have better systems, some have worse systems," Baum said. "But basically they either have milk crates or some other kind of system, I've had guys who actually put shelving in the backs of their trucks."
Now, the paper goes away. And when the wholesaler goes in to meet a client, a lot more information, in a lot more forms, will get delivered on the iPad's 10-inch screen. Sales presentations? Check. Fact sheets? Check. Federal regulations? Check. Market commentaries? Check. Want to hear the latest forecast from Dreyfus' Chief Economist Richard B. Hoey? Roll the video.
In the company's 60-day test of its new information delivery system, Mayo was concerned about three things: Usability, support and security.
"We didn't want to provide a device that was counterintuitive," he said.
The Apple tablet computer has a straightforward, touch-activated screen, so usability and support were not that difficult to achieve. In fact, Mayo and Baum see the iPad as an improvement, in many ways, over the laptop for mobile sales forces.
"The laptop is a very ineffective sales tool," Baum said. "It's heavy, slow to start up, has very limited battery life, poor interfaces to the Internet, and you can't share the display."
Security was more of a concern. First of all, the delivery system-at this juncture-works outside the company's network firewall. No user can drill in, surreptitiously.
All documents are encrypted, in transit and at rest. But, once a user enters correct password and other authentication, the files decrypt automatically.
"Tablets are going to be important. This technology clearly works for us," said Baum, who launched the iPad initiative at Dreyfus.
At Merlin, the iPad is more of a live action tool. Hedge fund managers can see, up to the moment, exactly how their portfolios are performing and what their exposures are.
The iPad acts as a window, in effect, to the Merlin Compass real-time trading and monitoring system the company introduced in January 2009.
Compass "originally took our performance and risk analytics, multi-custodial platform, and custom classifications and brought it to the client's desktop in real time. Now with the iPad version, our clients can have this same level of access to their portfolios while on the move or away from the office," to analyze what's going on, as markets move, said partner Jud Howson, head of Merlin's client services.
They can sort results by account, by trader, by industry, by long positions, by short positions, by geography, by "days of liquidity" or what have you. Whatever makes sense for the manager.
Merlin serves mainly small- and mid-sized hedge funds. The sweet spot: Roughly $150 million in assets under management. In turn, it rolls up their activity and gets custody and clearing services from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.
For Merlin, deciding to develop an iPad application was not hard. "We knew our managers were going to adopt the iPad. Hedge fund managers are technology adopters," Howson said. "They're mobile. They're out with investors. They need it in their hands."
For Dreyfus, the distribution of iPads-with practical content and services to go along with them-satisfied a goal of getting ahead of competitors.
For Baum, it was getting the benefit of the "wow" factor, while it lasts.
"I wanted to be early in the iPad, because I do think it has a 'wow' factor upfront," he said. "Which is, in technology, good for a period of time. Then it goes away."
The bigger benefits will be in the paper savings, the time savings and the lowering of risk, through greater compliance.
But Dreyfus' chief executive officer doesn't expect the iPad to actually generate sales. "People aren't going to do business with us because we have iPads," he said. "They're going to do business with us because we have good products and funds that meet their clients' needs. We're driving performance that meets their goals."
UPDATE: This story has been corrected from its original version.