The wealth management industry is adjusting to clients who increasingly expect that they should have anytime, anywhere access to their account information, according to a new study.

Out of 40 top wealth managers studied, six have developed their own mobile apps for their clients’ smartphones and tablet computers. The study, by Boston-based research firm Celent, predicts that those who do so are positioning themselves as industry leaders and forcing their competitors to follow suit.

“Clients are saying, ‘I want to be able to do this. Where is my app?’” said the study’s author Bill Fearnley Jr., a senior analyst with Celent. To conduct the app research, Fearnely said he went to leading app stores and looked for apps offered by top wealth managers.

The demand is being driven by rapid spread of mobile technologies. This year, Celent estimates that worldwide the total number of smartphones will grow 35% to 620 million. That compares to the firm’s estimate of 52% growth and 460 million units in 2011 and 74% growth and 302 million phones in 2010. Roughly 100 million tablets will be sold this year, Fearnley said.

“We don’t believe (the apps trend) is making assets move yet,” he added, though he thinks that, by some point in the future, it will.

“It’s a significant undertaking,” Fearnley said. Wealth managers “need to make sure that while their apps are meeting their customers’ needs they are compliant and they are secure.”

Most firms included in the study provide apps that give clients access to account information, including balances, holdings and historical transactions. Most also provide trading tools. To compete with brokers and other wealth managers, Celent expects more wealth managers to offer this capability.

For the moment, the study found that some wealth managers that conduct their own capital markets research don’t offer this research to investors. However, it predicts this will change, too.

The study also tracks the saturation of apps in the capital markets among institutional financial services companies.

Celent is a research and advisory firm in the financial services industry.

Ann Marsh writes for Financial Planning.


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