While mutual fund companies in general are not embracing mobile technologies to the degree that banks, credit cards and self-directed brokerages are, Vanguard and TIAA-CREF stand out in terms of their offering research and trades via mobile devices, according to Corporate Insight.

This is one of the key findings in Corporate Insight's new report, "Money on the Move: Mobile Finance Review 2011," which details the industry leaders and best practices in the mobile finance space, as well as the findings of a survey of asset management executives on their plans for mobile technologies in the future.

Vanguard offers clients the ability to trade the firm's mutual funds, research investments and access information for a variety of account types, including brokerage accounts. In addition to a mobile-optimized website and iPhone app, Vanguard recently introduced an iPad app.

Corporate Insight said that TIAA-CREF is one of the few asset management firms to offer access to client accounts, funds and commentary via mobile devices. The firm also integrates a number of educational tools and calculators in its mobile app.

iShares, Legg Mason, TIAA-CREF and Vanguard provide podcasts and/or videos to help educate clients and keep them informed of market trends and analysis, Corporate Insight added.

"The benefits offered by a strong mobile platform are clear," said Dan Wiegand, senior analyst at Corporate Insight and author of the report. "By embracing mobile, companies can reduce servicing costs, improve client satisfaction and position themselves as industry innovators. While the logistics of mobile finance pose an array of development, support and security challenges to financial services firms, there's no denying that we have entered the mobile era. Financial service firms do not want to be left behind."

In its survey, Corporate Insight found that 68% of financial executives said mobile has already had a positive impact on their business. Eighty percent agreed that a mobile offering is a very important element of their firm's customer service strategy. And 100% expect the quality of their mobile offerings to improve in the future.

Corporate Insight recommends that firms expand the reach of their mobile offerings by making them available across all devices and operating systems, and that they ensure their main websites can be viewed on mobile devices. Further, Corporate Insight notes that today's mobile devices are capable of supporting advanced market data, such as streaming real-time quotes and interactive charts, as well as multimedia research and commentary in the form of podcasts and video.

Corporate Insight said that these features can be easily incorporated into a smartphone's touch screen viewing area and should be programmed so that they can be expanded on a full-sized tablet such as the iPad.

The firm also suggests that asset managers should automatically offer mobile access to customers who have signed up online, using their same username and password.

"Mobile services are still gaining momentum," Wiegland said. "In fact, May 2011 was one of the most active months we've seen in the mobile space yet. As consumers become increasingly mobile-focused in their daily lives, it's reasonable to expect financial firms will continue to invest in the mobile channel, improving existing platforms and launching apps to support additional devices in the months to come."


Recent Developments


In fact, John Hancock Retirement Plan Services recently introduced a second generation of its PRIME Elements iPad application for retirement plan advisers and consultants.

The application has more than 30 key brochures and 25 interactive videos, demos and tools, and has been updated so that users can access the application without an Internet connection. In addition, consultants can run the tools on a projector, e-mail them or print them.

"PRIME Elements made it easy for advisers and plan consultants to quickly identify and address critical elements in a 401(k) plan, from a plan sponsor perspective," said Andrew Ross, senior vice president of marketing at John Hancock Retirement Plan Services. "When we put the entire program into an iPad application, we made it even easier for the adviser to use the wealth of materials to explain the John Hancock value proposition at any point in the sales cycle-from the first discussion to the creation of a customized plan."

Likewise, DST Vision, the web-based account management tool for financial intermediaries, was recently made available on web-enabled smart phones, including iPhone, Android and BackBerry.

Amassing account information from 370 product companies, the features include client and household lists, search functionality by client or household name and account details.

"I am absolutely excited about the latest upgrade to DST Vision," said Kevin Yaley, an investment adviser with Berthel Fisher & Company Financial Services. "With the ability to access basic client data from my smart phone, I can now work more efficiently while still being able to spend time with my family and friends. I can confidently say that for many advisers like me, DST Vision Mobile will be the most significant efficiency enhancement that you will make to your business this year."

DST Systems developed the mobile application so that advisers can stay informed and address client inquiries on the go, said Kyle Mallot, vice president of distribution support for DST. "The mobile site incorporates many of the search, inquiry and aggregation features advisers told us matter most when it comes to mobile access," he said.

And Putnam Investments created the PriceCheck & Save iPhone app that enables its 401(k) participants to direct savings into their plans (see Money Management Executive, June 20, 2011).

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