What’s New And Different On Asset Manager iPad Apps

The recent arrival of an iPad mini gave me a happy reason to take a fresh look at asset manager iPad apps and note a few advancements. I needed to re-install the apps that had been on my first gen iPad while a few were new to me. Henderson Global Investors launched its app just last week and I was catching up with the AllianceBernstein AB Connect app, launched in December with added content and capability for advisors with a log-in. And, it's been 10 months since my last post on the state of the art of version 1.0 apps.

How Will A Financial Advisor Engage?

The perspective I offer is as a user of lots of iPad apps and as a consumer of mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) content on the desktop, iPad and mobile. My bias is for apps that are both device- and audience-aware, with a particular interest in how a financial advisor might engage. Three years after the iPad’s introduction, not every money manager offers its own app and it’s not a foregone conclusion that all will. When asked about apps lately, I cite a few datapoints:

  • Financial advisors like tablets. Half of all advisors responding to the 2012 Financial Planning Tech Survey own a tablet (81% of those own an iPad, 15% an Android and 7% own a Windows tablet).
  • Advisors like to use iPads to access the kinds of content that asset managers produce. A By AllAccounts Q2 2011 Gadget Survey asked advisors how the iPad and its applications support their business. The answer “Allows me to access educational material relating to my business (i.e. whitepapers, …)” was the third most popular choice. Sixty percent of iPad-using financial advisors selected the answer, topped only by “helps me stay connected” and “increases my productivity.”

The iPad is the evening newspaper for consumers, according to the July 2012 2012 RJI Mobile Media News Consumption Survey. When you consider that financial advisors prefer to reserve their daytime hours to meet with clients, it’s a safe assumption that they are among the majority who use their tablets to consume content at home after 5 p.m.

  • Advisors read, in part, to share. This is true regardless of where the reading takes place or how. Advisors’ participation in social media just casts a light on something that’s part and parcel of how they communicate in the course of doing their jobs. Example: May 2012 LinkedIn/FTI Consulting research on advisors’ social media use reported that at least one-third of advisors use social media to “cascade thought leadership.”

Advisors can read and use the content you publish on your Website content. But if you’re going to the trouble to produce and continually update an app, keep in mind that the most useful asset manager app would enable advisor productivity (including content sharing) after hours. And, if you expect advisors to try your app and regularly use it, the app needs to provide a better experience than a collection of self-navigated Web pages can. Here are some highlights of what I saw while adding the apps to my sweet new mini.

Better File Management Controls

This is just a matter of being considerate. Greater reliance on the cloud means that consumers can save money by buying tablets with the minimum size hard drives. The last thing you want to do is come along and consume a disproportionate amount of their limited hard drive space with your big ole files—and God forbid that you use their dataplans in the process.

Henderson Global Investors and John Hancock are two firms that are smart to give the user control over what gets downloaded and when. This screenshot combines two screens from the app.

Support for sharing

An app is a closed platform, which enables app publishers to control the experience and make some assumptions about their “captive” users. A piece of content can be a beautiful thing in an app, uncluttered by a Web page’s navigation and sidebars, etc.

But if you’re producing content for a business reason, you’ll want to enable users to use the content outside the cozy world of the app. Asset manager app support for sharing via users' social accounts continues to be spotty, with PIMCO's app offering the most choices (via Twitter, Facebook, email and Google Reader).

The integration of the iPad content and what managers are saying on their own social accounts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) also is still kind of clumsy.

Oppenheimer’s Global Tracker app includes presentations whose value is extended by the simple inclusion of an email form for the emailing of presentations and of the app itself. (Wonder why the note cautioning OppenheimerFunds employees to use their company email address couldn't be communicated internally, though.) Hopefully the day will soon come when the presentations' individual charts and graphs can be made available to be shared on social networks and embedded.

Printing support

Content sharing in the physical world often involves hard copies, and a few apps are now supporting wireless printing.

I was loving life, printing an outlook from AllianceBernstein’s AB Connect app, thinking about how simple this would be for an advisor to prepare for a meeting. However, I was foiled by a gotcha that advisors have rightfully complained about since we first shifted the printing to their office equipment: the disclosures on the last page are reversed out of an all-black (ink-consuming) page!

More user-friendly is the John Hancock app, which provides welcome printing controls.

Included in the John Hancock app, by the way, is a robust library of forms. Somebody who’s all-digital (and plenty of advisors aspire to be) is going to miss being able to tab from field to field to complete and then print. But, maybe that’s a capability on the roadmap?

Keeping in touch

It’s a high bar for an asset manager to produce an app that advisors will use again and again. There’s nothing fancy about this, but see how U.S. Global Investors makes an effort to encourage followership (and acquire names) from even one-time users of its app.

Henderson's is one of the few apps that uses location to find a wholesaler. And when the wholesaler is located, adding the name to the device’s Contacts list is a snap.

Fostering reliance

Finally, this screenshot from the Schwab On Investing app shows how the My Briefcase feature, included in a few asset manager apps, could evolve. Schwab enables content saving to be organized by customizable tabs and the user can write and save his own notes about the content. Imagine how an advisor might value this feature and how it could foster app reliance.

How about you? What features are you noting—or missing—in asset manager apps?