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Ian McKenna: If the app fits…

Since I last looked at financial apps in this column in January, there has been no let-up in the rapid evolution of smartphone and mobile devices. The evidence that they will quickly become the dominant device in financial services continues to build.

The UK is the world leader in smartphone adoption, with a higher percentage of British consumers using such devices than in the US, Germany, France and even Japan.

This week, I want to look at evidence of some significant trends in the way UK consumers are using their smartphones and briefly look at a number of the latest apps that have been rolled out for advisers in recent months.

Significantly for the IFA community, research from Kantar Worldpanel covering the period to mid-March identifies that smartphone growth is being driven by the over-50s, where this demographic, unlike younger generations, use smart-phones to replicate much of what they would have done on their PCs.

Overall, smartphones accounted for 75 per cent of mobile phone sales to UK consumers in this period, meaning 52.5 per cent of British phone users have a smart device.

In the personal finance market, our own research, conducted in the last three months among members of our specialist financial apps group on LinkedIn, demonstrates a vast preference among advisers and other industry professionals for the Apple iOS operating system that powers the iPhone and the iPad, with 70 per cent preferring Apple devices.

Google’s Android system got 17 per cent of the vote, leaving BlackBerry, once by far the device of choice in our industry, languishing with just 10 per cent.

This must be worrying not only for BlackBerry parent Research In Motion but also any firm which has a strategy based on BlackBerry.

Although Microsoft’s Windows Mobile only presently achieves a 2 per cent share, many commentators have added to the discussion on the poll that they are eagerly awaiting the next Microsoft offering before taking a final decision.

The last few months have been busy, with new apps for advisers to support virtually every area of the process.

For example, Mortgage Brain has recently released its consumer-facing app designed not only to help homebuyers find a mortgage but also an adviser to assist them. The app itself is simple – a single-page data entry screen defining the property price, loan required, mortgage purpose, repayment type, term and the costs over two, three or five years.

Having pressed calculate, the user is presented with results covering all mortgages, fixed-rate products or trackers.

A “find a broker” button enables users to identify a number of advisers in their area plotted on a map, although I was rather surprised to see a London & Country advert at the top of the results page.

I would imagine that many advisers would want to have their own white-labelled version of this, with the ability to self-brand the app. I can see many ways it could be used to provide a corner-stone to maintaining dialogue with potential purchasers, particularly making them aware of new offers and other changes in the market.

This app does have significantly less functionality than the offering from Legal & General Mortgage Services, based on Trigold technology, which has been available for over a year.

There is huge scope for business and consumer apps in this area and it will be fascinating to see how these evolve in the coming months.

Skandia recently launched the first risk-profiling app for advisers, called Appetite for Risk. This allows users to complete their investment or retirement risk-profiling questionnaires which then generate a risk level for discussion with the client.

Having selected a product which the adviser wants to discuss with the client and entered the appropriate risk level, as defined by the system, the potential risk and return can be discussed relative to other risk levels, with the returns illustrated. The results can then be emailed.

Skandia deserves credit for providing a tool that can be used free by any adviser but there are several enhancements I would like to see as a matter of urgency, not least more ability to record the details of the discussion that took place with the customer to demonstrate compliance with current assessing suitability requirements so the adviser can demonstrate they have discussed and reviewed the output from any generated analysis.

I would also have liked to have seen something to identify and review any contradictions in the answer input to the tool.

I have recently seen a number of other products in this area due for imminent release which have considerable additional functionality.

A final app that deserves a brief mention is the Avelo Aware service, a simple solution for downloading industry and other news from Money Marketing and other sources to your iPhone or iPad. The functionality right now is very basic but it is useful as a news aggregator and it is good to see Avelo getting something out into the app area although I would like to see something more advanced in the near future.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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Comments

There are 8 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Just because there is an app does not make it any good! Skandia’s Risk Profiling tool has not been changed for some time and the paper based version still does not explore a client’s capacity/appetite for loss!.

  2. What about Assureweb’s App?

  3. I have been trying out various apps and softeware that is available. The one comment I would make is that there is a distinct lake of comminality between the apps and software across the different operating systems.

    One of the big problems with ipad is the lack of flash. We are adopting a risk profiling software from Distribution Technology, but alas you can’t use it on the favoured hardware (ipad) because it requires flash.

    The developers of these apps/software need to be aware of these issues and construct accordingly.

  4. My firm has also just signed up with Distribution Technology. In fact they do have a specific app for the iphone and ipad which is just the 10-question risk profiler which creates a basic report which you can email to yourself for inclusion into the full version of the softward back at the office. Not perfect yet, but a very good start using a system independent of all investment providers.

  5. An App does not give advice it merely presents facts based on the information input.

    A member of the public doesn’t know the questions they should be asking themselves and as a result may end up with the incorrect results.

    They however useful ‘tools’.

  6. Sam,
    Agree entirely about the Skandia app, as I said in the article “there are several enhancements I would like to see as a matter of urgency” Capacity/appetite for loss is very much one of those enhancements. Personally I am far from impressed with the Skandia app; I hope my observations reflected that. Sadly in my experience Skandia are not a company that react well to constructive criticism, rather they tend to only listen to their own message or those who tell them what they want to hear.
    With colleagues I have been planning a far more detailed analysis of the Skandia app but there was not the room to do such a detailed summary within the word count for the Money Marketing column, if I was also going to cover other apps, consequently look out for a more detailed review on my blog on the FTRC website.
    Anonymous, why do you have to be anonymous to make a comment about the Assureweb app? Anyway, fair call but again only so many words I can get in a Money Marketing column so again that one is going to have to be a blog.
    Peter,
    Flash is effectively a dead language now, even Adobe gave up on it for the mobile environment last November and in practical terms today that means they have given up on it period. Mobile is the market going forward. Anything written in Flash will need to be rewritten in HTML5 as “5” becomes the standard HTML that everyone is working with. As Mike commenting below you points out Distribution Technology do have both iPhone and iPad at various stages of development, indeed there has been a DT app around for some time although until not the functionality has been relatively limited. I think that is about to change very soon.
    Sean,
    Whilst in the tech industry you never know what new technology is just around the corner, for example expect Amazon’s Silk browser to have a dramatic impact when the Fire finally arrives in the UK (it is grabbing serious market share in the US), I think there are strong indicators that the App ecosystem has huge potential for adoption in the financial advice market. We have been building models for some time now around its collaborative potential within the advice process. By 2015/16 we would expect to see financial apps as a cornerstone of the advice process as people increasingly organise their lives around mobile digital devices. As referenced above, the over 50’s are now becoming the fastest growing segment of smartphone adoption and we are increasingly moving towards a situation where if you are not communicating with consumers on their digital device you are not communicating with them at all. This is not the case today but by the end of the decade it is affair assumption that paper as we know it will be dead, as will any processes that rely on it. For example the volume of cash in circulation is expected to drop by 90% between now and 2018 as consumers embrace digital money.

    I hope the above is helpful

  7. Jeremy Mugridge (Skandia) 29th May 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Sam,
    You’re right, the paper based risk profiler does not explore the customer’s capacity / appetite for loss. Once inputted onto our platform, advisers can then visit our online risk discussion tool (www.skandia.co.uk/riskdiscussion) to facilitate a wider conversation with their client about their appetite for loss.

    This online tool also enables the adviser to compare the client’s risk profile score against a different risk level, so that the client understands how potential returns (gains and losses) differ by risk level.

    Our new Appetite for Risk app which Ian has kindly reviewed for us, also has this risk discussion feature and enables an adviser to conduct a risk profile and risk discussion in the same meeting.

    Since launching the app in April, 1,650 advisers have downloaded it and the feedback to date has been very positive. It’s great to get feedback and prompt debate among advisers – we would welcome any adviser’s views on the app once they’ve tried it within their business.

  8. Richard Brown 31st May 2012 at 8:31 pm

    An app is not advice, nor is it a substitute for advice.

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