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