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Stake Your Claim in the App Store

Mobile apps are all the rage, and two vendors have new products to help financial advisors establish apps of their own.

Bill Winterberg, 11/08/2012

Sales of mobile devices will soon displace those of traditional desktop and laptop computers. Acknowledging this trend, financial advisors are evaluating ways they can embrace mobile devices to represent their business, demonstrate a culture of innovation, and attract the next generation of clients.

Unfortunately, advisors have largely failed to execute a mobile strategy of any kind, allowing competing financial-service companies to benefit from a first-mover advantage. Companies like Personal Capital, LearnVest, and Balance Financial are getting in front of the new demographic of clients with their innovative mobile apps, allowing them to cultivate relationships with users at nearly all stages in the personal finance journey.

Building mobile apps from scratch is one solution, but few firms have the internal skills or budget to support custom development. As the mobile computing market matures, financial advisors now have several new choices among vendors to benefit from the explosion in mobile apps and level the playing field among competing service providers.

App Explosion
As Apple unveiled the iPad mini last month, the company also revealed that it now offers over 700,000 apps in the Apple App Store. Not to be left behind, a Google spokesperson recently followed up with Dow Jones & Company Inc.'s AllThingsD that the Google Play also surpassed 700,000 apps for the Android operating system. But up until now, advisors had limited options to pursue if they wanted to hang their shingle in the growing mobile marketplace.

For over a year and a half, advisors who are clients of Orion Advisor Services have been able to create a branded mobile app for their firm (see Hop on the Mobile Bandwagon). Finally, several other vendors have entered the market with their own mobile app options for financial advisors.

The Finance Logix App
One provider helping advisors build a presence with mobile apps is Finance Logix, a division of Seattle-based Oltis Software, LLC. Last year, Money Magazine listed the company's Retire Logix financial planning app for Apple iPhone in its "100 Best Money Moves" list. Now the company is embedding the functionality of its popular program inside mobile apps branded for financial advisors.

"The mobile app gives advisors the opportunity to advertise their services in an entirely new way," said Oleg Tishkevich, founder and CEO of Oltis Software. "We're also starting to see users share the app with their friends, giving advisors the opportunity to get in front of prospects they might normally overlook."

Oltis Software publishes two versions of the mobile app, currently supported in the Apple App Store and Google Play market. Both versions are free for users to download.

In the standard version of the app, users first download a generic app and then enter a code for their financial advisor the first time they use it. The code applies a logo, contact information, and other branding specific to a financial advisor inside the app. Tishkevich recommended advisors identify their code in a variety of places, such as on their website and business cards, so it is easy for prospects to find.

In the custom version of the app, users don't need to enter a code when first using it because the app is already branded with an advisor's logo and custom information. Because it is already branded, the app will appear in app store search results by simply searching for the firm's name. Advisors can also link directly to their custom app from a web page or hyperlink in an email signature.

Once inside the app, users are presented with a screen that resembles a virtual business card. The advisor's photo, business address, and business logo are shown at the top of the screen. Users can call the advisor by touching a phone icon below the address information, or view the advisor's office location using the mobile device's maps application by touching a map icon.

If the advisor is active on social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, icons for the respective services are included and hyperlinked to the advisor's social profiles.

Below the contact information is a window containing a written description of background information about the advisor and the firm. Tishkevish said that most advisors use this space to include their personal biography and a brief overview of the services provided by the advisory firm.

At the bottom of the screen, the app includes two icons to open Finance Logix planning tools: Retire Logix, mentioned earlier, and Student Logix, a planning tool for education funding. An icon for the Finance Logix Dashboard is also present for use by advisors who subscribe to the Finance Logix planning tools.

In brief, users can create illustrations of their own retirement and education planning goals in Retire Logix and Student Logix, respectively. Each tool allows users to identify current assets and investments as well as anticipated spending needs, separated into "needs" and "wants." Assumptions regarding investment time horizon, inflation, and anticipated tax rates can be changed on the fly by dragging interactive sliders in the app. The app's calculators update a capsule graphic, visually indicating whether the user's needs and wants are satisfied, and if not, the percentage shortfall is shown.

Pricing on the Finance Logix mobile app is very competitive. As this article goes to press, pricing on the standard version is just a one-time fee of $250, and the app is ready for use once Oltis Software processes an advisor's photo, logo, and other contact information. The custom version is available for a one-time $1,500 fee, but it takes longer to get listed in the app stores since it must first go through the store provider approval process.

Boulevard R's Amp App
A second provider offering mobile apps for advisors is San Francisco-based Boulevard R. In May of this year, Boulevard R released the Amp app for Apple iPad. Like the standard version of the Finance Logix app, Amp is not specifically branded in the Apple App store to a specific advisor or financial advisory firm.

Anyone who downloads the generic Amp app is prompted to enter an Advisor Code when first launching the app. The code is remembered for all subsequent activations, and is used to add an advisor's brand to the content inside the app. The Advisor Code is linked to an advisor's name, company logo, and color scheme, all of which are shown in the first screen.

Inside the Amp app, users step through a series of pages to build a basic plan called the Starter Roadmap. After entering their name and email address, users identify their important financial goals by touching appropriate icons and dragging them to a horizontal timeline.

Next, users identify basic demographic information such as their age, zip code, relationship status, number of children, and occupation. Then users prioritize their activities and interests they'd like to pursue in retirement. Finally, a series of interactive sliders are used to identify basic info on current income and total savings.

The output of the process is a simple bar graph of retirement savings progress, and users can modify basic inputs like retirement age, Social Security benefits, or any additional income from pensions, trusts, or annuities. Several pre-defined "what-if" scenarios can also be selected by touching icons located to the right of the bar graph.

When finished, Amp generates an advisor-branded Starter Roadmap PDF document and emails it to the user from the advisor. In an optional step, the user can provide a phone number if he or she would like to schedule a meeting with an advisor to discuss the Roadmap.

According to Matt Iverson, director of Boulevard R's product group, advisors can use Amp as a prospecting tool to help differentiate their services and create urgency in the sales process.

"We designed Amp so advisors can take prospects through the goal-setting process and engage in meaningful dialog," said Iverson, "and it gives advisors a chance to run a fun, holistic retirement readiness assessment during the very first engagement."

Each time a prospect completes the Starter Roadmap process, advisors receive an alert. They can subsequently log in to the Advisor Management Interface for Amp and review recently added Roadmap information.

"The management interface lets advisors view the data entered by a prospect, manage contact information, and customize template emails to send follow up correspondence," said Iverson. The interface also allows advisors to customize many of the Starter Roadmap inputs, such as anticipated investment rates of return, life expectancy, and more.

The Amp app and the Advisor Management Interface are available for a monthly fee of $97. No long-term contract is required and no setup fee is charged. Iverson also said that the company plans to add Amp to the Google Play store in early 2013.

Advisor 'Appification'
I feel it won't be long before even more providers introduce competitive offerings for advisors in the mobile app marketplace. The examples from vendors highlighted above show how versatile these devices can be to engage both clients and prospects.

As the adoption of mobile devices continues to grow, advisors recognize the importance of engaging their audience through this new medium. Innovation in financial advisory firms should not be limited to novel investment and financial-planning strategies, but also include the techniques advisors use to connect and communicate with clients. Fortunately, financial advisors now have a few more options to consider when evaluating vendors that can help establish the advisor's presence in today's mobile world.

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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