Financial advisors at UBS Wealth Management Americas (WMA) are about to go more mobile -- in a far-reaching pilot program that enables them to use an extensive array of UBS tools and other applications. At the heart of the technology is an application engineered by a Silicon Valley startup. UBS advisors will get mobile access simply by clicking the new “app.” That click will allow them to remotely interact with their broker workstations, client portfolios, account holdings, company research, marketing and a vast amount of other data, Registered Rep. has learned.
The pilot program is slated for launch this Thursday, December 1, UBS confirmed exclusively to Registered Rep. Some 60 FAs at the Americas division of Swiss bank giant UBS will participate in the pilot through the end of the first quarter of 2012, according to UBS officials. The new mobile technology will then be made available companywide to all FAs and other employees. UBS anticipates a surge in FA pickup rate. The application, demonstrated to this reporter at company headquarters in Weehawken, N.J., is easy to download and operate on an iPad, tablets and other devices.
In planning and tested by a small group of FAs for months, the mobile advisor platform is a signal shift for the UBS Americas division. Analysts had derided its broker workstations in the past. Functionality of its peers’ platforms was considered superior. Now UBS appears to be stealing a march on the competition.
“We are going to consider mobile the platform of the future and place our strategic bets in that space,” Anita Sands, chief operating officer at UBS WMA told Registered Rep. “In the future, mobile will come first [at UBS], then the desktop second.” This push into mobile at UBS WMA was inspired in part by a series of similar technology drives being spearheaded globally by UBS. These are part of the project dubbed “2015 Digital Transformation” led by Michelle Trogni, global chief information officer at UBS AG. UBS in the Americas is the first to make the “transformational” leap into mobile. “We’re the first division to go live with this business application in this global multi-million dollar investment UBS is making in transforming their platforms. The others will follow later,” Sands explained.
Much of what the UBS Americas app offers comes from extensive research and study by Sands and her team of participating FAs and colleagues. “In the design of this technology, we looked at how the relationship between the FAs at UBS and their clients is changing,” Sands said. “That relationship today is far more real-time, interactive and collaborative than ever before. We needed our FAs to be facilitated and enabled by these mobile technologies.”
To make that happen, UBS WMA collaborated with Silicon Valley startup, FrameHawk. The brokerage made a strategic investment in FrameHawk at the same time as it tapped the company’s expertise in mobile computing. UBS declined to discuss exact costs in the project, or the size of its investment. Sands said, however, that the brokerage made a decision from a strategic standpoint that its investment in mobile next year was going to be “more substantial” than its investment in its advisor desktop technology.
On one level, UBS said it is promoting the app as a sort of “fun” tool for busy advisors on the go, traveling on planes, visiting clients, and also operating from home. The fun aspect is likely a selling tool for a new demographic of prospective recruits spoon-fed on interactive games, tweets and mobile computing. One UBS FA who spoke to Registered Rep.,spoke of how he could bring his office home anywhere, even as he watches a ball game on TV, or catches a movie.
But the mobile tool also has a serious business purpose. The technology is secure, password enabled with layers of privacy protection. Sands said all UBS applications will continue to run within the UBS firewall. That means the data does not permanently stay on the mobile device but within the boundaries established by UBS. Once an FA has switched off the new app on his or her tablet device, for instance, nothing can be retrieved or hacked from it by outsiders. The application will run on an “internal UBS cloud.” Sands says that will enable UBS to scale and expand functionality.
In effect, the UBS mobile platform will gives advisors as much tools and functionality -- from e-mail on Outlook and contact management to proprietary research and high-level customer account details -- as they currently have sitting in front of their desktops. “Everything I would see on my desktop is here,” explained UBS FA Kenneth Gunsberger, during a demo. Another UBS FA, Michael Poppo, marveled at how much time he’ll save each morning not having to print out reams of research reports. “Every morning I leave the house I have to print out as much as 200 pages of research,” he said. “Now I will be able to access that on my app.” One West Coast estimated it would save thousands” annually in printing costs.
To be sure, other firms across Wall Street are embracing and adapting mobile technologies. At the same time, UBS like others on the Street, is also making a splash in the related social media space. (See, Momentum Building for Social Media Adoption in Financial Services, Oct 27, 2011, http://registeredrep.com/social_media/momentum_building_for_social_media_adoption_in_financial_services_1027/index.html). Indeed, UBS has been active there, piloting a LinkedIn program for advisors. Nonetheless, wealth management firms have been scrambling to catch up on both the mobile and social media fronts. While increasing numbers are embracing mobile technology, firms have still a ways to go in rolling out tools, according to a recent report by Aite Group. (See, Financial Advisors Embrace Mobile Computing, October 13, 2011, http://registeredrep.com/advisorland/technology/financial_advisors_embrace_mobile_computing_1013/)
In that sense, UBS WMA has broken new ground. The vast array functionality and tools available via the new app is unusual, analysts say. Alois Pirker, who authored the Aite report on mobile computing, said he was not aware of any other firms who have a similar mobile offering like UBS. Of course, some were making strides with mobile tools. “FAs are just starting to catch onto mobile computing across the Street,” he added. “But there are still others who don’t even have laptops with them on the field. I haven’t heard of anything like the UBS application.”
Chris Brown, principal at Sway Research, said advisors across the Street are still lagging behind investors. He also was not aware of anything similar to the new UBS app. “My sense is that advisors are a long way behind investors, particularly the younger investors, who are doing many things on their computers using mobile devices,” he added.
Insiders at UBS said the new app should leapfrog the competition in wealth management in the mobile space. Sands acknowledged that many other firms are “dabbling” in mobile computing. “Some have looked at given their FAs e-mail access on their iPhones. That is something we did twelve months ago,” she said, referring to a separate mobile app, known as GOOD, that offers that functionality. Sands said firms will be left behind if they don’t figure out how to get their head around mobile computing.
“Clients are mobile, traveling all over the world and the country,” Sands added. “When the markets are volatile, for instance, and clients want to interact with FAs, they don’t want the advisor saying, let me get back to the office and pull that report out for you. They want the advisor to send that report to them right away on their iPad.”