Before the market opened on the morning of January 9, one top producing Smith Barney advisor received a call to his office from another rep who'd heard directly from upper management that the firm was in sale talks with Morgan Stanley. Although it was a Friday, this advisor knew he would be at his office late into the evening phoning clients to tell them what was happening. He also knew his weekend would be largely consumed by calls.
Such is the life of wirehouse, er, bank-affiliated financial advisors these days. And with all that's happened in the last 18 months, every advisor—no matter where he sits—knows keeping in touch with clients is more important than ever. So what if the aforementioned advisor hadn't been in his office and hadn't had time to prepare for an onslaught of phone calls? What if he happened to be on the road or "offline" for several days?
"Telling clients you'll get back to them when you're plugged in again is probably not a risk you want to take these days," says Alois Pirker, senior analyst with Aite Group, a research and advisory firm focused on business, technology and regulatory issues facing the financial services industry. Pirker says advisors risk losing clients to more attentive, better-informed peers.
With the likelihood of panicky clients calling to demand more information more often, wouldn't it be nice to be able to access client CRM data, financial planning tools and any number of other business applications on a mobile device (other than that clunky, expensive laptop)? Yes, it would. At least that's what most financial advisor respondents said in a study released in January by Aite Group. Titled Efficiency in Wealth Management: Increasing Advisor Mobility, the study interviewed 201 U.S. financial advisors—employee and independent brokers as well as RIAs—via an internet based survey conducted in August 2008.
The survey found that while more than one-third of advisors spend more than 25 percent of their time outside the office, there's a significant underutilization of the capabilities offered by today's mobile devices. In fact, according to the survey, while 60 percent of advisors carry devices capable of handling software and data, only 22 percent of advisors use their mobile devices for more than sending emails and managing contacts and calendars.
But when asked if it would be useful to have access to business applications via their mobile device, 62 percent of respondents said yes, indicating there's a significant level of unmet demand in this area. "Retail clients have so many more capabilities than their own advisors," says Pirker. For instance, he notes that in November TD Ameritrade began offering clients the ability to trade via their mobile devices.
Asked which applications they would most like to have access to, respondents cited customer relationship management (CRM) tools as the highest priority. The survey found that 42 percent of advisors are either extremely or very interested in being able to access client and prospect details (portfolio, performance, research) via their mobile device. This "dashboard" or "snapshot assessment" of a client or a prospect that CRM can provide is also certainly suited to the portability and small screen size of a mobile device. However, respondents also said they'd like to see more complex applications such as financial planning, trade order management and market data research, as well as a broker workstation and portfolio analytics.
Conducting financial planning could prove tedious on a 2" X 2" screen, but accessing information about a prospect or a client, or simply adding to a client's profile after learning something new about them at a meeting? All can easily be done with a mobile device, says Pirker. And the reason for looking into it should be clear already, he says: "Financial advisors need to work harder to stay in touch with clients these days, period."