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There's an App for that

Mobile devices will catch on in the New Year, but financial advisors will need to use caution when accessing client data.

As an advisor and managing principal at wealth management firm Private Ocean, Greg Friedman is tethered to his mobile devices, from an iPhone to his iPad. While he acknowledges that 98 percent of client meetings occur in the office, when he's out he wants mobile applications that are fluid and easy to use. Sure, he knows he can grab stock positions and even run a financial plan from his handheld. Yet he mostly uses his smartphone for simple things, such as making phone calls. Storing client information on his mobile device? It's not something he's sure about right now, given how easy a mobile device can be lost or compromised.

“There are capabilities where, when you discover your phone is gone, someone sends a signal that can wipe it,” says Friedman, who is also the founder of Junxure, which produces CRM software. “But how do you know how long it's gone? Is it a minute gone, or an hour gone, or a day gone?”

Getting More Comfortable

Concerns about using mobile devices in financial planning are heard throughout the field. Nonetheless, reps have taken to handhelds and tablets as quickly as they've appeared on the market, particularly the iPad, whose adoption by reps is sure to increase in 2011. And as quickly as cravings have grown for Apple's newest device, so too have applications for financial advisors, along with upgrades to platforms that allow advisors to do everything from seek client data or run a retirement plan to calm investors even while they're golfing on the ninth hole.

“While we're not sure you're not going to want to execute a trade between shots, you might want to pull up their portfolio,” says Doreen Griffith, senior vice president and chief information officer of broker/dealer Securities America in La Vista, Neb., which has started to test its iPad-friendly website on a limited basis, expecting to roll out an initial version early this year. “Especially if they're having discussions of asset allocation and want to assure clients.”

Still, experts agree that while financial advisors are increasingly adopting mobile devices, they should use caution and common sense when client data is involved.

Alois Pirker of the Boston, Mass.-based research firm Aite Group, concurs that housekeeping — managing business tasks and workflow — are of primary concern to reps when away from the office, as opposed to crafting an entire financial plan. “They're not necessarily looking for a trading environment on a mobile device,” Pirker says. “But CRM? Financial planning updates? Those should be of interest.”

At Commonwealth Financial Network, mobile updates for reps might come in as an alert to their device — such as when a client has forgotten to sign a mutual fund application, for example. Trading is not allowed now, says Darren Tedesco, the firm's Waltham, Mass.-based managing principal, innovation and strategy, but it will probably be added to the mobile platform in the future. But that's not the task he says his people are clamoring for at the moment. Instead, while he has 7 percent to 8 percent of his advisors using the mobile version of their platform, they're using it to check in on accounts, not adjust them dramatically.

“Spur-of-the-moment trading with a handheld is far different then pulling out a laptop, which is still a much easier way to trade,” he says. “Instead, more are looking at their work-flow on a mobile device, following-up on what they have to do.”

The CRM Revolution

CRM, an essential tool for FAs, is also appearing across mobile platforms. Friedman's own Junxure offers a CRM toolkit that can be accessed from most devices including Blackberries, Androids and iPhones — safely streaming the data from servers without storing the information directly on the handheld itself.

However, Pyxis Mobile's suite of applications does allow data to be stored on a mobile device but only in an encrypted form — and only if the rep chooses. “Typically, client information is considered highly sensitive,” says Pyxis' CTO and President Todd Christy, in Waltham, Mass., who says iPad adoption has recently been driving demand for the firm's mobile software. “So with our software you can decide at the data level, and strike a balance between security and convenience. You may consider a name and address something you want available, but holdings stored on a mobile device may be too sensitive.”

Massachusetts state law says holding client data on a mobile device can also result in a fine. A new data security law, 201 CMR 17.00, passed in 2010, requires that personal information about any state resident must be encrypted when stored on a portable device or transmitted over the Internet — or not be accessed on these devices if encryption is not assured. The law is being watched by financial firms and reps who are early mobile adopters, such as Junxure's Friedman, and influencing how they migrate handhelds into their work.

For example, the San Rafael, Calif.-based Friedman doesn't stray too far beyond using his own product on his iPhone. Instead, he prefers basic mobile applications that don't dance dangerously with client data. A favorite? A voice command program called Vlingo that allows him to dictate notes from client meetings into his iPhone, or even a list of tasks, and then to verbally command that the file be emailed to his office. “I keep myself alive on the road by being hands-free,” he says. “It's very cool.”

Doug Lockwood too has adopted mobile devices — but is careful in the role they play with clients. The principal at the Manasquan, N.J.-based Harbor Lights Financial Group primarily uses his mobile phone the way all his firm's reps do — on productivity, emails and keeping his calendar synched so he knows where he needs to be at all times. While Lockwood has an iPad, and knows of reps who stream financial plans off the tablet to impress clients, he still isn't sure whether the device and its potential to increase workflow and client interest are worth the possible security risks.

To Lockwood, reps can be fans of new technology and tech toys such as iPads and Androids — but in terms of embracing them when working with clients, the cool factor has to take second place to caution.

“I'm still being careful,” he says. “I'm very cautious especially from a client protection standpoint. I'm always going to look to that first and productivity second.”

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