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Mobile Capabilities Key Differentiator Among Asset Managers

The growth of mobile devices to access the Internet is outpacing the growth of desktop use. More users are expected to connect to the Internet via mobile devices than their desktops by 2014. Even today, 55% of mobile users go online on a daily basis. Asset managers should be aware of how changes in mobile technology will continue to affect distribution, and they need to develop mobile strategies to drive sales.

All of us have seen several years of volatile markets and continuing rapid technological change. Better bandwidth, devices, and online experiences have us expecting ubiquity. The expectation that one can access online content, regardless of one's location, has never been greater.

In January, Kasina released a new e-Business research report: "Mobile Strategies for Asset Managers." This report leveraged surveys and interviews of executives from 40 diverse asset management and insurance firms. It showed that only 60% of asset managers have an overarching mobile strategy in place for wholesalers, advisers or investors. Remarkably, 12% have no plans to develop a strategy.

Asset managers lag other industries in mobile development. This is surprising, considering that the potential is high to make inroads with three key constituent groups: wholesalers, advisers and investors. Yet only 46% of firms claim to have a mobile strategy for wholesalers; 29% have an adviser strategy, and 22% budget for an investor strategy. Given the one-way nature of technology change (new developments become the new standard, which continually "raises the bar"), firms should be creating a mobile strategy with management support, accompanied by a dedicated budget.

Firms that fail to develop mobile access miss an opportunity to help wholesalers showcase the firm. In fact, a number of firms are conducting iPad pilots with wholesalers and at least 13% of firms are developing a mobile application for the device. Asset managers should be exploring the benefits of tablets by testing iPads now and learning about their capabilities. Firms that risk waiting to see what other tablets emerge reduce their ability to have any impact for over a year.

Firms struggling to develop a mobile strategy and budget should prioritize wholesaler access higher than advisers and investors. Firms can enhance wholesaler effectiveness and drive sales by arming their field force with access to detailed, up-to-date information on clients, showing and telling the firm's compelling story, and demonstrating tailored solutions to advisers.

Mobile development is also an important means of improving adviser productivity. Fifty-three of advisers currently access work-related content other than e-mail on mobile devices and 23% more plan to in the next 12 months. But most asset managers do not enable mobile access to adviser sites. We have found that 71% of advisers indicate that the quality of asset managers' websites impacts the advisors' choice of products. Given that mobile is becoming a bigger part of the online experience, surely mobile capabilities will impact product decisions and flows before long.

Historically, the key stakeholders such as marketing, e-business, IT, sales, and R&D have not been involved with strategic development or implementation of mobile at the majority of firms. This is problematic. Firms truly dedicated to mobile should be using cross-functional teams of key stakeholders to decide, design, build, and promote the initiative.

Mobile capabilities currently take three predominant forms. First, firms can optimize their website for mobile use. This entails coding selected content and functionality on the asset manager site to display on the smaller screens of mobile devices with limited navigation. Second, firms can create a mobile website or sub-domain. This is a separate site or sub-domain with a subset of content and functionality optimized for use on mobile devices. And lastly, firms can develop a mobile application, which is piece of software that can be downloaded and used on mobile devices. Importantly, these forms are not mutually exclusive; firms do not have to choose one option for mobile access over another or develop the technologies sequentially.

When deciding on the best options for mobile access, firms should analyze browsers, overlay usage statistics, prioritize browser support, and monitor use to evaluate appropriate resource usage. Additionally, firms should be considering apps for popular platforms because optimized site content and mobile sites generally cannot compete with the tailored and interactive functionality of mobile applications. Most importantly, firms should develop a process to quickly decide, test, implement, measure, learn and adapt. The landscape is changing so quickly that the option value of changing direction later is high.

Industry pundits foresee that the future will no longer be about the device or the network. Instead, the Internet will be accessible everywhere, at any time. With this technological revolution in progress and key constituencies experiencing rapid improvements in speed, accessibility, and content, asset managers need to re-examine their strategies and priorities. The cost of waiting to implement mobile capabilities is high. But the longer asset managers wait, the more difficult it will be to catch up to standards set by industry peers, never mind other industries. More than ever, crafting a well-defined, detailed mobile strategy is critical to meeting corporate goals for productivity, increased revenue opportunities, and brand enhancement.