Some 60 UBS Wealth Management Americas financial advisors will kickoff a three-month test drive this week of an iPad application designed to make it easier to interact with clients and access research reports — all in the hope of generating more assets under management.
UBS FA Mobile is the byproduct of a collaboration between the Swiss wealth management firm and FrameHawk, a San Francisco-based developer of mobile applications. It’s a password-secured app that runs behind the UBS firewall on an internal cloud computing network that lets FAs tap into proprietary research, client materials, account and contact data as well as analyst reports and their email accounts. In other words, every application and tool advisors have on their office computers is now available on their iPads.
“An advisor’s commodity is time,” said Michael Poppo, a UBS managing director in New York City who oversees a team of seven advisors managing more than $1 billion in assets. “Anyway you can help me create time and make more of my time useful makes me more productive and allows me to provide better service to my clients. Even if it’s only 10% or 15% more, it makes a huge difference.”
Instead of printing out 200 or more pages of daily reports each morning and stuffing them into his bag for the train ride into the city, Poppo now accesses all these reports from his iPad.
Besides the obvious benefits of being able to work remotely and reduce the amount of paper he carts around, having the iPad app gives Poppo instant access to everything he needs during a client meeting and demonstrates to the client that he and the firm are using the latest and best technology to serve them – no small consideration to clients who also use these devices.
“I go to their houses and do my presentations on the iPad, but I never know what questions they’re going to ask,” he said. “With two buttons, I can show them what we think about a stock or a product and can email them our reports on the spot. I can actively look at the market right there with them, which makes it much more dynamic and me much more responsive.”
UBS FA Mobile represents perhaps the most significant product of the company’s two-year push to build a business model that is financial advisor-centric and client-focused using mobile application and devices. And it was clearly driven as much by clients who have ravenously embraced the iPad and other mobile apps as it was a mandate from the firm’s senior executives.
“The launch of UBS FA Mobile is an important milestone in our technology journey, which is all about harnessing the benefits of innovative technologies to help FAs deepen their relationships with their clients,” said Anita Sands, chief operating officer for UBS Wealth Management Americas, in an emailed statement.
“We recognized that the trends occurring outside our industry – in mobile, social networking and cloud – represent a paradigm shift,” she added. “Today we announced our plans for going mobile and for developing FA-centric solutions that will allow our advisors to make better use of their time, help boost their productivity and give them a competitive edge.”
At the onset, a select number of UBS WMA advisors tried the app, providing feedback to FrameHawk developers to ensure it was productive, secure and easy to use. The feedback helped create the pilot version that’s going to be pushed out to a group of roughly 60 FAs throughout the first quarter of 2012.
Assuming the test is successful, UBS plans to release the app to all of its more than 6,000 financial advisors in March. UBS officials said the platform can be extended to other mobile platforms based on FA demand in the future.
As far as delivering an iPad app to its FAs, UBS’ timing couldn’t be more right.
According to the latest Financial Planning Tech Survey of more than 3,200 advisors, nearly 40% already own a tablet device and, of that group, 85% own iPads. A bit more than half of all respondents said they plan to buy a tablet – an iPad, Android or another brand – in the next year.
With more clients using mobile devices like the iPad for their business, personal and financial endeavors, the race is on among financial services and financial advisory firms to either develop the mobile apps they’ll need to meet this demand or find vendors who can do it for them. To that end, UBS also made an undisclosed investment in FrameHawk at the same time they were collaborating on UBS FA Mobile.
“It’s definitely more decisive than what so many other firms have done,” said Alois Pirker, research director at Aite Group. “Advisors have been underwhelmed by what firms are offering up to them [in terms of mobile apps] so far. So UBS is smart in offering up this up to advisors now and is getting a little bit ahead of the other firms.”
However, Pirker said he expects other wealth management and advisory firms to fine-tune their eventual mobile offerings, scaling back the total number of functions and options available to advisors in favor of select features that are catered to the specific processes and tools that serve clients best and promote productivity in the field.