Buying an iPad Just the First Step for Advisors on the Go

By Amy McIIwain, President, Financial Social Media on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Advisors have fallen in love with tablet computers. But now that the applications are finally catching up, putting them to work in your practice requires actually rethinking your approach to time management, client presentations and even data security.

While tablet-based versions of popular wealth management programs are finally coming out, low reported deployment rates indicate that advisors are still relying on makeshift solutions for integrating their mobile computers into their business routine.

At this point, the iPad in particular is almost ubiquitous in some corners of the industry. You see advisors pull out their tablets the way they used to pull out a Blackberry or Palm Pilot.

Accounting and custody platform providers have bent over backward to create dedicated mobile apps, but uptake rates from giant vendors like Pershing are reportedly under 10%.

What’s going on here? As with most new technologies that attract a big following quickly, I think many advisors have been caught up in the mobile platform phenomenon without having a clearly thought-through need for it.

Now the industry recognizes that mobile computing is a solution looking for a problem. Do advisors use it simply to keep in touch with the office, or to bring the “office” data environment out to enable better offsite meetings with clients and prospects?

If the former, then the iPad is just a Blackberry with a larger screen. But otherwise, advisors who can bring their applications out of the office need to consider the implications of taking your show on the road.

Make sure all the accounts are loaded

One stumbling block has been the lack of new operational guidelines for actually getting out of the office without wrecking productivity.

Start with making sure the tablet can actually be loaded with all the client files and research that the meeting requires -- especially if the advisor is visiting clients at home or in their own places of business.

The more information the advisor has about all accounts, the better. Having to say “I’ll look that up for you when I get back” or “I’ll make that happen at the office” opens a window for something to go wrong in the transition and may eventually hurt the relationship or waste a business opportunity.

On the other hand, the ability to propose complex financial solutions and execute them remotely can still impress clients for whom true mobile capabilities beyond calendar management and communications are still relatively mobile and rare.

Instant gratification is one of the fastest ways to any client’s heart, and if you can combine that with a sense that you have your eyes on the entirety of his or her finances, we’ve found that the referrals can truly generate themselves.

However, to take advantage of this, you truly do actually have to leave the office. Otherwise, I think mobile technology simply presents a fairly expensive distraction for an advisor whose practice is still exclusively geared around bringing clients in for meetings.

There will be times when your business needs the speed and storage capacity of a laptop or desktop computer. It would be a mistake to try to use smart phones and tablets for these tasks simply for novelty’s sake -- after all, nobody wants the presentation to crash halfway through.

Identify your goal first and pick the technology platform accordingly. For example, smart phones are wonderful things, but are not very good for viewing a lot of information -- small screens -- or entering a lot of data. You still want a keyboard to type on and a big screen to see what you’re doing.

The iPad has the screen, but is relatively bulky as a trade-off. Phones are valuable because they are very unobtrusive, fitting into a pocket or purse and accessible for quick, discreet access to data or transactional tools.

The tablet is about as bulky as a notebook or old-fashioned binder, which is not terrible. Sooner or later, this form factor has a good shot at replacing paper documents, perhaps complete with a stylus for electronic “signature.”

Beware of security issues

Speaking of authentication, mobile devices lag desktop and laptop computers in terms of data protection, mostly because they have not yet become the focus of much in the way of attacks.

When was the last time you saw a tablet or smart phone running some sort of anti-virus program? When was the last time you saw a desktop or laptop computer not running an anti-virus program?

Of course, the smaller a device is, the easier it is to misplace or forget in a public place -- and the more popular a device is, the more likely a thief is to target it.

We don't yet think of a smart phone or tablet being stolen, but imagine what would happen if a thief got access to your client records.

Until security technology catches up and can protect mobile devices at a reasonable price point, there's a danger to carrying too sensitive information on them. Much better to use them to open a secure connection to the home, office or a cloud-based solution where the information is protected and passwords are stored.

The next revolution is already coming

Finally, even if you haven’t leapt to download the backoffice apps that your vendors have developed, think about client-facing software for your clients to run on their iPads.

After all, the tablet computer is a consumer device, so maybe its greatest potential is as a way for professionals -- including advisors -- to deliver their expertise when it’s the consumer who is on the go.

The advisor doesn’t even have to be present. Now that’s a mobile revolution.

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