Technology Update

AllianceBernstein's iPad app supports multiple uses

Advisers working with clients, investor education...; Legg Mason partners with MPI

Dec 9, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Davis Janowski

AllianceBernstein LP has taken a future-proofing approach to building its slick AB Connect iPad application, which officially launched Monday. Built using a mix of HTML5 technologies, the app for financial advisers supports multiple-use scenarios.

Although it is available free to any consumer visiting Apple Inc.'s iTunes App Store, only advisers with a relationship with AllianceBernstein can access certain content. For example, anyone who downloads the app immediately sees thumbnail cover pages and the titles for several Capital Markets Outlook white papers (approved by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc.) under the Insights tab, as well as a tab that links to AB's Context blog.

Unlike the more static Finra-approved white papers, the best stuff, including interactive reports and analysis tools, is reserved for advisers. With a constant flow of fresh content, the app should prove useful to advisers trying to convey particularly confusing concepts such as “roll value.”

I saw it brought to life during a demonstration. Within a few minutes, the onscreen curve and its underlying rollover pop-ups with additional details had me fairly convinced that I understood at least the rudiments of roll value, potentially saving an adviser several thousand words of verbal explanation.

AllianceBernstein's more traditional research, including weekly and monthly global economic and fixed-income updates, are also available.

Wholesalers and advisers, whether working together or on their own, can access the firm's product center. Advisers can view strategies, holdings, characteristics, management teams and performance. And a search function can navigate the user to products or services meeting a particular need.

“The app is meant to be a conversation starter for the adviser,” said Racine Romaguera, director of web development and strategy at AllianceBernstein.

He took me through the app itself, followed by an exegesis of how the components are built.

I was impressed by how AllianceBernstein's internal teams collaborated to build an understandable interactive chart with touch-sensitive pop-ups to dramatically simplify and visualize complex constructions. Mr. Romaguera and his developer, Natalia Nesterova, who specializes in HTML5 and JavaScript, work through the ideas with analysts, marketing staff and product managers to illustrate what the technology can and can't do.

The process can be time-consuming but allows the team to show what might work best in terms of a design methodology, as well as what they can provide interactively using technologies such as JavaScript.

I can't overemphasize this model's potential and how it can be applied, not only by AllianceBernstein but also by other product companies and tech providers. This can help advisers better communicate with investors, in real time, about products and categories using tablets and touch screens.

Most of the other iPad apps have plenty of embedded videos with commentary. But making HTML5 technologies the foundation means the app's a good platform for adding all kinds of content — perhaps things not envisioned yet.

That is a significant differentiator from many of the more static apps I've seen, including those from Franklin Templeton Investments and OppenheimerFunds Inc.

“This is HTML5 with a wrapper that can be updated easily, without us having to go back to the App Store, and we are going to build out additional adviser tools that can be easily updated,” Mr. Romaguera said.

Head over to my INTech blog for more on HTML5 and a behind the scenes look at the making of the AB Connect app as well as a few more screenshots.

Additional information:

AB Connect, iTunes Preview page

Legg Mason and MPI

Despite the general drubbing that Legg Mason Inc. has taken over the past year, there is a spot of good tech news. Specifically, it has partnered with analytics provider Markov Processes International to customize that company's Stylus Web app for Legg Mason's platform for analyzing defined-contribution plans.

I first wrote about Stylus Web back in 2010, when it became available to individual retail advisers doing work for DC and defined-benefit plans. The web-based tool had started life on the institutional investment side.

The development is interesting because Legg Mason has recognized the need for such tools and, rather than make them from scratch, has chosen a partner to tailor an existing tool for its use.

Although intended for product and portfolio analysis, as well as comprehensive reporting, the most useful feature within the Legg Mason version of Stylus Web might be the ability to compare plans side by side.

“I recently met with a large adviser team, and they told me they had their own tool, so I thought, "Well they won't be interested in this.' But when they saw this, and that it is comparative, they were sold,” said Gary Kleinschmidt, head of retirement at Legg Mason.

Legg Mason has applied Markov's patent-pending proprietary analytics engine, Common Style, which uses returns-based models to assess diversification within a portfolio. It also analyzes plan lineup and management styles, and provides correlations of fund overlap.

Links to additional information:

Common Style webpage OR “Beyond Correlation: MPI's measures for analyzing investment similarity”

Legg Case Study (with samples of Legg's MPI Plan Analyzer)

djanowski@investmentnews.com Twitter: @ddjanowski

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