With smartphone and tablet use now a regular part of many advisers' daily work life, and the lines between personal and business use blurring, advisory firms are joining the “bring your own device” movement.
The BYOD trend began a few years ago when employees across many industries started using their personal communication devices for work. As companies took notice of this new behavior, they began adopting policies to manage employees' use of their smartphones and tablets.
Forty-four percent of employees in developed markets around the world use their personal devices for work, according to a 2013 study of the BYOD trend by Logicalis Inc., an international technology consultant.
Now, the BYOD trend is spreading to financial advisory firms.
McLean Asset Management Corp. recently introduced a BYOD policy to its 21 employees. Enabled by secure software, the policy allows employees of the independent advisory firm to access confidential client data on their personal mobile devices, said managing principal Alex Murguia, who is also founder and chief executive of financial planning platform inStream Solutions.
He predicts that more advisory firms will adopt BYOD policies that embrace mobile device management in 2014.
“What is a mobile phone if not a portable computer? Everybody has a data vault in their hands,” Mr. Murguia said. “Mobile device management will be something every adviser will have.”
(Read Alex Murguia's account of how McLean adopted its BYOD policy here.)
Ted Jenkin, co-chief executive of the investment advisory firm oXYGen Financial Inc., believes that more advisers will work from home or in collaborative work spaces in the future, thus encouraging more adviser adoption of the BYOD trend.
“In today's environment, it's impractical for an advisory firm to be the device provider. Your cost and wear and tear on the computers is not a great value proposition,” he said.
Mergers and acquisitions will be easier among firms with BYOD policies, he added.
“If I buy a practice with somebody in Washington, D.C., and they're on Apple, I don't particularly care what kind of system they're using. It's not a barrier. BYOD makes it easy to integrate.”
Ed O'Brien, senior vice president of Fidelity Institutional's platform technology, confirmed the strong adoption of technologies on mobile devices among advisers, saying Fidelity Institutional has seen 22,000 downloads of its applications for mobile devices. And more advisers are using mobile device management software that enables them to join the BYOD trend, he said.
“More people want access to applications from their mobile device, and you don't want to carry [multiple] devices for either your personal or your corporate use,” Mr. O'Brien said.
To be sure, technology management was less of a hassle when equipment such as landline telephones and desktop computers stayed at the office and all employees used the same product.
But over the last decade, people have grown highly attached to their consumer-friendly smartphones and tablets. This new attitude has created the expectation among users that they also should be able to conduct business with them. As a result, software-enabled BYOD policies such as McLean's are on the upswing.
Mobile device management software is offered by providers such as AirWatch, Good Technology, mindSHIFT Technologies Inc. and MobileIron. The software lets firms monitor and manage the business that employees conduct on their mobile devices, no matter what kind of smartphone or tablet employees use.
McLean and oXYGen both use AirWatch. McLean pays the firm a one-time licensing fee of $50 for each device, then $0.75 per month for each device. The AirWatch software lets McLean protect its data and configure settings while giving employees the ability to buy whatever devices they like, Mr. Murguia said.
At the beginning of the year, McLean was managing about 17 devices, including Apple, Windows, Blackberry, Android and Samsung products.
“With AirWatch, we control our little piece of real estate [on each phone],” Mr. Murguia said. “I don't care about [employees'] Instagram pics. So we said, 'Bring your own device, give us a little piece of real estate, and we're good.'”
Kenny Mayer, a McLean investment associate who handles the firm's information technology operations, plans to sit down over the next month with McLean's compliance manager, Virginia Cheung, and manage the phone functionality of every employee.
Rather than individually download applications such as Microsoft Outlook, TD Ameritrade Institutional's Veo trading platform and Orion Advisor Services' data aggregation app to each user's personal device, Mr. Mayer said he can set up devices over the air in about a minute by texting every employee a link to AirWatch.
“I don't have to sit there and manually download each one,” Mr. Mayer said. “They all come to me over the air. The best thing is that we still have a reach into the device. If someone loses their phone, we have the capability to remote delete the device.”
Alan Dabbiere, chief executive of Atlanta-based AirWatch, said the firm over the past three years has grown to 10,000 customers, from 100, and to more than 1,600 employees, from less than 100 employees. In the fourth quarter of 2013 alone, he noted, AirWatch signed up 2,000 new customers.