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Want an app? There's an app for that

Mar 18, 2014 @ 11:03 am

By Joyce Hanson

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To keep up with the Joneses, advisers across the industry are looking to launch mobile applications to showcase their personal brand.

But as the popularity surrounding mobile apps builds, so does the debate about whether it's better to build your own app, hire an expert to build one for you or use a white-label template. When making this decision, advisers must consider how to launch the app, what's needed to maintain it and how much it costs.

The answers very well may come from the custodians and the broker-dealers.

“I knew a few firms that thought about building their own mobile app, but over the last year or so, more and more firms are looking to their custodians to provide it,” said Jason Wilder, executive vice president and head of key accounts and business development for CMG Capital Management Group Inc., which launched a customized mobile app last year with the help of custodian Trust Co. of America.

Advisers are turning to their custodians or broker-dealers to provide them with white-label mobile apps because they can be customized easily and cheaply. The custodians and broker-dealers, meanwhile, are happy to help advisers jump on the customized-mobile-app trend with their own name and logo because it helps them keep advisers as customers.

In the broker-dealer sphere, Commonwealth Financial Network uses a “mass customization” model of its Client360 platform at no extra cost to offer personal branding for advisers, whether for their mobile app or website, according to Darren Tedesco, managing principal of technology.

Commonwealth is preparing to launch a Client360 dashboard page that will use widgets to show integrated applications on a single screen, Mr. Tedesco said.

“Every adviser will have a dashboard unique to them,” he said. Commonwealth will offer about 25 widgets, including a performance widget, a trade creation widget, a tracked-goals widget and one showing the last 10 activities performed in the adviser's customer relationship management system, Mr. Tedesco said.

In a sign of the growing popularity of customized mobile apps for advisers, Schwab Performance Technologies in February announced the rollout of Schwab OpenView Mobile, an application whereby registered investment advisers can pay $5,000 to create a branded mobile presence for their firm.

Trust Co. of America does not charge an additional fee to advisers for using their own brand on the custodian's mobile app. In the two years since the launch of its Liberty mobile app, the custodian has launched more than 60 branded apps for RIAs in the Apple Inc. iTunes, Google Inc. Play and Microsoft Corp. Windows Phone app stores, according to Dave Curry, director of open-systems architecture for Trust Co.

Advisers use their own name and logo in the app stores, and they choose screen shots provided by Trust Co., which is listed as the app's publisher.

“The Liberty application allows investors to see their holdings, their balances, their positions and other information about their account, like who their registered representative and beneficiaries are,” Mr. Curry said. “Here's the cool thing: When the page comes up for the rep, it's the exact same page that the investor sees.”

Oleg Tishkevich, president, chief executive and founder of Finance Logix, a financial planning software product from Oltis Software, said that an adviser who truly wants to go it alone and build a mobile app from scratch will have to spend more time and money than it's worth.

His firm's Retire Logix mobile prospecting tool, which was built specifically for advisers who use Finance Logix, cost thousands of hours and dollars to build, and it continues to require upgrades, recoding and annual reapplications for licensing from the app stores, Mr. Tishkevich said.

“It's really useless if an app just looks like a web homepage,” Mr. Tishkevich said. “For something on the level of Retire Logix, with integrated account connections in the back, expect to spend 60 grand. To build it yourself is extremely expensive.”

In comparison, Mr. Tishkevich said, the client-facing Retire Logix app can be customized for advisers with their company name and contact details for $300 a year.

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