Here's the first thing a financial adviser needs to know about the TechLeaders conference: The annual broker-dealer technology meet-up is all about how to serve the needs of advisers, yet few advisers actually attend.
Instead, the 100 or so broker-dealer professionals who attended the TechLeaders conference just outside Dallas Monday through Wednesday carry titles such as head of information technology, director of operations and chief compliance officer. And yet the event was all about the adviser. These professionals were there to talk with peers about industry trends, meet vendors and come away armed with new ideas on how to best spend their tech budgets on products that help the men and women on the front lines.
So what trends were top of mind at TechLeaders 2014?
One big focus was the delivery of a “user experience” that makes advisers and their clients feel comfortable when working on their mobile devices.
For example, Brian McLaughlin, chief executive officer of Redtail Technology Inc., said his firm's customer relationship management product is “going more native” on Apple and Android devices, meaning that the Redtail CRM delivers what users expect to see in terms of look and feel when they operate their mobile phones and tablets.
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That desire to deliver a user-friendly experience has Pershing affiliate Albridge Solutions Inc. out on the road and meeting advisers this year in a series of field studies, according to David McClellan, director of strategy and execution. They'll be sending a team of product managers and usability experts to 30 different advisory firms in 2014.
“We're looking at trying to understand what users want to achieve and how they go about doing it,” Mr. McClellan said. “The expectation is that you're going to delight advisers with the user experience.”
So what will the next big thing be?
Darren Tedesco, managing principal of technology for Commonwealth Financial Network, predicted that voice-driven applications will become more common, particularly with voice navigation that gets users where they need to go when on the road. Voice navigation apps extend to turn-by-turn GPS, traffic updates and live maps.
Mr. Tedesco brought this tidbit of information to a round-table session dedicated to the user experience and moderated by Chip Kispert, founder and managing partner of advisory think tank Beacon Strategies, who asked the 25 tech leaders in the room to name their own favorite apps.
Here are a few of the apps that they named:
• Personal account aggregator Mint
• Cloud-data storage site Evernote
• Online radio app Pandora
• Brand-new Facebook app Weave
The app-shoutout exercise was all in good fun, until Mr. Kispert pointed out that nobody had mentioned a financial services firm's app. This, he said, is precisely what worries him about how the advisory industry is viewed today.
“We live in an instant gratification world. How are we in the financial world planning for the overall user experience in our strategies?” he asked.
While Fidelity Investments and The Charles Schwab Corp., for example, have mature strategies for reaching users online and keeping them there (such as intuitive dashboards, easy-to-understand graphics and topical content), other financial companies have some catching up to do, Mr. Kispert said.