Advisers adopting device-agnostic responsive design for website upgrades

New format allows single site to serve both desktop and mobile users

Apr 29, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Joyce Hanson

When financial adviser Ric Edelman decided it was time to overhaul his seven-year-old website, he recognized that he had an opportunity. He decided to use the latest in web technology to make his site easier to navigate and more visually appealing for users — whether they viewed it from a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

The technology, something called “responsive design,” gives clients full access to their account information whether they're sitting in front of a desktop computer or on the go with a mobile device, according to the chairman and chief executive of Edelman Financial Services, a large registered investment advisory firm with 24,000 clients and $12 billion in assets under management.

“We've created three different sites to meet the needs of three different types of users,” Mr. Edelman said. “The content is identical but the appearance and the flows and the user interfaces are entirely different” based on which device the person uses to view the site.

Responsive design, which resizes content to fit any screen, allows web designers to develop a single website to serve all users. Thus, as the number of devices proliferates, this new kind of design erases the need for designers and the firms that hire them to create separate applications for the iPhone, iPad, Android and so on.

Wealth management technology provider Orion Advisor Services plans to relaunch its client portal on May 1, and a primary driver for the relaunch is responsive design, said Orion CEO Eric Clarke.

“Responsive design is a big technology trend for building more user-friendly applications on smartphones and tablets, as well as PCs,” he said.

Mr. Edelman predicts that many more advisers will start jumping on the responsive-design trend. Deep-pocket firms with large information technology departments have created consumer expectations about the look and feel of websites, he said.

“RIAs are competing with the big shots,” Mr. Edelman said. “Investors have a choice of where to get their investment services. They can go to Merrill Lynch or Wells Fargo or any other huge firm — Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, TDAmeritrade. These massive organizations have state-of-the-art services. If you don't as well, you're not offering a compelling reason for a consumer to hire you instead of them.”

Mr. Edelman said his firm's April 8 website relaunch took place over a year and a half and cost approximately $2 million.

But Kristen Luke, president and CEO of Wealth Management Marketing Inc., said the cost of a responsive-design rebuild can be free for WordPress.com users or cost as little as $8 per month on SquareSpace.com's content management and web hosting system. A mid-range redesign and reprogramming by a web design firm would cost in the range of $2,000 to $5,000, she said.

Advisers who want their website to incorporate responsive design need to understand that it requires a complete redesign of their website, Ms. Luke noted.

She added that compliance requirements may slow down the adoption of responsive design in the advisory industry, but for companies in creative industries, it has become the standard.

“I think advisers should be demanding responsive design on new websites,” Ms. Luke said.

The popularity of this design is likely to reduce the number of new apps showing up in the Apple and Google Android stores, she predicted, adding that mobile device users are likely to tire of having thousands of apps to sort through.

That means advisers should reconsider whether they want a mobile and table app of their own, Ms. Luke said.

“A lot of advisers are thinking about developing apps for their company, but unless it has some really unique functionality, they're better off with a responsive website,” she said. “If your app doesn't do something pretty spectacular, people aren't going to use it.”

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