MyPrivateBanking Blog
Daily Comments on the World of Wealth Management

This week I had the chance to attend a workshop led by MicroStrategy, the Business Intelligence company, to learn how to build an app in no longer than a few hours. To be honest, this sounded a little bit upbeat to me: evaluating app features is one thing, but developing them myself in only a few hours?

After a short introduction into the company’s worldwide operations, products and services the attendees were handed out a kind of script, which should lead us through the different steps for becoming a true app developer. Still skeptic, I started with the first task. Following the instructions, I created an app homepage on the personal computer, which immediately showed up on my tablet.

Excited from this success, I continued with clicking, dragging and dropping, typing and sizing. It reminded me a lot on my decades old experience with building a house, a farm or a car with my Lego kit. In the end I was entirely puzzled by this genius piece of digital work I was responsible for: a retail shop app containing a comprehensive product list, filter options, a barcode scanner, an interactive map with all of ‘my’ stores and the respective sales figures, multimedia documentary as well as a calendar containing all of my meetings and cool features like the app showing up different content when changing the orientation of the device.

At the end of the day I came to the conclusion that it’s not only possible to develop a mobile app without coding skills, but that it’s easy, fast and even fun – through the right platform, of course. This is why software vendors that offer such a modular approach are gaining substantial ground. Another example that is pushing a similar approach is banking software vendor Avaloq who is also increasingly relying on a building kit approach. This market is still in its infancy and it will be well worth keeping an eye on it in the coming months. It also shows why apps are such a fast and customized weapon in the fight for new clients and market share. Within only days you can change your offer, adjust it to new customer needs or respond to your competitor’s last move.

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We’ve just recently heard the news that a computer software has finally passed the Turing Test. There is some debate if this actually happened or whether it was really successful. Basically, the mathematician Turing put forward the idea of an ‘imitation game’, in which a human being and a computer would be interrogated under conditions where the interrogator would not know which was which, the communication being entirely by textual messages. Turing argued that if the interrogator could not distinguish them by questioning, then it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent, because we judge other people’s intelligence from external observation in just this way.

We have now little doubt that software development is at a point, where computers will be in a position to support or take over complex decision making from human beings. We are talking here not only about clearly structured tasks and decisions like in a chess game (computers have been beating the best human chess players for years) but complex decisions involving many factors including emotions, human relations and spoken language etc.

Looking at giving advice and decision making in wealth management, it seems to me very obvious that in this field, the role of AI will become BIG in the next five years. We are already seeing a wave of so called robo advisors encroaching on the territory of established wealth management firms and private banks. So far, they are using relatively simple algorithms to determine their clients’ risk propensity, preferences or asset allocation (and are rightly critisized for their simplistic approach). But it won’t be long and much more powerful software will take a much more holistic approach to the clients’ situation and the results will most likely beat the knowledge and skills of human advisors in several dimensions.

Wealth managers should start thinking about AI and how to integrate it in their business modell. In September we will publish a new report on automated computer-driven wealth advice (robo advisors). The topic of AI will take a prominent place there.

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Starting with this year’s benchmarking project on wealth management websites (due in September 2014), we decided to focus much more on private banks’ mobile websites to contribute to the fact that mobile websites have become an important factor in the digital battle for clients’ and users’ eyeballs. But successful mobile websites have – in many respects – very different requirements from their desktop siblings.

What do we expect from a good mobile website?

  • Clearly structured entry page: the entry page should contain prominently placed call-to-actions, a short menu containing only core content, as well as the possibility to login for financial transactions and account overview.
  • A search function on the entry page: mobile websites should allow for easy content search on the homepage of the mobile website in order to allow for fast information lookup. Optimally, smart search features like autofill or search filters are provided.
  • Balance between relevant content and easy navigation: content should be optimized for small screen sizes while, at the same time, informing comprehensively of the wealth manager’s products and services.
  • The choice between mobile and full view: customers should be able to choose the view they prefer since some would like to view the full website for getting more and detailed information whereas others prefer an easy navigation while on the go.
  • Flexible content consumption: busy clients should have the chance to send interesting articles via e-mail in case they wish to read it later.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Stay tuned for our full report after the summer break.

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Many mobile apps that offer a good provision of core functions for wealthy clients have not managed to stay ahead of the competition. Why so? The analysts at MyPrivateBanking Research disclose the captivating story of what makes a mobile app for HNWIs successful in the forthcoming report ‘‘Mobile Apps for Wealth Management 2014’’. One of the striking results of our research so far has been that only 24% of banks offer an exclusive banking app – for their wealthy clients only. All other banks offer a general banking app to all of their customers – retail, high-net-worth or in between.

Even though the existing retail apps may also be relevant for HNW clients, there are good reasons to offer a customized solution:

  • HNW clients love to be treated exclusively and separately from the crowd. That’s the reason why they are paying substantial fees to their private banker or wealth manager in the first place.
  • HNW clients have other client needs in the mobile world. Often, they are heavy travelers, need to communicate a lot more with their banker and have deeper and more demanding information needs.
  • HNW clients are interested in different products than retail clients. A banner ad for a cheap consumer credit or a good car insurance rate might not really capture their imagination.
  • Investing, research and market developments are key areas of action for HNW clients. Checking and analyzing their portfolios in real-time anywhere in the world, executing a trade or checking quotes are important mobile activities for HNW clients.
  • HNW clients are longing for an app that matches their advisor’s app. Meeting with their advisor will be more and more app supported. Both parties to the meeting should be able to communicate on the same level using matching apps.

And no matter how sophisticated the financial operations they need to support, an app developed for wealthy customers should first of all engage them by means of elegant design, user-friendliness and easy-to-digest content.

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Early this year WhatsApp has been acquired by Facebook for 19 bn USD - not without reason this acquisition has been well above estimated company value. Signs are good that WhatsApp will grow the current 450 million subscribers to reach 1 billion. The mobile app has been initially a mere alternative to SMS but has grown to become a blend of messenger and social media channel. Other messenger apps like WeChat (a strong contender in Asia) or Skype are also throwing their hat in the ring.

But what can private banks and wealth managers learn from WhatsApp and other messenger apps?

  • Convenience. Clients are using the WhatsApp messenger as it is convenient to follow conversations, send pictures and because they immediately get notice if someone is available. Allowing clients to contact their advisor whenever she is online is a powerful tool. Wealth managers should go and fetch it.
  • It’s not a teenager thing anymore. Social media channels in general enjoyed a reputation of being only for a young audience. This age barrier has vanished and more and more older users are being drawn into using apps, social media and messenger features.
  • WhatsApp is planning a telephone function and will in general broaden its functionality. Besides the possibility to conveniently chat or leave messages to advisor/ client soon a telephone function will be broadly available for the app - making the application more flexible than it is already today.
  • Messaging is not email. The hurdle to write an email is way higher compared to messaging, which combines the benefits of chat functions with the option to leave emails. There is no need for all flowery phrases for every message you write. Its fast, it’s fun, it’s what clients want.
  • Everybody knows it. Some wealth managers provide their own contact functions via app – that’s great and important. But WhatsApp is already known by the customer. Allow clients to stay in their comfort zone without having to learn a new technology. Most likely your relationship managers use it already, too.

Wealth managers and private banks need to think about how to leverage mobile messenger technology for their own business. It can be by using existing popular messengers like WhatsApp for some communication. Another option is the integration of similar messaging features in existing banking apps. And keep in mind: these options are not mutually exclusive.

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1. Innovative mobile payment solutions lack backing of strong trustworthy names. I just listened to an interesting panel discussion about mobile payments. There are now tons of interesting and great innovative solutions (examples are Apple’s iBeacon based and  NFC based solutions from various innovative start-ups like barcoo or netsize) but they are still lacking the backing of the big financial players. And this is the only way the consumer will accept new payment solutions. So start-ups - get the big banks and financial players involved!

2. Experience first: customers download apps for testing them - when they don’t fulfill customer’s expectations, the apps will be dropped. The implication here is simple: first, attract your clients by an excellent app description in the app store, screenshots and a strong marketing strategy and second, bind your customers through cool features, really helpful tools and a great user experience. This sounds simple - but many banks fail on it as our latest report testifies.

3. Mobile websites and responsive design gain momentum: the development of native apps is expensive and time-consuming. Testing is required as well as integrating feedback from the users. The advantages of responsive design are numerous. Besides enhancing SEO and ensuring a unified look and feel across multiple devices, there is no hurdle for potential customers to use the mobile websites of a bank since no apps need to be downloaded. It’s easy and flexible without requiring huge investments. Will browser based mobile solutions beat native apps in the short run? No, definitely not. Will it be a serious option in the longer run? Definitely yes, particularly for mobile solutions that do not require great design and all the bells & whistles of an expensive native app.

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For the upcoming report on Mobile Apps for Fund Management, which will be published within the next two weeks, MyPrivateBanking’s analysts evaluated 21 apps from 20 fund management companies worldwide. Surprisingly, the first difficulty came up right at the start of the evaluation process: finding a sufficient number of fund managers who provide an app for their own funds was hard. Most billion dollar fund firms don’t bother to provide mobile apps to the investors of their funds. But why is that the case?

· Fund managers feel that investors don’t need to check their funds frequently, so what’s the use of an app?

· The finance industry as a whole is not really known for its fast adaptation to digital trends – and fund managers are showing a particularly hesitant attitude.

· Fund managers believe that intermediaries are doing their jobs of promoting their funds anyway – so why bothering oneself with an ‘extra’ platform like an app?

· Fund managers think that their good ol’ websites are already sufficiently satisfying their customers’ informational needs.

· Fund managers fear that another communication channel makes their compliance situation even more complex. So why not skip the mobile channel completely?

Should these arguments and barriers be taken seriously or how strong is the case for fund managers’ mobile apps? Don’t miss our upcoming report….

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When walking into a Walgreens store (a large pharmacy chain in the US) it is likely that an electronic coupon pops up on your smartphone which advertises the local goods while showing you where to find them in the store. At Macy’s, a major department store chain in the US, customers have access to free WiFi and are able to scan QR codes of products to review online product descriptions, uncensored customer reviews or see for which range it is worth coming back to the store the next week.

Those are only two examples for the brave new world of omni-channel consumer experiences. Be it from home at the desktop computer, on the go with the mobile phone or at the brick and mortar store around the corner, the tech-savvy consumers expect everything to be readily available at their fingertips. According to Google already 90% of mobile users use different devices sequentially to accomplish a task over time. And as the industry evolves toward a seamless omni-channel retailing experience, the distinctions between physical and online will vanish, turning the world into one big showroom without walls. Location based services, augmented reality and social media integration showcase that the opportunities are endless.

Banks and financial institutions however, still seem to have difficulties making first steps towards an omni-channel strategy that basically requires finding a platform that helps to keep messages consistent across different touch points and devices. This is one of the major results of our upcoming report “Mobile Apps for Banking 2014 – from Multi-Channel to Mobile First”. Only a few years ago many banks have made significant investments in Multi-Channel concepts and today they seem to be hesitant to switch quickly to a mostly mobile based strategy. But consumers demand to carry their bank branch in the pocket and therefore it seems unlikely that banks can avoid the mobile re-invention of their business.

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Android rocks the market and hits 81 per cent of smartphone share in the last quarter of 2013 worldwide. Google´s operating system grew by an impressive 51.3% compared to last year. The winner besides Android was Windows Phone with a massive growth rate of 156% but accounting for less than 5% of the overall market. Apple´s operating system has lost 1.5% of market share but still managed to grow shipped devices by 25% compared to the last year. Blackberry, is the loser of the last year´s race of operating systems with a loss of 40%.

Which operating systems should bank´s consider for the development of mobile banking solutions?

Our underlying assumption is the more operating systems are available the broader a reach will a bank have with regard to client base and spent time on apps. Therefore an app for a single operating system is not an option. Clearly, there is no way around Android´s operating system. Surprisingly, there are still banks which do not provide a single app for this dominant OS.

As our upcoming report on Mobile Apps for Banking 2014 shows, banks have been and are developing mainly for iOs devices, treating Android in many cases as a second choice. Numerous apps (especially supporting apps) were only available for iOs whereas only two apps were exclusively for Android.

The demographic profile of iOs users is at this point somewhat more attractive to banks: the users of iOS are more likely to be 35 or older and are more likely to have a household income of USD 2000k or above per anno (source: Hunch Inc.). But that should not lead banks to believe that only iOS users are an attractive segment. Even though Android users at this point might be somewhat younger and poorer, this will quickly change over the coming years as these users are growing up and moving to professional life. We are not expecting that many of them will change their operating system preference to iOS on that journey.

But banks should also consider developing for Windows Phone right now since the operating system is growing immensely and the market is not yet overcrowded. Research for the upcoming Mobile App for Banking report shows that Windows strong app development support results in better performing and full-experience apps - essentials to impact on customer retention and attract potential new clients.

As for Blackberry clearly the user profile, with an average older and wealthier user, has been a strong motivation for banks to develop apps. However, it remains to be seen whether the operating system will survive the current crisis.

For the future we see apps more frequently in different context and on more and more diverse devices. The upcoming report reveals that more banks are investing into the release of Windows 8 apps which are both suitable for tablet and desktop, also several eReader apps crossed our way. Banking apps will grow into all kinds of devices such as television and wearables like Google Glass and smart watches. This trend will continue and extend to devices today unimaginable and only inspired by science fiction (but becoming reality soon…).

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One of the most exciting digital developments in the financial services sector is the use of cloud computing. Exciting, because it’s one of the hottest trends around in financial technology at present. The financial sector, not known for its fast adaptation of digital trends, due to natural concerns where everything is about client data and money, is taking its first steps into this brave new world.

The potential benefits are obvious. Besides offering secure deployment options, cloud computing substantially speeds up time-to-market for new products. The keyword is efficiency: relying on excelling, up-to-date and trustworthy IT structures, enterprises reduce costs as well as risk. They don’t need to make big decisions too soon - hoping for a happy ending – but can rather go for testing the alternatives and, thus, aiming for the proven best solution.

Additionally, as the demand for business intelligence analysis tools is increasing to better serve customers’ individual needs, so does the demand for IT that can cope with such huge amounts of data. Moreover, cloud systems offer the flexibility that in today’s fast moving digital markets give a real competitive advantage – without imposing the costs for restructuring the complex in-house IT systems.

For example, a bank could decide to combine a private cloud with extensive security provision for a CRM database while using a public cloud at lower costs for less sensitive tools like marketing and social media. Apps can be developed cost-effectively through platforms as a service. And all this without any capacity going to waste, since with a cloud, you pay for what you’ve used and no more.

However, concerns regarding security and client data issues still prevail and these are hampering financial firms from jumping into the enticing warm water, as ballyhooed by the numerous providers. Indeed, well-designed cloud systems often provide more sophisticated security systems than finance companies themselves do nowadays. However the mindset will change; this is one emerging field that it will be well worth keeping an eye on in the coming months.

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