Adviser Apps Not Just a ‘Check the Box’ Item

Mobile applications have become an important part of the advisory client’s user experience and can potentially make a big difference on how a firm is seen.

The investments some firms have put behind upgrading their digital strategies are starting to have a positive effect on their overall app user experience, a new study suggests. As the pace of customers adopting mobile features continues to increase, so too do both the opportunities and challenges for wealth management and advisory firms.

According to the J.D. Power “2021 U.S. Wealth Management Mobile App Satisfaction Study,” overall customer satisfaction with wealth management mobile apps this year is 858, on a 1,000-point scale. This is up nine points from a year ago as apps have increased their speed, range of services offered and overall appearance. The number of customers using wealth apps daily saw a 4 percentage point increase year-over-year, while the number of clients using them multiple times per day has increased 3 percentage points.

Despite increased customer satisfaction, overall customer satisfaction with wealth apps trails average app satisfaction scores in J.D. Power studies in the banking (860), credit card (867) and insurance (877) industries. While wealth management firms are spending big on updates, with 31% introducing major feature updates this year, that number jumps to 33% for credit card apps and 50% for banking apps.

The mobile app industry has awakened to the fact that apps are not just another check box to mark as completed, but they are an important part of the user experience and can potentially make a difference on how a brand is seen, says Michael Foy, J.D. Power wealth intelligence senior director. The wealth management industry is still behind most of the other financial services sectors in terms of mobile app satisfaction.

A key differentiator for wealth management apps—and those in other industries—is direct line connectivity to human advisers. Still, just 44% of wealth app users who work with an adviser say they communicate with them via the app, which is unchanged from 2020.

While firms are proficient at providing apps with market-related news and information, many fall short on delivering personalized content and guidance. Just more than half (51%) of customers strongly agree that their wealth app provides tailored insights and content, and just 47% say it is very easy to research investment options on their wealth app.

Looking at the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on usage, 37% of investors reported using a wealth management app more frequently than they did last year. Advised investors used the app more frequently year-over-year, going from 36% to 38%, while DIY investors are also starting to use the app more frequently, going from 17% to 29%.

“Firms are being driven to invest more in improving the experience because they need to meet their clients where they are, and increasingly where their clients are, is on their mobile devices,” Foy says. “I think firms have really taken notice of this dynamic, and they are now going beyond just trying to recreate their website experience on a small screen. They are trying to meet the challenge of providing a wide range of services and capabilities.”

The study ranks U.S. Bancorp Investments the highest in overall customer satisfaction with wealth management apps, with a score of 884. Chase Mobile (876) ranks second, Merrill Edge (870) ranks third.