The investments firms are making in mobile apps are starting to pay off, but the financial advice industry still has a long way to go.
Three-quarters of wealth management firms made feature enhancements to their apps over the past year, up from 44% in 2020, according to J.D. Power. As a result, overall customer satisfaction surged nine points from last year (scoring 858 on a 1,000-point scale), and the number of customers using their wealth apps daily increased four percentage points. Customers who use their apps multiple times per day increased three percentage points.
U.S. Bancorp Investments ranked the highest with a score of 884, followed by Chase Mobile (876) and Merrill Edge (870). TD Ameritrade Mobile scored the lowest with 838.
However, wealth management still trails the industry average scores earned by banking (860), credit cards (867) and insurance apps (877). Other sectors of financial services are simply developing quicker — 33% of credit card apps and 50% of banking apps made “major feature updates” this year compared to 31% of wealth apps.
“Clearly, the investment that firms have put behind their digital strategies is having a positive effect on app user experience and overall utilization rates, but that same thing is happening everywhere, and some industries are just moving faster,” Michael Foy, senior director of wealth intelligence at J.D. Power, said in a statement.
While most firms’ apps are good at providing market-related news and information, many fall short when it comes to delivering personalized content and guidance, which was a significant theme of Financial Planning’s recent INVEST Connect conference. Just 51% of customers strongly agree that their wealth app provides tailored insights and content.
Firms can also improve the user experience, with only 47% saying it’s “very easy” to research investment options on their wealth app.
“Wealth management firms have some unique challenges because of legacy back-end technology and the sheer complexity and range of services they need to provide,” Foy said.
While attachment to legacy systems is certainly an issue for some firms, others have only just started to feel pressure from clients to modernize their technology, said Ronnie Colvin, founder of French Press Financial Services, an RIA based out of Reno, Nevada. But with the pandemic forcing many clients and advisors to finally embrace technology, supporting mobile access is more of a priority than ever.
“In a nutshell, wealth management firms are behind on technology because their client base hasn’t been demanding it until recently, so they saw no reason to invest the time and money,” Colvin said.
However, wealth firms do have unique opportunities to improve their apps in ways that other financial services firms cannot, Foy said. They could facilitate communication and engagement between clients and their human advisors. Currently, only 44% of those who use a wealth app and work with an advisor say they can communicate with their advisor through the app. That number is unchanged since J.D. Power’s 2020 study.
“The key for wealth management firms to level up in this competitive environment is to heavily lean into their unique value propositions, making it easy and intuitive for investors to move seamlessly between the app and other digital or human channels while delivering personalized guidance and important information along the way,” said Amit Aggarwal, J.D. Power’s senior director of digital solutions, in a statement.
J.D. Power’s wealth management mobile app satisfaction study is based on responses from 3,025 full-service and self-directed investors. The study evaluates apps based on five criteria: range of services, clarity of information, ease of navigating, appearance and speed of load times. Scroll down to see how J.D. Power ranked the apps.