Visit Apple's App Store and you'll find mobile apps from the likes of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley for investment and trading professionals. Meanwhile, some mutual fund companies are pushing their technology providers to design apps that can monitor portfolios and calculate risk exposures in real time. The rise of institutional apps is being driven by the growing expectations of internal sales teams, traders and institutional clients that they will be able to use the same mobile devices they use in their personal lives at work.
Though Wall Street firms have been offering mobile apps to retail customers on smartphones for quite a few years, and more recently on the iPad tablet, they have been slower to adopt mobile technology on the institutional side of the business. But that is changing quickly. Despite security concerns, the mobile app revolution is invading the capital markets as employees and institutional clients clamor for the same real-time information and analytics -- any time, anywhere -- that consumers now take for granted.
Further, because of the convenience, many traders, research analysts and institutional clients are demanding access to market research, quotes and analytics on their personal devices, and some companies are supporting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategies for the enterprise. "We can see an evolution [in the workplace] driven by 25 to 28 year olds," who use tablets and smartphones in their personal lives, says Jean Marc Lafond, COO at Orange Business Services - Trading Solutions, a Paris-based provider of trading turrets in dealing rooms.
This dynamic is the opposite of the traditional paradigm, in which tech innovations were driven by businesses and then adopted by consumers, Lafond notes. Now, he says, "It's the responsibility of IT to integrate all the technology from home with enterprise security and compliance."
Meeting Sophisticated Expectations
Institutional apps, however, are different than those delivered on the retail side, according to experts. "The difference is the sophistication of analytics on the institutional side," says Gene Fernandez, chief technology officer at J.P. Morgan's investment bank. The firm has been "laser focused on pre-trade applications that give people access to research as well as analytics capabilities," he reports.
Since there is an expectation of deeper knowledge into products on the part of users, institutional apps and the information they provide often are more complex than their retail counterparts. As a result, getting value from institutional apps requires a deeper understanding of the particular product set, Fernandez notes. For example, one of J.P. Morgan's mobile apps is a market monitor that provides near real-time access to bond prices for portfolios that track countries in J.P. Morgan's emerging market indices. "It's not as wizard-driven as a retail app would be," he says. "It would probably be trickier for someone to pick it up and start using it from scratch. It's not like an app that you can just figure out. You have to have some knowledge of it beforehand."
To meet the expectations of sophisticated institutional users, J.P. Morgan offers real-time analytics that users can start on a desktop and then continue to run on their mobile devices, or vice versa, says Fernandez. There's also a higher expectation among institutional users of the firm's apps for consistency and timeliness, he adds.
Taking aim at institutional clients, Morgan Stanley has released a mobile version of its Matrix fixed income portal. The firm has made all of its equities, fixed income and commodities research available on mobile devices. "The mobile offering has all of our research," says Vietta Grinberg, head of U.S. Matrix development and product manager for Matrix Mobile, Morgan Stanley's mobile version of the Matrix product, which is used by institutional clients for trade execution, analytics, client services, prime brokerage and clearing services.
But before the investment bank jumped on the mobile bandwagon, it talked with its clients and did considerable research into how they use mobile devices. "It's mainly a tool used for commuting into work, during business travel or on the weekend as you are getting ready for work," Grinberg reports. As a result, Morgan Stanley designed the app, for example, so clients can utilize it while on an airplane, even without WiFi access. "We have found specific usage patterns, and we've tailored the app to cater to typical user behavior," Grinberg says.
Initially, Morgan Stanley rolled out the app, in March, to the firm's trading and sales managers, "who found it was a good way to be in contact with the flow of news on the desk," says Brock Arnason, executive director and global product manager for Matrix. The company began rolling out the mobile version of Matrix to hedge funds, banks and asset managers several months ago.
The mobile app is intended "as a subset of the complete Matrix portal that is available on the web," says Grinberg. "We want to engage clients not only on the web but in mobile as well." The focus with mobile, she adds, is on delivering the firm's content, including research and commentary. "Content is going mobile."
Some of the app's sophisticated features enable users to download attachments, follow particular authors and access a powerful online search engine. In addition, Matrix Mobile offers a fairly wide degree of customization, Grinberg notes, allowing clients to interact with data feeds any way they want, including following a specific asset class. And in contrast to retail broker apps that may offer quotes on listed instruments, the Matrix app offers indicative prices on foreign exchange, including spot and currency pairs.