On Wall Street and Main Street alike, smartphones and smartphone applications are everywhere. It is rare to see a banker without a BlackBerry (RIM's devices still are the most pervasive in the corporate world). People remember where they were when Apple's first iPhone came out (June 29, 2007). Apple's third-party applications store currently offers more than 200,000 "apps" for the device. And earlier this year the launch of Apple's iPad with its large screen set off a new wave of excitement among businesses and consumers.
Yet despite the buzz and the many possibilities that mobile apps offer to investors and traders "on the go," financial firms have been slow to release their own smartphone apps. But a growing number of Wall Street companies - including Morgan Stanley Research, TradeKing, TD Ameritrade and E-Trade - have jumped on the mobile app bandwagon recently. (WS&T takes a look at these mobile apps in a new video series.)
"We're in a very early stage," confirms Mike Massey, director of product development at TradeKing, which just launched a mobile app for the BlackBerry. "If you look at the U.S. compared to the E.U. and Asia, we're still in the middle or low-end of mobile adoption, due to the technology that's available and the cost of replacing it with newer technology."
In fact, Corporate Insight reports that only 11 of the 21 brokerages that it tracks offer a mobile-formatted site or downloadable application. "The fact that only slightly more than half are doing it is quite low," comments Mike Ellison, the advisory firm's president. "One of the reasons they're slow to come out with mobile applications is because of adviser relationships - they look at the adviser as the main point of contact for their business."
Still, as clients increasingly demand mobile services, firms will have to become more mobile-friendly, experts agree. "[Mobile devices] aren't a replacement to a traditional brokerage experience yet," relates TradeKing's Massey. But in the future, he adds, "We'll be shifting more content to mobile devices and will be able to make trading decisions right on the fly. We view it as access. ... Right now it's about giving [clients] the tools to consume information on their mobile devices. In the future, we'll see more content being pushed out on mobile devices, such as social media, news and video."
E-Trade already offers an app that integrates streaming CNBC broadcasts for its clients. Fidelity and TD Ameritrade offer clients a number of capabilities beyond quote checking, such as transferring funds and viewing charts. And Morgan Stanley recently launched an application on the iPad that lets institutional clients view reports on fixed income markets, stocks, currencies and global economies.
But in terms of the variety of tradable products, mobile devices still lag behind websites, Corporate Insight's Ellison notes. "It's generally limited to stocks and options, rather than funds. They still have some catching up to do," he says.
"But as investors become more acclimated to mobile devices, we will see more capabilities and development," Ellison adds. "People are going to want more and more access, and firms will have to pay more attention to [mobile devices]. ... It's something firms will definitely have to wrestle with."
Melanie Rodier has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, covering business and finance, general news, and film trade news. Prior to joining Wall Street & Technology in April 2007, Melanie lived in Paris, where she worked for the International Herald ... View Full Bio