Mobile Apps Are Everywhere. But Will They Ever Dominate the Middle and Back Office Space?

December 12, 2012

iStock_000019866702XSmall[1]It seems like everywhere you look, there it is—mobile technology.  In the news, on the radio, in your lap, in the hand of the pedestrian weaving in front of you on the sidewalk.  Everywhere.  Kind of.  A recent study by Booz & Company, The Wealth Advisor’s New App How Tablets Can Transform the Retail Wealth Management Business, cited that iPad sales outpace sales of other i-devices by three times.  The prevalence of mobile technology and this explosive growth of the tablet shine a spotlight on what for me is a pretty glaring question—why isn’t mobile technology taking over middle and back offices?

To answer that, let’s start with the Booz & Company study, research that speaks to the matter of mobile technology and the front office.  Market turbulence and generally choppy economic conditions have helped create a competitive business environment, one where standing out in a crowded landscape is one of the biggest challenges that businesses are facing.  Because of this, customer service is crucial, and this is one place where those in the front office can take advantage of mobile technology—to get closer to customers and to make it easier for them to do business.  In the front-office space, growth in the use of tablets by customers has virtually forced businesses to figure out what resultant opportunity exists and to seize it.  The tablet allows advisors to provide new and enhanced features and services to clients, either by using applications themselves or by making them available for customers to use.  In both cases, the apps allow access to and facilitate things such as:

  • Contact management and email
  • Account information and maintenance
  • News, market data, and research
  • Trading
  • Activity tracking
  • Portfolio management

 In the middle and back offices, it’s a bit different.  Privacy, regulation, and compliance place a different set of demands on the players in these spaces.  Put most simply, mobile apps are unproven and haven’t earned the market’s trust.  Beyond that, a lot of the industry regulations are new; people haven’t figured out regulatory impacts on existing operations.  The thought of branching into this new mobile-technology territory seems especially daunting in the context of these regulatory changes and their uncertain operational impacts. 

An FTF Q&A from September (registration required) takes a look at mobile technology in the middle- and back-office.  The interviewee (a CEO of a research firm) notes that the emergence of mobile devices is coming from the bottom up—employees are using this technology on their own and often outside of their employers’ control.  A question about the integration of mobile strategies with operations in 2013 was asked and the respondent was very clear that he sees no move at all by employers in this area, although he does see increased use of the technology by employees.  He notes that financial services firms are generally conservative and reactive by nature and cites “the current climate of fear and concern” as a barrier to operational integration.  Beyond that, any hint of opportunity that he sees is in the outsourcing space and the provision of remote access, and he is clear that he doesn’t see it revolutionizing the industry.  This is a single perspective, where some views are aligned with conventional wisdom and others are a little more black and white than reality indicates.

The bottom line as I see it is this: security, compliance, and regulations protect core data, processes and the operations that support them.  Mobile technology presents too many unanswered questions, thus too much risk—something that financial services firms are unable to take on in the current business climate.  However, over time, as firms understand the impacts of both emerging regulations and technologies, they’ll undoubtedly take a second look.  Given that they’ll likely face organizational pressure from employees and customers as the technology becomes even more pervasive, firms need to stay attuned to any developments and the associated challenges, as well as how they fit with business strategies.  If and when the benefits are revealed, firms must be ready to move quickly and make the most of new opportunities. 

That’s how it is for us here at PORTIA—we work hard to understand how new technology can help us as a business and also how it can help us deliver products that help customers achieve strategic goals and meet the growing demands of their client bases.  There are two primary places to look for opportunity—in both internal and external communications and in operations, both yours and your customers’.  By assessing these opportunities relative to organizational goals and strategies, a standard cost-benefit analysis will help you understand the risks and make decisions when the time is right.

 – Nicole Comeau, Product Manager


2 Responses to “Mobile Apps Are Everywhere. But Will They Ever Dominate the Middle and Back Office Space?”

  1. joongmin said

    Reblogged this on Tech | Net.


  2. Jonathan said

    A good introduction to the issues involved with “Bring Your Own Device” in the middle office.


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