Nevin’s Note: It’s not the first or the most developed but TD Ameritrade Institutional now has — officially as of today — a native iPad app. It’s still a pretty big deal — it probably required hundreds if not thousands of hours of programming. It can access client account details including balances, transactions and client profile information as well as real time market data, news and alerts. Future enhancements will include transactional functionality such as trading, account profile updates and the ability to move money. Advisors who custody assets with TD Ameritrade Institutional candownload Veo Mobile for iPad free from the App Store.

Advisors using mobile devices other than iPads will still need to access Veo in a web browser to connect with client information. TD Ameritrade is working on those other platforms though it hasn’t offered a schedule for roll-out. Fidelity and Pershing are ahead in this arms race to miniaturization, mobility and snazzy interfaces because they have trading and multiple platforms, including Android, already. Fidelity recently beat Pershing to the trading punch. See: Fidelity slips in ahead of Pershing on Google phones with WealthCentral for Android. Here is an article that we first published in January that lays out the rapidly escalating side arms race. We’ve added some screen shots of the TD app that became available as of today. In the next few months, Fidelity Investments and TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. will launch mobile apps for advisors that deliver functionality from their respective technology platforms, WealthCentral and Veo, according to the companies.

Click the play button to see some screenshots of the new Veo Mobile iPad app:

Both companies say they will debut the apps within the next few months, TD Ameritrade at its national conference on Feb. 2-5, and Fidelity after it finishes testing with a few pilot firms. The largest custodian, Schwab Advisor Services, hasn’t yet set a timetable for delivering advisory technology over mobile devices, though they will be included when the company rolls out its grand technology ecosystem in the fall.

Pershing has quietly made strides in this area going back to 2007 when it released a mobile version of technology platform for iPhone followed by a native application for NetX360 for iPhone in 2009. In June of 2010, it launched native application for NetX360 for iPad and it will soon launch NetX360 for Google Android. Nearly 2,000 investment professionals and advisors were accessing NetX360 via mobile devices — including iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile — as of December 31, 2010. For more on NetX360 and iPad, see: Nevin looks under the NetX360 hood after it gets 100,000 new users and some overhauling

The custodians’ apps are likely to provide fairly basic information about client accounts initially but eventually — in subsequent rollouts — allow an advisor to do virtually any task on an Android, iPad or other mobile device as could be done on a PC. “App” is short for software application and can be defined as a self-contained environment for performing some well-defined task.

Unanswered question

One big unanswered question on the apps from custodians is whether any of them will allow advisors to brand the custodial apps on their own.

“If Schwab gives the advisor the branding, [then its own branding] will become less important with the end clients. But if Schwab launches and doesn’t give advisors the branding, what does that do to the [RIA and custodian] relationship?” asked Bill Winterberg, principal with FPPad.com of Dallas, Texas, who runs a consultancy aimed at advisors and their technology.

Orion recently launched a mobile version of its portfolio management system with advisor-branded apps and the company’s president, Eric Clarke, says that this marketing aspect of the debut won great favor from advisors. Orion Advisor Services goes mobile with advisor-branded apps for the iPhone and Android

Mobile apps are getting on a faster track as smart phones and other devices change the way advisors work, according to Joel Bruckenstein, producer of the t3 conferences and newsletters. (For an advisor’s explanation of how the iPad is changing the way he works, check out this Advisor Tested.)

Upping their game

“I suspect that over the next several months, all the major custodians will up their game in this area. Advisors want access to their data when they are on the go,” he says.

Yet in some respects the custodians are behind the curve when it comes to apps for advisors. Orion, Black Diamond Performance Reporting and Adhesion Wealth Advisor Solutions Inc. have already put some mobile technology in the hands of advisors — or at least their clieents. Meanwhile, the three largest custodians have launched apps, but only for their retail clients.

Fidelity and TD Ameritrade have had mobile apps for consumers for some time, and Schwab introduced its Dec. 16. There’s a good reason why technology aimed at advisors is lagging, according to Winterberg.

“It’s just the law of large numbers; in comparison, advisors and their clients are a significant minority. It makes sense as a prudent business decision to get it right and go through a couple of iterations on the retail side (before introducing it to advisors).”

Apple approval?

TD Ameritrade says it will show its iPad application in San Diego at its booth. The company doesn’t believe it can get Apple to give final approval on it by then, but the company wants advisors to see the progress the company has made in this direction.

“Our team definitely sees it as something very important,” says Jon Patullo, director of technology platform management for TD. “Mobility is growing among advisors, and we want to provide them this.”

Fidelity is also close to making both its RIA custody and other vendor partners’ technologies available through a Fidelity app, according to Steve Austin, spokesman for the company.

“While it’s premature to discuss all the details, there are firms working with us today to pilot mobile technology for Fidelity WealthCentral. In the coming months Fidelity plans to formally introduce a new mobile offering for all WealthCentral users that builds on our leadership as the provider of the strongest integrated technology platform in the industry.”

Austin adds that Fidelity is putting major muscle into innovating mobile technology. Boston-based Fidelity has a semi-autonomous research unit that has made cloud computing and mobile delivery top priorities for 2011.

Schwab OneView Office

Lindsay Tiles, spokeswoman for Schwab Advisor Services, said mobile will come into play as part of Schwab’s Intelligent Integration project. “For example, we’ll be integrating with CRM partners that have apps for advisors,” she said. “And the turnkey solution we are developing, Schwab OneView Office, will include a web portal and mobile capabilities.”

Mobile apps are proliferating so fast that some have predicted their popularity will lead to the end of the World Wide Web (See: How 25 pieces of web content from 2010 should guide an advisor’s digital approach for 2011). But there are some cautionary statistics available.

Use of mobile apps was expected to nearly double in 2010 to 4.5 billion downloads globally, according to Gartner Inc. But there are more than 300,000 apps available to smart phone users today, making it impossible for all but a few to stand out in the crowd. Flurry, a smart phone analytics company, estimates that 75% of downloaded apps are abandoned after 90 days. Not to mention that building apps that will play across multiple devices and platforms is costly.

Yet, the risks of not jumping into the mobile arms race exceed those of sitting it out, according to Winterberg.

Relevancy risks

“The firms run the risk of becoming less relevant if they are not in the mobile space. That applies to all generations — not just people in their 30s and 40s. Baby Boomers are the fastest-growing group on Facebook and Twitter. You know how to use the iPad in five minutes.”

For now, Fidelity appears to have a lead on the custodial field, at least in terms of what it offers on a retail level. On Dec. 16, Schwab announced it was giving retail clients a view into their broader financial picture from their iPhone, including Schwab Bank and brokerage accounts, Schwab 529 College Savings Plans and their Schwab-administered 401(k) and stock option plans.

“Our clients want fast and convenient access to their Schwab accounts and financial information so they can make informed, real-time decisions anywhere at anytime,” said Jonathan Craig, senior vice president of Schwab Investor Services in a release.

In the same release, Schwab predicted additional mobile enhancements in 2011; examples include the ability to transfer funds, pay bills and deposit checks, as well as an app for the Android.

Android frontier

On the very next day, Dec. 17, Fidelity announced that it is adding Android to its ability to deliver Fidelity financial information via iPad, iPhone and iTouch.

“There has been notable growth in the ownership of Android-powered devices this year, and we’re pleased to offer these users a new way to manage their investments whenever and wherever they choose,” said James C. Burton, president of Fidelity’s retail brokerage business, in a release. Fidelity is a leader in delivering mobile financial solutions to its investors, and we felt the time was right to build an app that takes full advantage of the rich Android platform.”

Brooke’s Note: Information regarding Pershing was added subsequent to original publication.