A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 20, 2015

Will Mobility Save the Investment Business?

The world has fallen out of love with the capital markets. They're important, of course, but a necessary evil, not a paragon of business achievement.

The transparency that accompanied the seemingly endless analyses of what went wrong during the financial crisis and its aftermath exposed the tawdry details of just in how many ways the markets were screwing the those who invested in them.

Too big, too complex, too corrupt. An insider's game run for the benefit of those who owned the access: a crony capitalist's con.

So, the result, predictably, was that people withdrew what money they had left. The markets have rebounded handsomely in the intervening years but participation rates have not recaptured their previous heights.

Which is where mobility comes in. Because, as the following article explains, there is no room and no time on a small screen for the complexity and endless detail that has been the norm. Give investors the basics as fast as possible. Make it clear. Make it simple. Make it convenient. It's like an elevator speech in your hand.

Of course there is room for misunderstanding and, as always when talking about finance, misleading the gullible. But making it more available, more understandable and simpler to operate anything, as a general rule makes things more accessible and thence, more popular. This could be especially true for investing.

Mobility also reduces the power of the too big to fail institutions and provides entree to those who, with innovators' zeal, are not afraid to do things like improve service at lower prices. The regulators will protect the dominant industry leaders and never permit that, you say? Ever heard of Uber?

This could help restore trust and help rebuild the investing public. The financial services industry has a history of not being able to control or police itself, but with the dispersion of power that mobile offers, they may find their customers in charge, for a change. JL

Justin Paterno comments in M:

Mobile has no room for complexity. What spread across 20 screens on desktop can not fit on one small screen in your pocket. For investors and those that build the products they use, this means focusing on what is important — which should simplify the investing and trading process for most people.

While slower than the rest, mobile is starting to eat the financial world and we are seeing it in our key metrics as well. Over the past year, the percentage of our total audience attributed to mobile (both app and mobile web) has increased from 29% to 43%. The number of messages originating from mobile has increased from 14% to 30% of all messages. More striking, of our logged-in community members, 36% are mobile app-only — a 150% increase from last year.
At StockTwits, I spend a lot of my time thinking through and talking about what “the investor of the future will do” and it’s become quite clear to me the investor and trader of the future will be mobile. And that excites me. Here’s why.

Mobile investing will be much simpler

With advent of personal computing and the internet, investors and traders were given unprecedented access to data, news, and execution. The end result was the persona of a trader with 10 monitors, 20 proprietary indicators, and an overly complex process. This complexity has been advantageous for those that sell it and few disciplined and unique individuals but it has caused many others to lose both money and interest in the markets.
Mobile has no room for complexity. What spread across 20 screens on desktop can not fit on one small screen in your pocket. For investors and traders and those that build the products they use, this means focusing on what is important — which should simplify the investing and trading process for most people.
This is exciting because it changes the game for new entrants in the market and makes the potential market much larger. What worked on desktop, won’t work on mobile and those turned off by the overwhelming desktop experience will find new interest on mobile. This transition is starting to take place. Robinhood, a new mobile-only broker, has a waitlist of over 300K people for an app with simply a quote, a chart, and a free trade.

Mobile investing will be more social

I am always so fascinated when I see early-stage investing. People invest in other people and one investor will follow another into a deal based on trust that the he or she has done his or her research or really understands the opportunity. To me, this is how public market investing should be for most people. People share tips, talk about new companies that are interesting, and choose to follow others into ideas that resonate with them. Social platforms like StockTwits provide a unique, tailored place where investors and traders can do this anywhere, anytime, with anyone. That is powerful.
The phone is inherently a social device, and it is no surprise that some of the biggest companies to come out of this recent tech investment cycle are social applications. Investing is also inherently a social activity as markets are made up of people. The mobile investors of the future will be networked and the network will be the first and last place they go to before placing a trade.

There are no real winners on mobile, yet

Unlike desktop, which has been dominated by a few early entrants such as Yahoo! Finance and Marketwatch, on mobile financial media is still very much up for grabs. While the desktop winners are still quite relevant on mobile, the landscape has changed.
My mentor and former Director of Product at Yahoo! Finance, David Putnam, always told me that their biggest fear at Yahoo! Finance was not another media property but the brokers themselves. On desktop this seemed a bit far-fetched but on mobile this dynamic is starting to play out.
On desktop, the value of the value of the financial portal was the breadth of data and information, as well as how it fits into your current workflow. With large news portals dominating everyone’s browser home pages, this was a winning combination. On mobile, your brokerage account already has your portfolio/watchlist, sufficient data, charting and news, and fits well into your investing or trading workflow. For many people, their brokerage app is already on their home screen. The features that made the desktop finance portal king don’t provide enough uncommon value on mobile.
The publicly available data I could find backs this up. According to #Homescreen, the Robinhood app (0.32%) is already on a larger percentage of home screens than the CNBC app (0.19%), and while Yahoo! Finance is still king (0.55%) , it hardly has the home screen share it saw on desktop. Also, below I’ve listed the most recent Top Chart for Free Finance category in the App Store. Once you get past all the tip calculators and banks, you get to the investing apps. While not an exact measure of usage, it’s a good view into the new mobile landscape:
35. CNBC (Media)
41. Fidelity (Broker)
48. Yahoo! Finance (Media)
59. E*Trade (Broker)
65. Robinhood (Broker)
68. Seeking Alpha (Media)
71. Bloomberg (Media)
74. TD Ameritrade (Broker)
75. Vanguard (Broker)
89. Scottrade (Broker)
91. Schwab (Broker)
103. Marketwatch (Media)
Unlike desktop, where financial media has been dominated by a few big winners, on mobile the world is flatter — with individual brokerages just as popular as financial media.
This has important implications for financial media:
  1. To be dominant you must be different. This means differentiating your product from traditional financial media. For StockTwits, this means social. Bloomberg’s recent relaunch has also attacked finance from a much different angle than some of its competitors — moving away from being a commodity news and data portal to wrapping unique stories around it’s vast trove of data. While there is no clear winner yet, different will win on mobile.
  2. The ad market will change. In a flatter mobile world, there may be less demand from the brokerages to advertise, but also much less inventory out there. Brokers aren’t going to run ads on their applications so those financial media winners that can aggregate audience and attention will be in a great spot.


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