Paul G. Smith
Paul G. Smith

Reviewing the Mobile Trading apps landscape

As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, FX and Crypto trading continues to be a buoyant business sector. In this article the founder of mobile trading app specialist MTP LLP, Paul G. Smith, examines the current state of the art for mobile access to trading systems. There is no longer any question about whether or not a broker needs a mobile presence, the only question is - what should that mobile presence be? However, this article is not going to be so relevant to white label “broker in a box” scenarios, in which the micro-broker does not have any control over its operational or technical infrastructure.

First Published: e-Forex Magazine 87 / FX Brokerage Operations / July 2019

KPIs for brokers

Amongst the many KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that Brokers should care about, there are five that are of particular relevance:

  • new customer acquisition/conversion rate
  • customer (trader) retention rate
  • volume traded
  • profitability (to the broker) of each trader
  • customer satisfaction

All of these will be positively influenced by how the broker connects to its customers. Given that so much of commerce is now online and mobile, some form of mobile presence is essential. The remainder of this article examines what options are available to brokers, and what form of mobile presence is recommended.

Not even a question

This decade, business has moved online, and now in 2019 we find that much of general retail business has moved to the mobile device. A decade ago, desktop trading was the only way; now we have a huge number of millennial's who will only access the businesses that they deal with through their mobile device; many of them (especially in SE Asia) don’t even have a laptop or desktop computer. Mobile access far exceeds any other form of internet usage nowadays. Without one, you will not be able to acquire these millennial customers. There should be no questions about whether your brokerage requires a mobile presence. Indeed, a smart brokerage will nowadays be mobile-centric. The only question is what kind of mobile presence, and how it is achieved. Let’s take a look at the kinds of functionality that can be offered by mobile apps for brokers.

A smart brokerage will nowadays be mobile-centric
A smart brokerage will nowadays be mobile-centric

Aspects of a Broker’s mobile application

Customer acquisition
Speaking with retail brokers regularly during the past few years, something that comes up time and again in each conversation is the difficulties they face on-boarding new customers. If we look at retail banking in Europe, which has similar AML and KYC requirements to FX and Crypto, the new players that have transformed the market are companies that have used their mobile apps to create a smooth customer acquisition flow that is seamlessly integrated with their CRM systems. By making it easy to collect new account information, the customer finds the experience less painful and is hence more likely to stick around to the end of the process. The broker benefits because the mobile app can easily integrate essential actions for customer identity verification, for instance using the device camera to take a photograph of passport, other ID documents, bank statements and the customer’s own face photo which can be automatically compared to their ID documents. In the case of Monzo, a UK challenger bank, they even go so far as to request the user makes a short selfie video in which they confirm their name and date of birth; this can be rapidly checked against their other documents by the onboarding team at the bank, considerably reducing the KYC risk.

Account management
Once customers have been on-boarded, an important set of broker KPIs is to measure how the broker retains and develop those accounts. In our experience, one of the most important facilities that a broker app can offer to its customers is access to account management functionality. If you force the trader to use a separate website, or to call customer services, to deal with day to day account operations, you diminish the value of the mobile app to that trader. Ideally, the entire lifecycle of their engagement with the broker will be supported by the app.

Account management functionality will include everything from the basics such as changing passwords, through requesting additional trading accounts, depositing and requesting withdrawal of funds, moving funds between trading accounts, account statements, requesting an update to personal or address information (this may trigger a new AML/KYC check, which can be done via the app using the same mechanisms as the on-boarding process), adding new bank or debit card information (which can be automated by scanning the debit card using the device camera).

Direct access to customer services and account managers at the broker should also be provided within the app. For some of our clients we have built in the ability to open a new support ticket and track its progress, for others we have built in a full email-style mailbox system, or a live chat facility. Doing so avoids them having to fall back on other modes of communication which take them away from trading.

Marketing channels
A mobile app provides some of the best possible methods to market to traders and other customers. Top of the list is Push Notifications - these are messages sent to the user that can be received even when the app is closed. Push notifications require user consent, so the app will need to include methods to subscribe to and unsubscribe from each class of alert, and set up criteria for targeted messages. Tapping on the notification “deep links” into the app to open the appropriate section of the app. They can be used to notify the trader about account related events such as margin calls, deposits received, withdrawals remitted; on-boarding progress, requests for additional account verification; as well as price alerts (which can open the trading screen pre-filled with the right symbol) and market-related notifications (new products, and so on).

If a user has subscribed to research, Push Notifications should also be a channel for that information. It’s also easy to embed banner and other informational content within apps that can be highly targeted, to allow marketing to specific user groups or even to an individual trader via the app.

The app can also support referral and affiliate marketing by supporting features like refer a friend, reading sales codes from QR codes and bar codes, and supporting deep links into the app from websites, emails, and online banner advertisements.

The mobile app should be as far as possible a one-stop-shop for everything the trader needs. This includes access to market information, research and training tools. For example it’s easy to build tools into an app so that new traders can learn how to use it, and how to trade. The research can be a mix of home grown and bought-in, there are many companies offering it to brokers; ideally this is tied in to push notifications so that when new content of interest is published to the app, the trader can be informed about it. Also important is macro-economic data such as financial news and calendar, which can be licensed from providers such as FXStreet and embedded in the app. It’s possible, also, to provide paywalled access to some research, either for specific classes of user or for the payment of an additional fee. Beware though, that if that additional fee is collected through the app you’ll need to pay commission to Apple or Google, so in-app payments may not be ideal for this purpose.

The trading functionality needs to be complete and totally reliable providing all the trading features  of the back end platform
The trading functionality needs to be complete and totally reliable providing all the trading features of the back end platform

Following along the theme of making the trader’s experience in the app complete and comfortable, thought needs to be given to how the user “lands” in the app. For a broker who wants to appeal to new users, it’s important for the app to be friendly and useful even when the trader is not logged in. It should show a markets overview, pricing, perhaps charts, and a subset of macroeconomic data and research. The app should encourage new account registration without being overbearing. Perhaps allowing access to a demo account in exchange for just an email address, for example.

Once the user is on-boarded, the app should make use of in-built device features such as face and fingerprint recognition to make it as easy as possible for the user to connect to their account whilst remaining secure. The user should be able to choose what screen the app subsequently opens, via a settings control panel or simply by remembering where the user was last, but by default the user should see a screen that summarises the most important information about their account and positions, and have space in it for calls to action related to the account and the trading signals they have subscribed to.

One can foresee real-time chatbots interacting with social media channels and answering common questions
One can foresee real-time chatbots interacting with social media channels and answering common questions

I’ve put trading towards the end of my description of app features, not because it’s unimportant, but because the other features described above are oftentimes thought of as add-ons. They are not optional: they are equally as important as the trading functionality.

The trading functionality needs to be complete and totally reliable providing all the trading features of the back end platform. The UX (user experience) design must make best use of the mobile device which is fundamentally a different proposition than desktop or a web browser. Charts must be fully functional, up to date and customisable. The only thing you cannot do on a mobile app is directly run an EA (trading algorithm) - but these make more sense to run in the cloud, given that desktop trading is going away.

Oftentimes brokers will support multiple back end trading platforms. The mobile app is an opportunity to consolidate the trader experience so they can access all of their trading accounts from one application.

When a broker contemplates having their own mobile app usually “branding” is their first thought. Branding encompasses everything from logo and graphics through to the styling of the user experience in the app. It also includes intangibles such as the completeness of the app, its speed and reliability, and generally making sure it enhances the user’s online experience. An app that’s annoying will undermine the broker’s brand. None of this is optional, and it requires care to do it all well. Also, the branding of the app can and should be flexibly created, so that it can be updated without an app rewrite!

A mobile app provides some of the best possible methods to market to traders and other customers
A mobile app provides some of the best possible methods to market to traders and other customers

It’s not enough to just have an app. You need to keep on updating it, and release new versions with regular improvements. The good news here is that it’s not necessary to make a new app store release for updated content, the app can fetch the required information from the content management system and your marketing and research teams can directly update the app. However, when new functionality is required, or bugs need to be zapped, an app store update will be required. Seeing frequent improvements comforts users, they expect this and are reassured that you are taking care of their in-app experience.

With the right mobile application, your brokerage can ensure a high new customer acquisition/conversion rate
With the right mobile application, your brokerage can ensure a high new customer acquisition/conversion rate

Other reasons you need an app

You might believe it’s sufficient to make a mobile version of your website. Even though it’s correct to make sure your website is mobile compatible, it’s never going to be as good as a dedicated, “native” mobile app. A trading application requires many simultaneous threads of activity to process incoming prices, trading notifications and so on, this is significantly harder to handle inside a web application. The user experience is never as good as a real app, and your brand will suffer if you only have a website. Integrating all the features described above, making the UX fast and smooth, and ensuring the features “fit” the expectations of a mobile user requires the creation of a real mobile app.

Conversely, you still need a website, and it must be mobile-friendly so if that if it is the first point of meeting your brand, the user has a good experience. Don’t force them to use only the app, allow them the choice and respect their freedom to access your brand and your broker’s services through whichever channels they desire on whatever devices they choose, including mobile app, website, real-time chat, social media, email, and voice.

The “standard” trading apps that come with well-known trading platforms can never deliver all this. Inevitably they are focused on the needs of the users of the trading platform itself, and they ignore all the features that will ensure the user has a good experience on-boarding and working with a specific broker.

They promote a world view in which traders treat brokers as interchangeable and disposable resources, which is the diametric opposite of the kind of brand loyalty that a successful broker needs to create in order to foster a strong and profitable relationship with its trading clients.

More down-to-earth and already with us today is the use of wearable devices such as smart watches
More down-to-earth and already with us today is the use of wearable devices such as smart watches

Meeting those KPIs

With the right mobile application, your brokerage can ensure a high new customer acquisition/conversion rate, and retain customers by providing them with a complete and satisfying online experience. App reliability and a good trading experience in the app will contribute to volume traded, and with good marketing via the channel the app provides you’ll increase each trader’s profitability to your brokerage. Ensuring a good overall experience will improve customer satisfaction ratings, contribute to word of mouth referrals, and help ensure the longevity of your client relationships.

What the future portends

Alongside all the app features described above, many users like real time chat apps like Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Users should also be able to use those channels to interact with the broker, to receive messages they have subscribed to, and to deep link into the trading app when actions are required. Brokers in China are already making use of this technology. Going beyond that, one can foresee real-time chatbots interacting with social media channels and answering common questions but I’d say beware: artificial intelligence remains anything but intelligent in this regard, and at least for the next few years you’ll have more success with real humans doing this work. The big retail banks have the money to spend and they have not cracked this one yet, but it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a valid approach.

Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a hot topic, offering video or audio overlays in real world or gaming apps, but for now the main relevance of this would be product placement and advertising: it’s another possible channel for adverts for your brand. AR is not useful for trading or trading apps at this time.

More down-to-earth and already with us today is the use of wearable devices such as smart watches. It’s sensible for your mobile app to connect to widgets on the devices that allow the user quick access to prices, account positions and other trading datapoints - so they can make rapid trading decisions wherever they are and whatever they are doing.