It’s hard to deny that the Advisors Assistant team is a bit maverick. Maybe it’s our unusual tenure - 30 years in an industry where many players have less than half our experience. Maybe it’s our location - Pismo Beach is better known for surfing than FinTech. Maybe it’s being family owned and operated in a business filled with venture capital and executives constantly leaping from one firm to another. Whatever it is, we just think different.
If you were to ask the leaders of most FinTech firms to describe the biggest challenge in their industry, very few would say something like “learning to properly leverage the internet, instead of merely building a web app”. In fact, I’d wager that many would scoff at the idea that there even is a distinction between “web” and “internet” in the first place. Yet, it’s one of our biggest concerns. The issue might sound a bit esoteric, but we believe the “Web Versus Internet” debate has a profound effect on the way software is built and how it serves users.
This is a new discussion in the FinTech space, but it’s been going on for a while in the larger technology community. As early as 2010, when Wired magazine published an article titled “The Web is Dead. Long Live The Internet.”, thought leaders were noting a shift toward networked services delivered outside of a web browser. As the article predicted, the last several years have seen ever greater use of mobile devices, the proliferation of native apps as alternatives to web-apps, and massive changes in the leading firms creating content for those apps .
We live in a world where most of us can reach out to touch multiple devices using natively installed applications to stream award winning television shows produced by the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Things are different now. Commentators periodically pop up to argue that the web is alive and well, but simple statistics show that it is no longer the dominant player in internet traffic. Apps, of all sorts, have taken that crown.
Today, few great companies provide their services entirely through a web browser or any other single method of delivery. Instead, truly successful technology detaches the service it provides from the specific software used to access that service. Think Facebook, Evernote, or Microsoft’s Office 365, where work may be started on one device and finished on another, seamlessly spanning web, desktop, and mobile applications. A modern product can’t be just a web app or just a native app, it has to provide business with capability greater than just the sum of an app’s features. The trend is toward holistic services built on distributed applications, not just web apps.
That trend is now playing out in our space. In the past, every maker of desktop software was under pressure to build a web application. Today, every FinTech web application is being pressured to build a native app for every popular device, including traditional desktops and laptops. Users want the best of both worlds, the availability and simplicity of web apps coupled with the device integration and usability of native apps. Advisors and back office staff want to use the right hardware for the right situation, and software needs to accommodate that. FinTech providers can meet this need by creating multiple software clients to access their service, decoupling what they offer from any one version of their software.
It’s not easy, but the future of FinTech belongs to firms that can navigate this challenge. For some it means relearning bits of old-school software development, but for us it means sticking to our long term plan. Advisors Assistant went online the “right way” in the first place, without sacrificing quality or compromising our future for short term gain.
When we decided to offer our users private cloud hosting, we kept our native Windows client and added a mobile responsive HTML5 app, AAMobile. Our clients didn’t have to deal with huge interface changes and sudden loss of backwards compatibility, they just had better synchronization of their data, easier collaboration with their staff, and an alternate way to access the same information. We’ll deliver more of the same in coming years, with new ways to interact with Advisors Assistant from a multitude of devices and myriad partner applications.
As a distributed application leveraging the internet in multiple ways, Advisors Assistant is well positioned to take advantage of the new paradigm. From our way of thinking, financial professionals should stick with firms that can say the same.