Financial Execs Not Drawn To Dazzle of New Technology

BOSTON — “Excuse me, can I use your ‘risk mitigator’ to check my e-mail?”

Okay, maybe you won’t hear your average executive asking that question anytime soon. But it would be an apt description coming from someone in the financial services industry who uses a garden-variety Blackberry for much more than just accessing e-mails and juggling schedules. That was the lesson here at the Financial Mobility Summit this week in Boston.

“A Blackberry not only allows an investment staff to stay in constant communications with a trading desk and other personnel, but is used to help mitigate risks,” said Joe Piotrowski, vice president of fixed income and equity technology at MFS Investment Management. “They are not just e-mail redirectors.”

That, in a nutshell, is the view of mobility and mobile devices in the world of finance and investing where Blackberries rule and the effectiveness of software is measured in how many different ways it can slice and dice data. It is also an area where the cost of a device and IT services has less to do with return on investment (ROI) than trying to measure the impact of going cold turkey without a mobile device on your hip.

But, “the cost of doing without is difficult to measure,” noted Piotrowski, “since it involves tracking such things as missed opportunities and interaction with customers.”

Just what are financial services people looking for in a device? Put about 200 of them in a room for a couple of days and you’ll quickly find out, which is just what happened during this week’s summit, which was sponsored by Pyxis Mobile, a maker of mobile financial services software.

The answers may surprise you. Sure, they are tempted by the latest technology gadget and gizmo. However, they are more interested in systems and software that can provide quick and accurate snapshots of data with the least impact on their daily grind.

“We’re not looking to enforce or completely change the way people run their territories,” explained Hazem Gamal, an IT executive with Oppenheimer Funds. “Rather, we look for solutions that have the least impact, but can best maximize a user’s time before, during and after meetings.”

Large players like Computer Associates and Microsoft recently unveiled solutions that promise to manage everything from Blackberries to smart phones. In fact, Microsoft was a sponsor at the Boston event where executives pitched its System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 software, introduced at CTIA last month, as well as other solutions.

The best solutions are those that can get information into the hands of customers fast and without too much fuss, since the customers may be CEOs who manage businesses ranging from $150M to more than a billion dollars, Gamal poined out.

This is why some of the newer technologies on the block may entice, but not enthrall those in the financial community. Apple’s iPhone, for example, may have a definite buzz factor in the industry, but won’t be bumping the trusty Blackberry sidearm in the near future.

“It is definitely an interesting device that is changing the dynamics of the enterprise market,” said Todd Christy, Pyxis Mobile’s CTO. In particular, the iPhone’s display and browser capabilities are putting pressures on Motorola and RIM to up the technology ante on their devices. But, “there is not much movement on the corporate side for the iPhone.”

Just what is on the technology wish list of most financial services types? Better viewing screens, more flexible device charging alternatives, improved voice recognition, and even gyroscopic motion sensors like the ones implanted in the iPhone and the Nintendo Wii gaming system.

“This might pave the way to gesture-assisted mapping and scrolling,” said Christy, whose own company was getting ready to roll out its latest mobile software.

At the end of the day, however, the biggest challenge is making the user interface easy to use, said Adrian Iosifescu, IT vice president for The Blackstone Group, a global financial advisory and asset manager. “What most people want to see is something instantaneous. They’re not willing to put up with lots of delays and complexity.”

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