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Does Your Website Look Great on a Smartphone?

By R.A. Monroe March 14, 2014

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently said that for the first time ever in 2014, more people will visit her company’s websites from mobile devices than from personal computers. And Pershing has predicted that by next year, financial-services companies will be developing mobile applications faster than desktop programs. In a world where clients increasingly depend on their smartphones and tablets, advisors whose websites were built years ago with a desktop browser in mind may already look woefully out of date.

That’s what happened at Balasa Dinverno Foltz, a Chicago-based wealth management firm with $2.8 billion in assets under management. “Our website is about five years old at this point,” says co-CEO Mark Balasa. “We heard from some of our younger employees that it was starting to feel kind of clunky.”

Balasa says the site’s design features four tiles running across the top of the screen. They look beautiful on a desktop. On a tablet, however, only two tiles show up at the top; the other two are stacked. “And if you pull it up on a phone, the screen can only handle one tile — you have to scroll down to see the other three,” says Balasa.

The firm’s leadership decided it was time to get more mobile-friendly. By June, a new site built with responsive web design will automatically adjust to the type of device a client or prospect is using. “If you pull it up using the older — and slower — 3G network, the site will be able to detect that,” Balasa says. “Instead of loading all the videos, it’ll give you a text-only version of the site. And the format of the site will adjust, depending on whether you’re viewing it with a desktop, a tablet or a smartphone.”

Know Your Audience

Making a site work with mobile technology isn’t just about technical updates. Advisors need to consider the aesthetics of small-screen reading. Since dense blocks of text can look forbidding on a tablet or phone, you may need to figure out ways to convey information using more graphics and fewer words.

Cammie Doder, director of business development at Aspiriant, a Los Angeles-based wealth management company with AUM of $7 billion, says designers worked to eliminate text-heavy pages during a recent website overhaul. Keeping words to a minimum was a challenge, she says.

Cammie Doder
Furthermore, paring down the language made the firm conscious of the need for straightforwardness and clarity — to get the message across without falling back on industry jargon. “We tried to speak in the way that the public does, rather than the way we talk between ourselves as advisors,” she says.

While Balasa thinks it’s crucial to have a site that looks good on a smartphone, he cautions advisors against adopting the latest tech trends unless they make sense for the client base. “For many advisors, the typical client tends to be between 50 and 65, so you may not need an edgy site with all the bells and whistles,” he notes.

For advisors looking to attract young prospects, a mobile-optimized site might be an important first step in setting themselves apart from the crowd, notes Bill Winterberg, a technology consultant to financial advisors. “The majority of advisor websites are not built for this increasingly popular technology,” says Winterberg. “Most advisors have the same website they did five years ago, which is basically just an electronic version of their brochure.”

When such sites are viewed on a mobile device, they may take a long time to load. Worse, they may feature text that’s too small to read or links that go nowhere — exactly the sort of thing that can drive away potential clients. But a website that looks just as good on a phone or tablet as it does on a computer screen tells a very different story. Members of the “tech-savvy, Gen X/Gen Y contingent” expect their advisors to be tech-savvy as well, Winterberg says. “Having a website that looks really good on my phone is one way they can demonstrate that.”