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How to Build an Investment App or Platform

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Yuri Musienko
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According to a Bankrate survey, 63% of smartphone users in the United States have at least one financial application, 17% of which are investment. Among young people aged 18 to 34 years, the level of admission of investment applications is almost doubled - 31%. This data suggests two things:

  • first - the market has a huge growth potential;
  • second - if you plan to develop your own application for investment, then you need to do it now, while the market is growing.

Below you will find a detailed guide to creating investment applications with examples of successful cases and illustrations of the most important moments.

#1. Niche and target audience

There are many options where and how to invest. These can be ordinary investments in currency, gold, or real estate, or investments in venture funds, blockchain startups, or socially significant projects. And before you start developing an investment application, you should decide on its niche and positioning.

How to Build Investment Applications Ellevest

Ellevest application created for women who want to achieve their financial goals

Best of all, if you choose a niche with a minimum of competitors, but great development potential. That is, you need to create an application with a focus on investing in a new market that will grow in the next few years. So, in 2010–2015 one would be advised to invest in cryptocurrency and blockchain, but now it is irrelevant.

Now the following markets are considered promising:

  • blockchain startups and the distribution register market as a whole;
  • artificial intelligence based on deep neural networks;
  • genetic modification of plants and genetic engineering in general;
  • medical nanotechnology (nanomedicine);
  • virtual and augmented reality;
  • environmental and social projects;
  • streaming gaming.
In addition to choosing an interesting niche, you can stand out among competitors in another way. For example, you can bet on a specific target audience: youth, retirees, bankers, traders, foreigners, socially responsible citizens or residents of New York. If you are able to create unique value for any segregated group, then position your application as specially created for them.

How to Build Investment Applications Survey of Bankrate

What is missing American to start investing. Source: Survey of Bankrate
In addition to studying the needs of the target audience, pay attention to its pain - why people do not invest or use mobile apps for this. This is usually a lack of proper knowledge (or consultant), low incomes and high fees. But there may be other reasons, for example:
  1. Reluctance to support Wall Street. Alternatives can be offered to such people: P2P investment, financing social projects, equity participation or direct investment in an operating business. For example, the Stash app allows people to invest in what they like — from building a recycling plant in Africa to companies that sell legal cannabis.
  2. Reluctance to disclose personal information. These users will love blockchain-based or hash-graph based applications that allow you to invest in anything, while maintaining maximum anonymity.
  3. Reluctance to risk. For such users, the creators of the Acorns application have come up with a simple scheme: when a non-integral number remains on the card (for example, $ 10.50), the fractional part (50 cents) goes to the moneybox and then the system invests this money in various investment portfolios.
How to Build Investment Applications Acorns
The main feature of the Acorns application

#2. Concept, framework and functions

Once you have chosen what your application will allow users to invest money in, you can begin to develop a project concept, for which you usually use one of the following approaches: Design Thinking or Human Centered Design. In short, these methodologies imply the following actions:
  1. Defining the goals and needs of the project. Description of the task, target audience, user needs and how to meet them. This is a kind of initial position, from which you must push off in the future.
  2. Research existing solutions. The study of competitors, their approaches to meeting user needs and ways to achieve their goals. In our case, you need to test applications such as Acorns, Stockpile, Stash, Robinhood, Betterment, Wealthfront and others. Learn how they stand out and how they became popular.
  3. Roles and custom scripts. After we have studied the target audience and competitors, we need to create a User Profile: a concise description of the goals and needs of the person, what needs he will solve with the help of the investment application and how. And the last need to be described in some detail, that is, you need to create a step-by-step instruction (user script) of how a person will use the application.
  4. Functionality and content. Now you need to describe how the application will implement the actions prescribed in user scripts. For example, if it says there that he will register first, then the registration function is needed. If he can communicate with the consultant, it means that he needs a voice communication function or a text messenger. To develop a grid of interrelationships of a function, you can use the XMind service or its equivalent.
  5. Conceptual prototypes. At the very end of this stage, you need to develop prototypes of user interface windows (wireframes) and a transition map from one window to another.

#3. Interface design

How to Build Investment Applications Mobile
Mobile application prototyping example
Prototyping is needed to create a framework on which the design of the application will be developed. This should be handled by experts, since they have a stock of knowledge that allows them to determine at an early stage what the user will like and be useful.

Here are some tips to help you get right:

  • make sure that the design and interface are clear for beginners;
  • focus on simplicity and conciseness, not on creativity;
  • spend enough time and effort to develop the design of the application icon, since it is the calling card of your service;
  • make sure your design is adaptive, that is, able to adapt to different screen resolutions.
Ultimately, you should have a design that is both simple, pleasant and memorable. This is difficult, so do not hesitate to conduct polls, conduct focus groups and engage in AB testing. Feedback at this stage will be very helpful.

#4. Personal accounts

In investment applications, private offices play the role of investment portfolios, where people can manage their investments and track their performance. This opportunity is realized in different ways, depending on the type of investment and the preferences of a specific target audience.

Thus, the Betterment application allows users to synchronize their personal accounts with third-party investment accounts and communicate with a personal advisor. The M1 Finance app bets on "smart design", allowing you to better understand your investment portfolio.

How to Build Investment Applications M1 Finance

Smart design of personal account M1 Finance

In addition to the tools for managing and analyzing the investment portfolio, the personal account must have the functions of depositing and withdrawing funds (as in Ally Invest), viewing market news (as in Robinhood) and the ability to instantly access the wallet (as in Coinbase).

#5. Robo-consultants

Automated financial consultant is the main trend of the modern financial market: according to surveys, 16% of Americans are planning to use applications with this function. These applications give investment advice, assess risks, trade on the currency and stock markets and are constantly engaged in self-development in all these areas. Most of these solutions are based on deep neural networks that use big data to analyze the market and find patterns.

How to Build Investment Applications What capital

What capital (million dollars) are managed by the most popular financial robot consultants in the USA

The leading providers of automated financial services are Betterment, Wealthfront and Vanguard. Betterment and Wealthfront allow you to open investment accounts that will be managed by robo-consultants in almost everything, even taxes will be paid on their own. Vanguard has implemented a financial advisor function that will help you open an account, tell you what's what, and give advice on choosing a portfolio.

What you need to implement in the robot consultant:

  1. A consultant who will give answers to key questions and open investment accounts, conduct transactions, get rid of obviously unprofitable assets - completely independently or with the permission of the user for each action.
  2. Tools showing things like “how much income my portfolio would bring if I retired right now,” “what tax would I have to pay if I sold these shares right now,” “how much I would earn if I had invested a certain amount a year ago with the help of a robo-consultant”.
  3. Automated payments to fiscal authorities (taxes, contributions to pension funds, etc.), as well as to charitable funds - another trend in the financial market.

#6. Data security

Investment applications manage users' money, as well as store their business and personal data, so they are one of the most popular targets for hacker attacks. To protect against hacking and data leakage, most services use the following security features:
  • 256-bit (Acorns) or 2048-bit (M1 Finance) encryption standard for storing and sending financial records;
  • PIN code (Betterment), two-factor authentication, encryption (Robinhood) or fingerprint scanning;
  • SIPC techniques for protecting large sums of money (M1 Finance).

Practice shows that these measures are sufficient to protect against most hacker attacks. The only exceptions are phishing attacks that are conducted outside the investment application ecosystem.

#7. Desktop Alerts

When creating an investment application, do not forget to implement push notifications, custom reminders and real-time alerts in it. With their help, the system can notify customers about interesting offers, promotions, discounts, current account status, the rising or falling value of a certain asset, and also notify them of unusual activity (which may indicate an account has been hacked).

How to Build Investment Applications Emma

Emma loves to "communicate" with users, including using notifications

To avoid obsession, allow users to customize the settings, frequency, and type of alerts: standard notifications, contextual pop-ups, text and voice prompts. At the same time, they should be able to choose not only a convenient time for receiving reminders, but also the reason for notifications.

Thus, Coinbase and Ally Invest have implemented the ability to notify on real-time rates with the ability to set the level of the asset value, after which a message will pop up on the smartphone screen. In TD Ameritrade Mobile push notifications alert you when your intended investment goal has been achieved, and Vault, using messages, asks users for permission to transfer a predetermined percentage of funds to an IRA personal account.

#8. 24 hour assistance

Fast and qualified support is the key to success and high ratings of any application, so think ahead about what it will be in your case. And do not forget to indicate the appropriate contacts wherever the user may have thought to contact the consultant.

There are several ways to implement support service:

  1. Betterment advises people by phone and email.
  2. Coinbase relies on an automated support bot.
  3. Acorns have a lot of background information and ask to contact them through the feedback window in case of any questions regarding technical issues or background information.
  4. Robinhood has a very handy help center where users can independently find answers to any questions.
Most of these communication channels are rather slow, although users usually need “here and now” support. This problem can be solved with the help of a well-implemented support bot, like in Coinbase, online chat in real time, a callback function, or by organizing a round-the-clock support service.

#9. Development cost

A basic investment application with several functions costs from 10,000 to 20,000 dollars. For this money, you can implement key functions that allow you to buy and sell assets, collect statistics and use alerts to notify the user about important events. More complex solutions will cost twice as much and will allow to integrate a robo-consultant, sharpened for one or several tasks.

How to Build Investment Applications

If you want your investment application to be popular in the App Store and Google Play, do not save on development and try to immediately implement all the necessary functions. This is the only way you can compete with Betterment, M1 Finance or Betterment.

#10. Monetization

Almost all investment applications use hybrid monetization models, charging money from several things at once. Most often this:
  • fees from various transactions;
  • asset management fee;
  • mandatory or premium subscription;
  • advertising and additional services.

Most investment applications rely on transaction fees for depositing / withdrawing funds and / or buying / selling assets, so that the application itself is essentially free. This monetization model is used by M1 Finance, Robinhood, Ellevest and Coinbase. Other services use a subscription, for example, Ally Invest and Blooom.

A more interesting monetization model in Personal Capital, Acorns and Wealthfront. They charge a fee for managing assets in the form of a percentage of transactions made with their help, or in the form of a separate periodic connection fee for this service. For example, Acorns takes 1% of all transactions conducted through their automated investment system.

As for additional services, these can be consultations with experienced managers and traders, audit of the investment portfolio, access to information (studies, statistics, markers, data on investment portfolios of well-known investors, etc.) and issuing various documents.

Which model you should use depends on what services you will offer. For example, if you offer trading services or an investment bot is integrated into your application, then you need to take a percentage from the transactions. If you plan to use experts or offer connections to various external investment funds, you need to enter a subscription. And, of course, in all cases, you need to earn on advertising.

How to Build an Investment App or Platform key takeaways:
  1. #1. Niche and target audience
  2. #2. Concept, framework and functions
  3. #3. Interface design
  4. #4. Personal accounts
  5. #5. Robo-consultants
  6. #6. Data security
  7. #7. Desktop Alerts
  8. #8. 24 hour assistance
  9. #9. Development cost
  10. #10. Monetization
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