How mobile apps & emerging tech are building better client experiences

February 15, 2022 Pete Greenley
After nearly two decades working at big brand tech firms, see why David Chen says it's Schwab's engineering culture that has kept him engaged.

When David Chen placed his first trade as a Charles Schwab client in 1992, he walked into a physical branch and talked directly with a Schwab associate. Today, thanks to technology, that physical experience is now joined by an equally robust digital one. This hybrid approach is creating opportunities for Schwab to serve its clients in exciting new ways.  

David, now Managing Director of Mobile Technology and Conversational Platform at Charles Schwab, spends much of his time thinking about the many ways that technology is transforming our everyday lives. These insights inform how Schwab develops and optimizes new mobile products and services for its clients.  

“As an engineer, I really appreciate our commitment to innovation and desire to keep things current,” David says. “Not only are we helping clients reach their goals, but we’re also using the latest and greatest technologies to do so.” 

Schwab’s engineering culture is one of the most significant factors that’s kept him engaged. “Senior Leadership’s commitment to innovation and instilling the discipline necessary to build high quality products have kept me excited about the work I do every day,” he says.  

One of David’s big focuses is on mobile. Having spent two decades developing connected services and apps at Verizon, Vodafone, and PayPal, David has seen firsthand mobile’s move from the periphery to the center of our lives. This is especially true for financial services. Today, 41% of people use their phones for financial activities, with most preferring to use mobile apps for activities such as checking their accounts and making trades.  

In fact, at Schwab, roughly 40% of clients use their phones as their primary way of investing. Recognizing client appetite to engage with their finances while on-the-go, Schwab’s mobile app allows users to quickly see their account portfolio, place a trade, and deposit money.

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I love technology, but technology is at its best when users don't even think about it. I don't want users to think about our mobile or web or desktop or voice solutions. I want our software to naturally fit into the way they work so we can help them achieve better financial outcomes.

- David Chen, Managing Director of Mobile Technology & Conversational Platform, Schwab

Responding to these changes has required a fundamental shift in how Schwab approaches product development. Echoing the moves of technology firms like Netflix and DoorDash, David says that Schwab’s tech team is moving toward becoming, “a mobile-first development house.” One move in this direction is Mars, a standardized development framework for iOS and Android that allows Schwab engineers to develop consistent services across different platforms, including mobile, desktop, TV, and even auto.  

“For us, there is no longer this notion that we’re building for one device. It’s all about the entire Apple and Google ecosystem,” says David. “We’re building a world-class development team that’s creating world-class mobile apps.” 

Of course, this focus on moving fast to respond to developments in the mobile ecosystem is balanced by an equally concentrated focus on app security. At Schwab, cybersecurity is of critical importance. As David puts it, “Everyone on the team understands the stakes and the importance of protecting clients’ investments and savings.”

Building the future

Looking ahead, there are two emerging technologies that David is particularly excited about.  

One is natural language understanding (NLU), technology that allows computer programs to interpret written and spoken human languages. Schwab has already deployed a natural language platform across its mobile app, helping clients quickly find answers to common product and market questions. For example, Schwab clients may want to learn more about certain securities, check their accounts, or see how the market is doing. NLU allows them to quickly find resources about these topics, even if they only have a vague idea of what they’re looking for. 

David believes voice is one of the most interesting applications of NLU. He predicts that voice-based interfaces will become increasingly important in the coming years as 5G wireless enables smart devices, wearables, and connected cars to become more mainstream. These devices, which have minimal screens or lack them entirely, will not only need to understand users’ voice commands, but they will also need to collect data about user habits and preferences to anticipate user needs more effectively. Voice will also increase accessibility for people with visual or motor disabilities, opening up services to even more users.  

While Schwab is still in the early days of exploring how voice interaction can power its products, David remains excited about the potential. “I think these are exciting times and we are only getting started. I truly believe we will see a lot of great innovation from our team,” he says. 

In the end, David says Schwab’s engineering culture is one of the most significant factors that’s kept him engaged. 

“There are a lot of reasons but mainly our Senior Leadership’s commitment to innovation and discipline necessary to build high quality products. Schwab’s environment not only provides an opportunity for continuous learning but provides mentors for me and allows me to mentor others.”

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