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Cooking Up New Broker Workstations

It's time to refresh broker workstations. But this time, major full-service firms have sent out RFPs to vendors to develop integrated platforms with financial planning, CRM and other advisory tools. In tough economic times -- outsourcing is no longer a dirty word.

There is also increased emphasis on consolidated views of information and the ability to pre-populate screens with client-account data.

""The trick is you have to have a system integrated with client data. You can have the most sophisticated planning tool in the world, but if it doesn't pre-populate with client information, brokers tend not to use it because it's too time consuming,"" says Garrett.

Platforms are also more integrated. ""The biggest thing we did to our workstation was we created the ability to carry data easily from one application to the next, says Garrett, referring to Client One. Through a right mouse click, menus are displayed that let you to take information that you have right in front of you from someone's account to another application ... and view the entire relationship in one container.""

In UBS PaineWebber's case, ""The workstation enables the financial adviser to have richer, more meaningful conversations with the client because the information on the client, on the market, and the research and various tools are available to the financial advisers in less than one second,"" says Lois Deming, director, branch and client technology, UBS PaineWebber, which mainly relies on in-house-development expertise. Even alerts are delivered by the system to the financial adviser, who is told when to contact their clients about a significant portfolio change. ""We strove for minimum planning required by the financial adviser to receive those alerts,"" she explains.

As firms like UBS PaineWebber and A.G. Edwards continue to revamp their broker workstations, all eyes will be on the big RFPs which are expected to ""pan out in the next three to six months,"" estimates Pugmire. In the meantime, retail-brokerage firms will, no doubt, assess the costs of in-house development versus licensing applications or outsourcing.

""We'll continue to look outside, if we find a tool that's reasonably priced, we'll definitely consider it. If not, we may do a hybrid (build and buy) on our own,"" says Garrett.


The Buzz about Broker Workstations
Brokerage workstations have an 18-to-36 month shelf-life. At the end of that period, firms may have difficulty delivering new functionality through those platforms, says Dennis Ceru, director of TowerGroup's Retail Brokerage and Investing Research and Advisory Service.

- Integrated applications are a competitive advantage. They ""help an adviser to work faster and have access to information when the client needs it,"" says Lois Deming, director of branch and client technology for UBS PaineWebber. Today, an adviser may have a separate financial-planning application and then have to retype all that data in,"" says Chad Gardner, managing director of SunGard's PowerStation.

- Internal development is costly and has been less than successful in differentiating firms. ""With the way technology is on the Web and the ability to customize the experience without changing ... your core engines, you can have two financial-planning systems that look very different but are based off the same core calculations,"" says Gardner.

- Vendors offer pre-integrated solutions. SunGard's PowerStation comes pre-integrated with asset-allocation tools it acquired from Frontier Analytics, financial planning from Sterling Wentworth, contact management from Plaid Brothers, as well as rule bases for monitoring suitability, and performance-reporting tools.

- Best-of-Breed is another option. Reuters is integrating components from various partners, including CRM (Siebel Systems or Onyx) financial planning (Financial Profiles or Monetaire) - as well as its own portfolio management, order-management systems, risk tools, market data and middleware (Tibco).

- Back-office systems vendors with front-office workstations may have an edge because advisers need to feed in client data, experts say. Thomson Financial's Beta Systems - which has the highest market share with 30,000 users - has a product called BetaLink that integrates with the ILX front-end workstation. SunGard's Phase3 back office feeds into PowerStation, but it also claims to be back-office independent. ""ADP, Beta, SIS - whatever back office is out there, we integrate to,"" says Gardner.

- Thin-client is in, Thick Client is out. ""There's been a movement in the industry toward an ASP model,"" says Ceru, noting the impact of Sept. 11 on firms who ran centralized operations in New York City and the expense of disaster recovery.

- Relationship Management is new, Contact Management is old. ""Contact management is actually insufficient in this business,"" says Deming. UBS PaineWebber upgraded its current software (Advent's Qube) to a relationship manager - with core functionality from an unnamed vendor. ""But the actual integration aspect and the relationship aspect is totally proprietary."" The relationship manager, through one click, can access the client's holdings and relevant information from all the other applications.


UBS PaineWebber Taps In-house Team for Adviser Workstation
While the debate over whether to buy or build broker workstations rages on, major firms like UBS PaineWebber, which have been working on a next-generation workstation for about a year, contend there is still a proprietary advantage in developing in-house workstations. ""We find the best solution for delivering these components is the combination of in-house expertise and outside core capabilities, so that's essentially our strategy,"" says Lois Deming, director, branch and client technology, UBS PaineWebber. The new platform - meant to replace ConsultWorks - involves seven new components: Web-based intuitive navigation, advisery tools and portfolio analytics, a product-rich order-entry system, a relationship manager (that replaces contact management), market data, client views and integration of all those components.

Deming stressed that integration across applications is a key attribute. ""All of these components are integrated so that the financial adviser can move across the platform in a matter of seconds,"" she says.

The firm is rolling out portions and new components on a quarter-by-quarter basis to 8,535 financial advisers out of a total of 16,000 users, including support staff.

Other than mentioning its partnership with Reuters - its existing market-data vendor - for developing a new Web-based version of market data, Deming declined to say which vendors UBS PaineWebber had selected or whether it was making any changes in its current suppliers. In 1997, when PaineWebber was first working on ConsultWorks, it was heavily based on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 platform. Whereas the prior versions of ConsultWorks were a hybrid of client/server and Web access, Deming says the firm is migrating everything to being Web based. However, when asked about changes to the underlying infrastructure or technologies, such as Java or Microsoft, Deming declined to offer any details. ""It's less technology and more understanding what the financial adviser needs and building those workflows as a principal for designing the workstation."" Ivy is Editor-at-Large for Advanced Trading and Wall Street & Technology. Ivy is responsible for writing in-depth feature articles, daily blogs and news articles with a focus on automated trading in the capital markets. As an industry expert, Ivy has reported on a myriad ... View Full Bio

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