January 05, 2004

Marching into 2004, Mike Abbaei, executive vice president and chief information and operations officer at Legg Mason Wood Walker, is tackling a full plate of IT initiatives. Those items range from rolling out a new wealth-management platform in the first quarter to building a corporate-data warehouse.

Abbaei joined the securities-brokerage subsidiary of Legg Mason, Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Md., in 1995 as chief information officer. About two-and-a-half years ago, he was given responsibility for back-office operations. In this dual role, Abbaei oversees all technology, as well as operations, for the full-service firm which provides asset management, securities brokerage and investment banking.

Three years ago, Abbaei became responsible for a subsidiary that provides STP solutions to asset managers.

When he's not working, Abbaei takes a break on the golf course. Editor-at-Large Ivy Schmerken caught up with Abbaei to discuss his outlook on the coming year.

WS&T: Recently, Legg Mason selected Thomson ONE Advisor as its wealth-management platform. Why did you select Thomson and how does this affect your usage of incumbent netDecide?

Abbaei: Thomson One is really a full-blown platform. netDecide is really one application. Thomson Advisor provides us a way to manage the broker desktop and, from there, allows us to integrate various applications across that desktop. Not only do they offer us market data and research - and a number of other products - but, as a whole, they provide us with a wrapper. In this environment, we can bind all (internal) applications and third-party applications, including netDecide, in this environment, and have them all work very seamlessly together. That is what we signed up for.

WS&T: Will your financial advisers continue to use netDecide's applications?

Abbaei: We're going to continue to use netDecide through this (environment). The beauty of this method is we are in a very open-technology architecture. It allows us to bundle up a variety of totally separate vendors, all on the same desktop. Our back-office provider is ADP. We can provide back-office capabilities from ADP with market data and research from ILX (Thomson) under one umbrella.

WS&T: Customer-relationship-management software (CRM) is often viewed as an essential component of a wealth-management platform. Are you planning to integrate CRM into your adviser platform?

Abbaei: Our first plan of action is to roll out the desktop, which we've designed in the first half of next year with all the applications and hardware. And then, in parallel to that, we're going to investigate a number of CRM applications and see which one will fit the best and can integrate with all the applications that we have on the financial-adviser's desktop.

WS&T: As we enter 2004, what are your major concerns? Are there certain projects or IT initiatives that you are focusing on?

Abbaei: Our goal is making sure that we provide a number of productivity tools for our brokers (and) for our money managers. At the same time, because of the changing environment with regulatory requirements upon us, we are focusing on a number of systems to deal with regulatory changes and with compliance requirements. One of our big projects for this year, which we have already started, is a company-wide data-warehouse system to allow the complete retrieval of information and reviews.

WS&T: What kind of information do you need to retrieve?