Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. plans to introduce an account aggregation service next month that will let its customers view information consolidated from any institution with which they have a relationship.
By yearend Morgan Stanley brokers will be able to gain access to all their customers' consolidated account records, and offer financial advice based on the complete picture, the company said Thursday.
Merrill Lynch & Co. was the first major brokerage to announce plans to offer account aggregation, and Morgan Stanley is the second.
Morgan Stanley's enthusiastic embrace of aggregation - one of the hottest technologies in e-finance - is in sharp contrast to its early recalcitrance about the Internet.
A year ago "we went about it timidly, because we didn't know what the reaction would be," said Tom O'Connell, president and chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online.
The view now is that "technology is not a passing fad," he said. "The way to win this revolution is to embed technology into what the brokers are doing, and not treat it as an adversarial movement in society."
With its aggregation service, Morgan Stanley says it is aiming to draw consumers who want to do independent Internet investing but still crave some personalized, one-on-one attention from their brokers. Morgan Stanley customers who use the service, to be called NetWorth, will be required to grant their brokers permission to view their consolidated account information.
"Most people fall between the cracks of being completely self-directed and wanting a full-service adviser, and that is the area we are focusing on," Mr. O'Connell said.
Analysts said NetWorth may help boost confidence in the Internet among Morgan Stanley brokers.
"Now they can make a case to brokers that they are needed even more than before to give financial advice across a consumer's entire range of assets," said Avivah Litan, a research director at GartnerGroup. "This definitely bridges the gap."
Brook Newcomb, a senior analyst with Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., said he agreed that promoting broker advice to aggregation fans may be an effective way to reach customers who are vacillating about using the Internet.
"People might be more inclined over time to try this out," he said. "The company could start sending them advisory alerts, and little by little, people will start using it more."
Morgan Stanley will make the service available to its 4.5 million brokerage customers. The company is also considering how to offer aggregation to customers of Discover Financial Services, its credit card subsidiary.
Yodlee.com of Sunnyvale, Calif., which will support Morgan Stanley's service, already has a number of other major financial institutions as customers, including Merrill Lynch, Citigroup Inc., and Chase Manhattan Corp.
Morgan Stanley is considering incorporating several proprietary tools into the aggregation service, including an instant messaging system that would let brokers chat with clients while viewing their portfolios.
Mr. O'Connell said he views transactional capabilities as a "natural next step," but he declined to comment on the company's plans to offer such functionality.
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