Morgan Stanley (Smith Barney) has launched a limited internal social network for its 18,000 brokers and advisers.
Rolled out five weeks ago and called Advisor Insights, the online community currently features the completed (or nearly completed) profiles of 464 financial advisers and what MSSB refers to as private wealth advisers (PWAs). All the firm's advisers can see these and interact with them.
Advisor Insights is nestled within the Center for Investment Excellence, itself the core area for advisers to search for proprietary research. The CIE, in turn, is a set of pages and tools off of the main page of Morgan Stanley Today, its corporate portal for advisers.
The firm invited a cadre of journalists Thursday to its New York headquarters for one on one demonstrations of Insights and other new technology features it has built or updated.
According to the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney folks this is the first such endeavor of its kind among the major wirehouses.
This effort at broaching social media, something generally anathema in the brokerage industry at large, was certainly the most intriguing of the things demonstrated.
On hand were managing directors James Wiggins, David Lessing, and vice president Daniel DiBiasio who drove the live presentation and had overseen much of the day-to-day development of the tools.
My own take away from seeing some of the commentary and linkages among advisers on the live Advisor Insights system is that it is indeed resonating with the firm's advisers.
For example, one adviser based in Texas had begun to develop quite a following — 25 other advisers were now “tracking” her — thanks to her expertise in working with clients that were divorcing. Many other advisers had posted comments on their own experiences with similar clients or were interested in tapping her expertise and/or establishing a working relationship.
And that sort of sharing appears to be at the heart of the networking system, allowing advisers within Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, no matter their geographic location, to see each other's specialties and a snapshot of their performance at managing portfolios among other parameters.
While there is no general search function yet (this is to be added sometime next year) for advisers to zero in on particular adviser-generated content within the Advisor Insights network, advisers can use a series of dropdown menus adjacent to the Find feature.
For example, advisers can search out specific advisers by name, team name (if part of an MSSB ensemble), by legacy channel (Morgan Stanley or Smith Barney), division/region, state, or proximity (zip code).
When the locate a fellow adviser they are interested in they can click a “start tracking” button and follow any posts made by that adviser.
Within an adviser's profile are several sections that allow advisers to get much of the preliminary vetting of an adviser or investment manager (referred to as strategist in MSSB Advisor Insights parlance) out of the way without having to phone them or e-mail them.
One of these sections is “Working with me” and allows an adviser to post the arrangements they prefer in terms of collaboration as well as fee arrangements.
“This area is probably the single most important one for helping foster working relationships between the advisers because it gives them a chance to define the way they want to interact,” explained Mr. Lessing, adding that, “…the idea is really to save the adviser time on not pursuing dead-end leads.”
Other significant developments include improvements to the Research and Strategic Insights section of the platform. MSSB tracks 3,600 companies between the work of its own analysts and that it licenses from Standard & Poor's. There seems to be no shortage of such research available to the firm's advisers as 400 to 500 reports are published each day.
New to the system are various tracking features, for example an alert can be set by clicking a bell-shaped icon on a particular piece of research, say a report on Apple Inc. so that any subsequent research on the company will be automatically sent to you or to a client if you like.
The system tracks usage metrics as well, allowing corporate to see who is reading what and gauge the level of interest as well as which analyst's work is being most read.
“Because of the depth of this measurement we can tell what they [advisers] like or dislike or want more of,” said Mr. DiBiasio.
Another section area on the platform is External Insights. Here advisers can find reports produced by third-party and mutual fund partners of MSSB, among them AllianceBernstein LP, BlackRock Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. among many others. Gathering feedback in this area was also of interest and advisers can click the “suggest a story” button to request more information in a particular area.
“We want to use the power and scale of what have access to and then through allowing the financial advisers to ask for specifics be better able to gather for them customized content,” said DiBiasio.
It was reiterated throughout the presentation that what has been built so far remains a work in progress and that MSSB's advisers had not been shy in asking for additional features.
It was also made clear that the site and especially the Advisor Insights networking area would remain a walled garden open only to MSSB advisers.
One thing I was curious about was whether tools for collaboration might at some point be provided to the advisers within the network; in other words, the ability to share documents or have shared workspaces. The answer was that this is under consideration but that there were aspects of compliance and security that needed to be worked out and that many other things took precedence in the queue.