Technology transitions are never flawless.
mssb.htm" title="http://topics.investmentnews.com/companies-and-associations/morgan-stanley-smith-barney-mssb.htm">Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC's phased implementation of a new technology platform to its 17,800 advisers has been no exception.
Rollout of the 3D platform, as it is called, to the merged company's workforce of advisers began a year ago and I have received complaints from advisers intermittently throughout the intervening months.
The number and tenor of complaints, though has risen in the last month as the firm completed migration of its last remaining Smith Barney advisers in two important regions, that of greater New York City and greater Los Angeles.
With that final push, which is now complete, additional reports have come from advisers regarding specific intermittent problems on the system and other ongoing glitches.
Among the latest complaints: failures in the alerts system, which notifies advisers when various processes are completed or need to be initiated, difficulties in those alerts being shared or seen among entitled team members within a group of advisers, linkages between accounts within households going missing, journaling features between accounts failing and requiring manual completion, and that advisers entering notes within the customer relationship management system later disappear.
“We are aware of these issues and are addressing them and making steady progress at ironing them out,” said MSSB spokeswoman Christine Pollack on Wednesday.
Advisers, be they from wirehouses or independents, have increasingly come to rely on modern account-management systems to notify them with alerts pertaining to issues that range from the minor and mundane to the critical, without having to proactively monitor accounts themselves.
These warnings can range from a check clearing to cash shortfalls in an account, to incomplete paperwork related to a transaction or notification that an account has been opened.
Similarly, journaling or the moving of money from one account to another has largely become an automated process at many banks, brokerages and custodians these days but the feature has proven unreliable at times for some advisers on the MSSB platform, who then must manually complete the process.
3D is supposed to bring new levels of efficiency to the merged firm's advisers and while some advisers have decried its inadequacies others have expressed their opinion that it has far more comprehensive features and delivers far better performance than the legacy systems it replaces.
Carey Bosch is an adviser now working out of MSSB's Miami branch whose home base is Boston. He was provided by MSSB to speak with me.
He said he has been working on the system for nine months now and that his branch in Boston was one of the first to switch over to the new system.
“It is an incredibly robust system but like anything else it was far from perfect [when first introduced] and people were very frustrated the first few days but it has consistently and constantly improved and they have made it simple to report feedback — things are getting fixed, getting better and working faster,” he said.
He went on to explain that even in its initial stages the new system was a big upgrade over the legacy Morgan Stanley system he had worked on previously and far better than what he had left behind in his previous position at Bear Stearns.
I did ask Mr. Bosch specifically about one of the latest reported complaints, notes disappearing from the CRM system.
“The notes function is something I have found unsatisfactory from the beginning but I take handwritten notes anyway,” he said, adding that he knew this was being worked on.
When I asked about other particulars Ms. Pollack, who was on the call, responded that MSSB had already provided a statement.
Mr. Bosch and I did continue our conversation.
“Look, any system as complex as this that has almost 18,000 people on it is going to have some issues when it is new but certainly the reporting, tracking your business and expenses, or let's say you want to query the system to find out everyone that owned a particular stock, etc. they have made it extremely easy to find,” he said.
“I'm a fixed income guy and there is an awful lot of information available about my client's positions,” he added.
3D was first announced in April 2010 as a replacement for the legacy systems then in use at the company.
It was intended to consolidate the brokerage systems of the merged firm into a cohesive whole, at least from a technology standpoint.
Last fall the system was rolled out to Morgan Stanley advisers with reports of intermittent unavailability and outages, some lasting half a day.
Among specific complaints at the time were a lack of access to client information and trading orders having to be processed with printed tickets and fax machines.
In practice the platform is supposed to provide advisers with a desktop interface and reliable connectivity to MSSB's back-office technology, including account-opening, account-reporting, transaction and other support services.
The technology integration in the brokerage represents a big part of the annual $1 billion in cost savings the firm hopes to achieve by 2014.