The Charles Schwab Corp. made several technology announcements this morning at its annual Impact conference in Boston.
Among them: availability of Version 5.0 of Schwab's PortfolioCenter software and a major integration with third-party provider Laser App Software, as well as new cost basis tools, new trading features, enhancements to the Advisor Center website, and several improvements to schwaballiance.com (an online resource for advisers' clients).
Perhaps the most anticipated announcement was which companies and programs would participate in Schwab's Intelligent Integration initiative.
Bernie Clark, executive vice president and head of Schwab Advisor Services, confirmed in a speech today that several makers of customer relationship management software will participate in project, including Salesforce.com, Microsoft Corp. and CRM Software, publisher of the popular Junxure program. Mr. Clark added that Schwab is looking at other vendors and said that the Intelligent Integration project is “one of Advisor Services' most important initiatives and, in fact … is one of Charles Schwab's most important initiatives.”
The endeavor, referred to originally as Project C and announced in June, is meant to address one of the chief complaints among independent advisers — applications that don't talk to one another.Schwab has sought input from advisers through a write-in campaign on its website. At last count, more than 1,200 registered investment advisers from among the company's 6,000 RIA customers had sent in suggested programs for inclusion.
Schwab representatives have said for months that software that helps advisers manage client relationships would be the first category of application tackled in its initiative.
CRM programs provide advisers with a comprehensive and holistic window into their client relationships. The software can serve as a front end for accessing communications and live events, as well as assets and holdings.
Many enhancements have been made to the reporting features of Schwab's venerable PortfolioCenter management software, which is used by thousands of advisers. Version 5.0 includes enhanced graphics, support for high-resolution images, more professional-looking layout choices, and more options for customizing text, fonts, tables and colors.
The Schwab Advisor Center website has a newly redesigned News and Resources section, including a new search engine powered by Google. Also coming to the website early next year will be the ability for advisers to journal positions between different Schwab accounts and manage their cashiering needs online.
Another announcement sure to resonate with advisers is an agreement to integrate the capabilities of Laser App's form-filling technology with the account forms and online account opening functions already available on the Schwab Advisor Center website and platform.
This integration will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2011 at no cost to advisers who keep assets under custody with Schwab.
Laser App already is integrated with a wide variety of CRM systems, allowing advisers to populate forms automatically using existing client data. This gives advisers the ability to quickly complete account openings or other forms using prospect or client information that already exists within their CRM systems, eliminating the need to re-enter this data when they open accounts and add account services.
Steve Hirsch, vice president of technology for Schwab Advisor Services, explained that the Laser App rollout will be a fairly seamless process for most advisers.
“Advisers will receive a lightweight installation component from Laser App and a license that Schwab will pick up the cost for; we think of this as very complementary with what we are doing with [Schwab Intelligent Integration] and the very deep integrations we have planned with some CRM vendors,” he said.
Schwab will also be rolling out several enhancements before year-end to help advisers prepare for the upcoming legislative changes in cost basis and to help ensure that their cost basis data match its own. One feature allows advisers to provide Schwab with cost basis instructions when placing equity trades online. Advisers will also be able to send cost basis instructions on equity trades when trading through a number of third party interfaces and to download cost basis data to import into their portfolio management software.
“The simplest way to think about this is that if the default tracking works for them, that's OK, but if they want to make a change we give them the ability to do so at the time of trade. If they need a little more time we can let them do it post-trade but pre-settlement,” Kevin Kraus, director of trading technology for Schwab Advisor Services, said in an interview.
Two new trading capabilities were also announced today.
The first relates to fixed-income investments and includes release of a new issue calendar — to be available in December — that lists all the current, upcoming and historical municipal bond deals in which Schwab is, will be or has been a participant.
In addition, advisers will soon have access to new international trading capabilities. These will allow advisers to place trades on “foreign ordinary shares” online through the U.S. over-the-counter market using Schwab's proprietary web trading application.
With this access, advisers will be able to buy or sell foreign ordinary shares from 25 countries and get real-time OTC quotes.
Schwab is rolling out three new features for schwaballiance.com, an online resource for advisers' clients to gain access to their account information, including balances and positions.
Among these are customization options that will allow advisers to display their firm's logo and contact information throughout schwaballiance.com. The site will soon offer real-time alerts to notify advisers when clients have placed trades or moved money.
As for Schwab Intelligent Integration, the initiative ultimately offer advisers a range of software choices bundled within two distinct solutions.
The first is a modular offering called Schwab OpenView Gateway, which allows advisers to integrate with leading third-party and Schwab technologies across several categories. Those categories include CRM, portfolio management, financial planning and document management.
A second solution is Schwab OneView Office. More of a turnkey offering, it combines a pre-packaged CRM application with the Schwab Advisor Services custody platform and portfolio management.