Notwithstanding the recent stock market comeback, it's hard to say anything nice about this long, deep recession. If there is a silver lining in the Great Recession of 2008-2009, however, it is that economic setbacks such as this have a way of making businesses focus on what's really important to their customers. That means those vendors selling products and services to financial advisors are more than ever motivated to come up with tools to improve the way advisors work.

Albridge Solutions and Schwab Institutional, two of the industry's most influential participants, for instance, have recently launched Web products to increase efficiency at independent RIAs, broker-dealers and independent registered reps.

Schwab's contribution is, an easy-to-use Web platform that will lead to the slow phase-out of SchwabLink and Albridge, meanwhile, recently launched two new systems: AppLink is a dashboard for broker-dealers to manage their reps using an approved set of CRM software, financial planning tools and other practice management applications; DataMart is a database customized to each B-D to help it create business performance metrics. Two of the key systems used by all RIAs holding accounts at Schwab Institutional are old. SchwabLink is a utility for downloading transactions, fees and other data from Schwab into portfolio management software (PMS). is a Web site RIAs use for trading client accounts, managing cash for clients and transferring funds for clients.

Both of those systems remain reliable, and they're not being shut down. Instead, Schwab is cleverly continuing to support them, even as it launches a new platform that combines their features and improves efficiency. Keeping the old systems live will allow advisors time to transition to the new solution,

Steve Hirsch, vice president of Schwab Institutional Web Platforms, along with Mike Golaszewski, director of, say significantly upgrades the platform advisory firms use daily. began usability testing in October 2008 with 12 firms, and Schwab now has 65 firms using the system.
The main navigation menu uses tabs for tasks. To help advisors in their productivity, the site alerts them to 13 different types of activity, such as account changes, corporate actions, money movements, asset transfers and dollar-cost averaging.

The "status" tab displays the stage of a client's paperwork on Schwab's system. When you are setting up a new account or transferring funds, this tab updates you on how far along the client is in Schwab's process. Because the information is automatically updated, it saves you and Schwab time because you no longer have to call Schwab to get updates on these activities.

In the "balances" tab, also displays securities positions by client. Though this feature was also available at, now you can view aggregated position balances for clients instead of viewing just one account at a time as you did before. Meanwhile, the "positions" tab allows you to find a security in your clients' portfolios and then create an export to Schwab's Java trade applet.

One of the niftiest features in is displayed in the column on the left side of the browser, the column called "Associated Items." If you are looking at Bob Jones' positions in the main body of the page, for instance, the associated items column might display his wife's account, an account held by a trust in which the Joneses are beneficiaries or some other affiliated accounts. The associated items list will be different for each unique user ID, which is different for each member of your staff accessing, and will reflect how you use the site.