Just what the doctor ordered-Web sites that
are easy to use.

    Alot of information is floating around the Internet  these days. So much so, in fact, that it is often difficult to discern what information is valid or even useful to financial advisors. Those advisors who are associated with broker-dealers know that their b/ds usually provide a laundry list of information resources that may have been customized to fit the needs or compliance concerns of the b/d. Advisors frequently turn to outside (independent) resources to find objective research data. The problem is finding sources that are reliable, accurate and affordable.
    Market research data is one area in which there are a multitude of choices, but few that are truly useful to the financial advisor. Retail sites, such as CBS Marketwatch, Hoover's, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money Central's Market data (provided by Briefing.com) and Quotes.com (provided by eSignal) contain information of interest to the average investor, but are so general and/or sanitized as to be largely useless to sophisticated financial advisors.
    Instead, advisors have turned to more intuitive research sites that provide in-depth coverage of stock market issues, company-specific information and other data that can be directly applied to a professional investment management firm. With apologies to those many sites that are not mentioned, what follows are three examples of subscription data service Web sites.

    The advisor edition of Morningstar's heralded Web site contains a wealth of information and tools to help advisors find investment research data and make intelligent choices for their clients. The site contains features such as:
    Practice Builder - Tips and techniques on expanding your practice.
    Investment Insight - An inside look at mutual funds and stocks, compiled by Morningstar's team of analysts.
    Fund Times - Mutual fund news items including new offerings, fund closings and manager changes.
    College Savings Educator - This focuses on college savings issues and 529 plans.
    In addition, a relatively new section is called Retiring with Natalie Choate, which is a Q &A on retirement issues with the retirement planning expert and author.
    Morningstar also hosts a series of Web seminars on various topics from this site that can be replayed later. Another interesting feature is the ability to subscribe to MorningstarAdvisor's RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed to receive articles delivered directly to your desktop. RSS is an XML-based format for sharing and distributing Web content, such as news headlines. Using an RSS reader, you can view data feeds from various news sources, such as MorningstarAdvisor.com, including headlines, summaries, and links to full stories. RSS readers are available free in most instances. Yahoo's My Yahoo page accepts RSS feeds, for example. By customizing your RSS reader (Aggregator), you can design a page that provides only the information you need that is relevant to your practice. Newsgator (www.newsgator.com), RssReader (www.rssreader.com) and Google Reader (www.google.reader) are all examples of free RSS aggregators.

    Standard & Poor's Advisor Insight
    Currently undergoing a complete revamping, Standard & Poor's Advisor Insight offers a new version that includes:
    MarketScope, a real-time news and market analysis service that includes portfolio strategies, current opinions and stock ideas. It also brings you updates on buy/hold/sell stars, S&P's latest buy, sell or hold recommendations on more than 1,500 qualitatively ranked stocks. Included in MarketScope is:
    Research Notes, analyst updates plus news on recommendations and much more.
    Market Indicators, S&P analyst Paul Cherney offers his unique insights on the equity markets.
    Broker News and Views, comments and views from Wall Street's top analysts on active and volatile issues.   
    S&P Outlook, which includes summaries of overnight activity in Asia and Europe along with potentially market-moving events.
    Ideas: Stocks & Portfolios, offers advisors action-oriented investment ideas and strategies to serve different client needs. It includes access to nine different portfolio strategies.
    Stock Reports, in-depth analysis of publicly traded companies including performance, analyst opinions and fundamentals.
    Fund Advisor, mutual fund news and analysis that includes hypothetical illustrations.
    SMA Evaluator, a comprehensive new service that offers research, analysis and tracking of separately managed accounts.
    Variable Annuities, which includes hypotheticals, VA policy reports and subaccount reports.
    Sector and Industry Research, analysis of U.S. industries and sectors that is designed to uncover potential future trends, etc.
    Indices, a compilation of all of S&P's best known and most reliable indexes.
    Sales Tools, includes financial calculators, a library of newsletters, sales aids, prospecting letters and special reports you can use to help you communicate with your clients.
    Alerts, S&P's new alerts services generates e-mail alerts on S&P intraday market commentary, STARS ranking changes, S&P Portfolio changes and much more.
    Fixed Income, with corporate bond reports that include ratings, ratings histories, credit watch activity along with profiles, financial highlights and more.
    Options Strategies, offering turnkey options strategies for financial advisors to use with their clients. It includes options investment ideas based on daily S&P equity research notes that are updated constantly, options portfolios that step the financial advisor through a series of trades every month based on extensive research, and options strategies developed by S&P experts. There are also covered call portfolios and hedged investments based on dividend-paying stocks.
    Standard & Poor's Vice President of Product Development Peter Fiore  says that future enhancements to Advisor Insight, due by January 2007, will include a more intuitive interface, easier navigation and more interactive features. "The intent is to rationalize our content and make it more actionable by both the advisor and the client." This is hard to imagine, given the wealth of content already available on this site.

    This site focuses on providing financial advisors who work with business owners simple-to-understand narrative from complex business research data.     Founded on the principle that financial research data should not be difficult to understand, Sageworks seeks to provide financial professionals with a platform that analyzes investment, company and other data and distills that data into readable form. According to Brian Hamilton, founder and CEO of Sageworks, "Our goal is to reduce financial statements and data down to their core. The end-point we want to achieve is to help people understand their financial information and make better decisions with that data."
    Sageworks has developed a software solution called ProfitCents that is designed to take the dizzying array of financial spreadsheets, charts and graphs and convert that data to understandable narrative. The ProfitCents reports provide advisors with a unique and powerful tool to assist their business owner clients.
    These three examples are representative of literally hundreds of such sites. The advantage of working with well-known, highly regarded services is in the name recognition by clients and by the reliability experienced by advisors. Efficiency is achieved when financial advisors do not have to spend an entire day trying to find information relevant to their clients' needs.

David Lawrence, AIF, is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates, a practice consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla. (www.efficientpractice.com) David Lawrence and Associates is an approved sponsor of CFP Board of Standards continuing education credits and offers CE programs on a variety of topics, including the financial planning process.