The rash of new software could cause advisors' heads to spin.

Morningstar Inc. is busy preparing the first major upgrade to its online product for financial advisors. A late beta version of Morningstar Workstation 2.0 should be released to testers in the first quarter of 2004.

The current version of Workstation offers all the research and portfolio analysis capabilities of the CD-based Principia, plus asset allocation, portfolio optimization, portfolio monitoring/rebalancing, the preparation of client proposals/reports and the ability to generate investment policy statements.

The new version will offer an improved interface for easier navigation and support for internationalization. Advisors will be able to enter their own market assumptions, giving them more control over the portfolio optimization/asset allocation process.

Research tools and graphs will be expanded with new features such as a Similarity Lab and the Value at Risk Report. The functionality of "alerts" will be enhanced to include the cause of a proposed change and the implication of the change.

For the first time, users will be able to export client reports, such as the Investment Policy Statement, the Investment Recommendation Report and the Consolidated Account Statement, to Microsoft Word for customization.

Workstation's import and export capabilities will be expanded to work with major portfolio accounting systems. In many cases, it will be possible to link Workstation with data from brokers and banks to enable real account positions.

In a major expansion of the product line, Morningstar will include built-in client relationship management capabilities with Workstation 2.0. The CRM module includes a reasonable assortment of data fields for clients and family members, appointment tracking, task management and e-mail functionality. The program will offer the ability to import and export to and from ACT!, Goldmine and Microsoft Outlook.

Morningstar Workstation 2.0 is still under development, so it may be modified before the launch, but initial indications are that it will be a significant improvement over the current version. If the CRM application proves sufficient for clients' needs and the price remains constant, as I've been assured it will, Workstation 2.0 will offer a great deal more value for independent advisors.

Account Aggregation AdvisorSites/CashEdge

AdvisorSites, a provider of Web sites and other client communication products that counts among its clients many of the nation's elite financial planning and wealth management firms, recently inked a deal to distribute CashEdge account aggregation services to independent financial advisory firms.

CashEdge, a data aggregation firm, currently employs 65 people in New York, California and India. Their client list includes major financial institutions, small credit unions and independent financial advisors.

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