BMO Nesbitt Burns opens the Gate

Managing your financial portfolio is never easy at the best of times. While the Internet has made the task of sifting through mounds of information more daunting, it has also made delayed access to information a thing of the past.

More and more financial institutions are offering on-line portfolio management and BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. is piloting a project that takes money management to the next level by adding the capacity for clients to conduct trades on-line through their investment advisor.

All of this is part of the company’s Gateway client information centre, designed to give customers everything from up-to-date stock quotes to the ability to check past financial transactions – a one stop shop for monitoring your money.

“What Gateway did was effectively allow us to let our clients see their portfolios on almost a real-time basis,” said Connie Stefankiewicz, senior vice-president and managing director of BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto.

“The ability to go into your account from virtually anywhere in the world is very appealing,” she added. “Also to be able to communicate very efficiently with your investment advisor with the dedicated e-mail function (is a plus).”

The current pilot project, with equity trading functionality for its clients, has about 150 customers taking part. Gateway was introduced in January 1999 and, at that time, the goal was to provide a high level of service and access to BMO Nesbitt Burns clients so they could view their account information on an ongoing basis, Stefankiewicz added. Up until then, clients were getting a monthly financial statement.

Other than the pilot project participants, clients for the moment have view-only access to their portfolios. In addition they can access Nesbitt Burns Canadian equity research, mutual fund research and U.S. equity research.

going with websphere

To move Gateway to the next level, BMO Nesbitt Burns decided to go with the IBM WebSphere platform.

“[Scalability] was certainly one of the primary drivers for us, we were looking for a platform that was easily scaleable,” Stefankiewicz explained. “We have…put a significant portion of our client basis onto Gateway and we envision that the growth and demand will continue in particular with the release of full service on-line.”

“What we found, when we went through the process of looking for a new platform, was that WebSphere bundled very nicely for us,” she added.

IBM has three levels of WebSphere from the scaled down standard version to the powerful enterprise offering. Vince Devine, consulting IT architect with e-business solutions at IBM Canada Ltd. in Toronto said the WebSphere solution fit in well with BMO Nesbitt Burn’s requirements because it created an environment that provided both vertical and horizontal scalability and features such as the ability to run across multiple platforms.

And for companies focusing in on on-line trading the requirements are more encompassing. “[Diversity] is actually a huge consideration for a lot of on-line traders right now in as much as they don’t want to be tied to a particular client device,” he said. “WebSphere provides support for handheld devices like PDAs and cell phone,” he added.

IBM’s decision to offer a variety of WebSphere solutions was in part due to the fact that, “one size doesn’t fit all,” Devine added. “To choose the features that you want is something that customers certainly find appealing.”

security Demand increases

Though security is always an issue when financial information is available over the Internet, once you factor in the ability to buy and sell from a portfolio the demand for flawless security goes up a notch or two.

“Any (financial) leak would be devastating for the company,” said Michael O’Neil, country manager for IDC Canada and author of a report on profiling the on-line investor. He added that there is an obvious growth in security areas such as digital certificates.

“[Security] is fully integrated with the WebSphere technology, ” Devine said. There two aspects to its security, he added. One would be infrastructure security provided by additional technology such as firewalls and the other would be part of a company’s application design built to run on WebSphere such as password protection or digital certificates, Devine explained.

“Clients are each assigned a user ID as well as their own personal password, and their first time into the system they are lead through the process of changing and selecting their own personal password,” Stefankiewicz explained. The system uses 128 bit encryption, she added.

Designing and installing an effective on-line trading system is neither cheap nor easy, but that the potential gains are there since the market opportunity is “pretty huge,” O’Neil said.

The relationships between financial advisors and customers is are getting stronger all the time, Stefankiewicz said.

“What this does is require the investment advisor and the client to be really focused because you can be pulled in so many different directions with all of the information out there. And this [technology] will help the client stay focused and that will be a key roll.”