Big Deal

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At a time when most companies are taking a go-slow approach to technology purchases, Merrill Lynch is blazing ahead with CRM. The company recently signed a five-year, $1 billion deal with Thomson Financial to build a comprehensive Wealth Management Platform that brings together Thomson One market information, Siebel CRM data, and Merrill's own proprietary information into an integrated platform. With this marriage of market information and customer data, Merrill hopes to gain an edge in an increasingly competitive market by giving its analysts instant access to the information their clients need.

Lou Eccleston, president of banking and brokerage at Thomson Financial Banking and Brokerage, says the core of the new platform is Thomson One, which pulls together all Thomson's content and assets into one integrated desktop. "For the first time what we've done is pull [this information] together into an integrated solution and, taking it a step farther in terms of the wealth management area, seamlessly integrating wealth management applications and CRM capabilities with live market information," he says.

According to Byron Vielehr, CTO at Merrill Lynch's U.S. private client division, Merrill had traditionally worked with in-house solutions and bought different a la carte components as needed. But, he says, this approach was expensive to maintain and never really achieved the level of integration Merrill wanted: "Setting Thomson up as the general contractor [helps ensure] that we get integration across Thomson One applications, across our applications, and across Siebel."

Vielehr says Merrill selected Siebel for the CRM component because the companies had a relationship, and Merrill felt Siebel was a good fit for the Wealth Management Platform. "We have some peculiar needs around scaling and there are not a lot of players that can scale up to our size," he says. "Siebel is one that can support [a solution] as large and diverse as what we are trying to do."

Vielehr points out that this is a very ambitious replatforming of the entire broker environment that includes not only the software components, but also new computers, dual 17-inch flat screen monitors, a high-speed network, and more. By next year Merrill hopes to deploy 27,000 new desktop systems. "Where the value is, is that we are integrating this with our wealth-management process," Vielehr says. This provides streamlined information delivery that allows analysts to see how market changes relate to specific customer needs.

Vielehr says that they are making such a big investment at a time when others are shying away from large purchases because they believe it will help drive their business: "It's been pretty apparent from a business strategy perspective that to support our business model we need to make these investments. And in a tough market we need to make sure our financial analysts have the best tools to support our clients."

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