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Rating:Provider of Advisor Data Takes On the Blue Book Not Rated 0.0 Email Routing List Email & Route  Print Print
Friday, June 25, 2004

Provider of Advisor Data Takes On the Blue Book

Reported by Theresa Sim

The Financial Information Group (FIG) is continuing its challenge of the big blue book, the industry bible of registered investment advisors published by Standard & Poor's. FIG is adding asset allocation information to its database of registered investment advisors (RIA) within the next few weeks, said Nick Stuller, managing director of FIG.

Although initial asset information will be limited to broad product and asset classes such as funds, stocks, bonds, separate accounts, the firm hopes to keep refining asset data. The next logical step would be collecting top 10 holding data, and after that, comprehensive and specific holdings, said Stuller.

The group hopes to challenge S&P's tome. The big book, known as Standard and Poor's Directory of Registered Investment Advisors, has been in existence since 1987. The next evolution of the product came in 1991, when an electronic version, on diskette, was made available.

And in early May, it seems the provider finally woke up from its deep sleep in the print world by releasing an online version called MMD WebAccess, a tool for all of its databases.

S&P developed the online version in response to client demand, said John Piecuch, a spokesman for S&P. S&P intentionally launched the online version with little fanfare, said Piecuch, adhering to company policy towards fewer press releases for new products.

The people behind the print edition apparently did not have that same modesty in mind in creating the print 2004 Directory -- the Directory's front page is a full-page advertisement for WebAccess.

Will S&P stop the presses for the big blue book? As a company, S&P tries to move products online "as much as possible," said Piecuch. In the case of the Directory, however, clients still demand the print product, said Piecuch.

The 2004 Directory touts itself as "the only major, authoritative source for accurate, up-to-date information for the investment advisor industry," a point that competitor Nick Stuller, managing director of FIG, likely challenges.

The two are taking different approaches to data gathering -- while S&P includes only what they deem as relevant and active RIAs, Discovery is going the route of comprehensiveness. In 2004, S&P's Directory had 14,000 listings, while Discovery had 25,000, what they bill as the entire market.

"There's a huge universe of technically called RIAs, but really small subset who are active registered investment advisors," said Piecuch. That's the key to S&P's added value, he added. To determine which advisors are relevant, S&P prescreens advisors' asset levels and investing.

Discovery, meanwhile, touts its twelve or more data updates per year and multiple sources of data feeds, including regulatory sources, commercial sources, public websites, data exchanges with other providers, and contacting intermediaries directly.

S&P seems to have a leg up, at least now, on its competitor -- S&P already reports asset allocation information, including mutual fund assets. But Discovery may have an advantage by being web-only -- the firm can focus on improving the web interface and does not have to spend any money on printing.

Discovery's product goes for $14,000 annually, while S&P's MMD WebAccess costs $5,500 to $11,500, depending on the size of the "universe" of advisors requested by the client. Discovery's product is online only

Thomson Financial also publishes an advisor database called IA-Info, but did not return a call seeking comment. According to an online demonstration, the product is updated both daily and quarterly, with more than 200 datapoints for each advisor.

Correction: A previous version of the article stated that MMD WebAccess cost $55 instead of $5,500. 

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