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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS

Local Financial Advisors Go Online Via Microsoft Web Site

July 27, 1999|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One day there may be tens of thousands of professionals on Microsoft Network's financial advisor database.

But the list was considerably shorter earlier this month when TheRightAdvisor.com was unveiled as part of the MSN MoneyCentral Web site.

The site, a joint project of Microsoft and Boston-based Dalbar Inc., was launched with about 3,000 professionals in its resource bank, including several from Ventura County.

Dalbar, founded in 1976, measures the quality of service of financial consultants nationwide based on client surveys. The firm selected the initial members for the new Web site.

Eric Swanson and business partner Susan Green of the Independent Capital Management office in Camarillo are among those represented on the site.

"I would say this will appeal to do-it-yourselfers who are starting to wonder if they are going to get themselves in trouble with investments," Swanson said. "The last three years the market has been doing well, and now they don't know what they are going to do if the market starts to fall."

To use the resource, potential clients provide their financial profiles, financial needs and geographic location, and in response immediately receive a list of advisors from which to chose. There is no fee for the client, but consultants pay a $750 annual subscription fee.

Swanson, who charges his clients either a flat rate plus a percentage of assets, or a commission, doesn't anticipate his own finances will be greatly affected because of the listing. But he is willing to give it a try.

"In this kind of business you're constantly trying to market in one form or another," he said. "I'd like to look into my crystal ball and say it will help a lot, but I only anticipate this to be a very, very, very small portion of our marketing. The Internet is big in the media, but I don't know that it's in every home yet."

On the other hand, Dalbar President Louis Harvey expects TheRightAdvisor.com to have a definite effect on its members.

"We see it building slowly--initially each advisor will get one desirable client a month," he said. "If you look forward a year from now, I expect these advisors will have to turn off access to themselves. They'll have as many [clients] as they want to take."

Harvey said the online resource is aimed at streamlining the search for financial advisors by weeding out those his firm considers unqualified, which he said is a sizable portion.

"When you look at just the NASD [National Assn. of Securities Dealers], there are about 630,000 people registered to deal in securities, and less than 100,000 of those are qualified," he said.

Consultants historically find their clients through direct mail and cold calling, he said.

"That system is terrible for both advisors and consumers," he said. "Consumers never know who they are getting. It's an uncontrolled system where every thief, robber or idiot can put out a cold call or mail. . . . Our hope is consumers will get smart and find the right advisors."

Harvey said the demand for qualified financial advice, like many services, is driven by the baby boomers. As members of the generation mature, they are becoming more solvent.

"They're just beginning to get some money in their pocket now," he said. "They've been in debt most of their life to date. Depending on how much money you have will determine whether you need advice. Once their value gets to $100,000 and above, most of these guys are not willing to play the game anymore and they want to sit down with a professional."

In a couple of years, Harvey said, he anticipates opening the locater site up to all financial advisors who meet the Dalbar criteria.

"They have to have experience, a clear regulatory record, put their clients' interests first and provide an ongoing level of excellence," he said. "If not, we'll pull them off the system."

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