Morgan Stanley Online Operations Get Facelift

Global financial services firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. (NYSE: MWD) has announced the launch of ichoice, a new Web site that will combine the online trading service of its Discover Brokerage subsidiary with the online financial information pages operated by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

The site “enables individual investors to choose simply and conveniently the financial relationship that best meets their needs,” the company says, admitting that the launch was primarily a repackaging move. According to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, the new site improves upon the features and services that the company was already offering online at various sites.

Yesterday, Discover Brokerage was renamed Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online, Inc., so that the company could operate an integrated Web site with both self and full-service trading available in one location.

Self-directed investors will gain access to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter’s 450 U.S. investment and client education centers to open accounts, deposit funds, process paperwork and get product information. Traditional investors will gain the option of conducting online, self-guided trades instead of, or in addition to, their broker-assisted trades.

Keeping Up With The Pack?

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online has also added new services to keep up with the online trading pack, such as extended hours trading, wireless trading, real time municipal and treasury bond trading and real time account updating.

One differentiating factor for the trading firm, for better or worse, is its transaction price. At $29.95 (US$) per trade for Internet or telephone trading, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter’s price is up to $20 more than those of its competitors.

James F. Higgins, president of the company’s Private Client Group, acknowledges that the competitive field of online trading is demanding more diverse services and online offerings. “Helping clients to navigate a broader array of choices in terms of products and pricing will become an additional aspect of ‘client-tailored advice,’ while the addition of Discover Brokerage’s trading platform and technology will be a tremendous advantage in our ability to help clients achieve their financial goals,” he said.

Discovering Online Trading

To get into the online trading business, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter bought Lombard Brokerage, Inc. in 1997 and renamed it Discover Brokerage Direct. Lombard/Discover Brokerage was one of the first financial institutions to offer investing via the Internet and was the first securities firm to process an automated, online trade.

Higgins described the company’s new site as another “first” in the company’s online trading history, though how unique it is may be debatable. “Morgan Stanley Dean Witter will be the only securities firm that can offer investors a unique combination of financial advice and expertise, technology and experience in online investing, and content in terms of investment products and services. Ichoice will be our competitive advantage in being the advisor of choice for the individual investor,” he claimed.

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