Wachovia Securities in Technological Purgatory

Glitches aside, former Prudential Securities advisors are concerned that the new technology doesn’t measure up to Pru’s old system.

The Prudential/Wachovia Securities systems integration continues to frustrate the firms’ advisors, although the most serious problems have been cleared up.

If the Wachovia Securities reps are grumbling, it’s the former Prudential Securities advisors who are most agitated.

“To come from our old Boss system to this is real sad,” says one former Pru Sec rep, now at Wachovia. “They keep saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be OK,’ and they said it was going to combine the best of the two systems, but it hasn’t.”

About 3,700 Prudential reps came to Wachovia when the latter bought Pru’s retail division in 2003.

The two firms’ backend systems were combined a few weeks ago and promptly crashed, leaving about 11,000 reps without the ability to use their workstations. Since then, certain functions that were taken offline have been reinstated, and things are proceeding more normally. But reps say that the system is still slow.

The reason the legacy Pru reps are more upset is because that firm’s proprietary software system, known as Boss 3000, was dropped in favor of Wachovia’s Smart Station, which one source familiar with both firms’ technology says “was about five generations behind what the Prudential reps had.”

“All the benchmarks pointed to Pru systems being the best,” he said. “The FA’s at Pru in the branches were very spoiled.”

The initial glitches were caused, in part, by the addition of several thousand new users and two unrelated server issues that caused an overload, according to a Wachovia spokesman. As of today, “all system functions are up and running normally,” he said.

Some issues, though diminished from the awful first week, are ongoing. The Windows-based Smart Station has some saying it is not particularly user-friendly. And for several days, according to sources, the firm’s options order-entry system wasn’t working.

“It seems to be fairly typical of software programs in that it’s not been perfected,” says one Wachovia rep. “I needed to get an alphabetical listing of my clients, and my assistant hands me a type-written page of customers’ names with phone numbers.”

Another concurred. “It becomes like, the whole morning routine just to make sure of certain things, and just to be on the safe side, I’ve been printing all this extra stuff,” she says.

Wachovia officials acknowledge that Smart Station lacks certain functions from Boss 3000, but they add, the system will be improving.

“We will be enhancing and adding functionality,” said firm spokesman Tony Mattera. “When you’re going from one system to another, there’s always a learning curve. The scalability and flexibility of this will give them the functionality they’re used to having.”

Some of this is not surprising, because advisors are new to the system—and change rattles people’s cages. But sources interviewed at Prudential were particularly upset.

“You ask any Pru legacy guy and he’ll tell you [that the change over in technology platforms] has been the toughest of his whole career,” says one fund wholesaler who lately has been traveling through the Wachovia system.

In addition, institutions who used Prudential’s clearing system, Wexford, will be converted to First Clearing, Wachovia’s clearing system, in the near future, but Mattera said the firm doesn’t expect problems with this conversion.

Still, industry insiders are watching to see if the systems issues cause any lingering distaste that results in reps leaving the firm. After the initial exodus of Prudential reps when the merger was first announced, Wachovia’s retention rate has been strong, according to recruiters. Recruiters say the revised grid payout, to be rolled out in January, is arguably an even more important issue in this regard.

“There are still major problems in the combining of the software systems and that’s causing problems,” says a Wachovia rep who left the firm last week. “Smart Station is actually a pretty good system. It’s not the system—it’s the combination of the software of the two systems going together that was actually causing a problem.”

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