Salesforce.com Targets Wealth Managers, Challenges Bloomberg’s Monopoly
Salesforce.com yesterday unveiled its first concerted effort to focus the power of its AppExchange partner network and Apex programming platform at a specific vertical market opportunity. Salesforce.com’s new initiative targets the financial services sector, in general, and the wealth management segment, in particular.
The new on-demand services come at a time when THINKstrategies’ research indicates that companies of all sizes are not only becoming more receptive to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), but are increasingly looking for industry-specific solutions.
The new wealth management offering combines Salesforce.com’s core customer relationship management (CRM) and salesforce automation (SFA) software solutions with a set of third-party applications and business services focused on financial advisors who want to better serve their customers. It includes a set of standard features and functions upon which business partners and corporate customers can add their own components and capabilities.
The new wealth management service leverages Salesforce.com’s application dashboard and partner relationships to create a new financial services portal which will compete with Bloomberg, the dominate player in the sector.
Bloomberg has built a virtual monopoly with its information service terminals which have become a pivotal part of the day-to-day lives of money managers who depend on an integrated view of realtime information to make their investment decisions and effectively advise their clients.
As with any monopolist, Bloomberg users have a love/hate relationship with the information services company. They’ve grown dependent on the convenience of Bloomberg’s platform, but frustrated by its costs and limitations. The cost factor has also confined its market penetration to only the largest financial service companies, which can afford the hefty fees for its services. While Bloomberg has grown rich serving a quarter of a million users, it has left another 3.8 million financial advisors without a comparable information and client management source, according to statistics provided by Salesforce.com during its new launch briefing in NYC.
Salesforce.com is stealing a page from its past by focusing on the masses of unserved financial advisors with its new on-demand wealth management services. This is the same strategy Salesforce.com adopted with its original on-demand CRM and SFA solutions that were aimed at salespeople who were either unable to take advantage of enterprise applications from Siebel, SAP and others, or unhappy with the clumsiness and costs associated with these traditional on-premise applications.
Not only is Salesforce.com’s new wealth management service retailing at a fraction of the cost of a Bloomberg subscription, it will also provide users with an important new level of value—integrated CRM, SFA and other business applications. While the Bloomberg service provides users with plenty of information, it doesn’t come with built-in integration to important account management and business process-oriented functionality. This is where the new Salesforce.com wealth management service will shine.
It is also the reason why I think Salesforce.com poses more of a threat to Bloomberg than other industry observers may recognize. Although the obvious target for the new service of small to mid-size firms is beyond the reach of Bloomberg’s service, Salesforce.com’s Chairman and CEO, Mark Benioff, didn’t shy away from attacking the shortcomings of Bloomberg’s solutions in larger financial service companies during his introductory comments at the NYC unveiling. As he’s done with Siebel, SAP, Microsoft and Oracle, Benioff cast Bloomberg as a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness.
To reinforce this point, Salesforce.com also announced during the launch event that it had recently won its largest contract to date, expanding a pilot program within Merrill Lynch from 4,000 to 25,000 employees. In addition to Salesforce.com’s growing base of large-scale enterprises, THINKstrategies’ research has found significant adoption of a broadening range of on-demand solutions within this market segment. This is another reason why Salesforce.com’s new wealth management service also boasts Dow Jones, Thomson Financial, Cisco, Dell and ten other charter partners.
Salesforce.com is promising that the new service is just the start of a stream of similar industry-specific solutions aimed at the Financial Services market, including Banking, Capital Markets, Insurance and Mortgage editions.
The company is also planning to attack other industries, according to my sources, starting with the Media industry.
While Salesforce.com continues to push the envelope and set a pace which no other SaaS vendor has been able to match, it is also making sure that no one takes the company’s accomplishments and capabilities for granted. At yesterday’s briefing, Benioff dedicated a major portion of his presentation to highlight the tremendous investment his company has made in building its service delivery infrastructure and business process management capabilities. His comments were intended to encourage more companies to leverage Salesforce.com’s platform and take advantage of its best practices, and also discourage potential competitors from trying to replicate Salesforce.com’s success.
At the moment, it will be hard for another emerging or established software vendor to challenge Salesforce.com’s stature in the industry. However, the company’s latest initiative reminds me of the frenetic expansion efforts which led to Novell’s collapse in the 1990s. Just like Salesforce.com, Novell was the gold standard for the rapidly growing networking market at that time and decided to use its wealth and power to expand into desktop applications and other areas which pitted the company against a wider array of major competitors. As a result, the company lost site of its core competency and lost control of its primary networking business to Microsoft and Cisco. Novell is still trying to recover from this strategic error.
Unlike Novell, Salesforce.com is not moving far from its core business. Instead, it is smartly leveraging its core competencies and partners to repackage their combined capabilities into a new set of on-demand services. As a result, Salesforce.com is in a good position to capitalize on the immediate vertical market opportunity and broader industry-oriented strategy.