MS, Merrill Lynch, others, create securities firm

Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., Microsoft Corp., Salomon Smith Barney Inc. and Thomson Financial have partnered to create a new company that will offer Internet-based services to the financial industry, the companies said Tuesday.

Called i-Deal LLC, the firm will act as a "vertical service provider" to the securities industry, offering a Web-based platform that will automate some of the processes involved in raising capital, issuing stocks, and other Wall Street activities, the companies said in a statement.

The idea is to merge investment banking with new technologies in a way that will boost the efficiency of an industry in which deals are becoming increasingly global, larger in size and led by multiple partners, the companies said.

Merrill Lynch and Salomon Smith Barney plan to offer the i-Deal system to their clients. The online platform will also be licensed to broker-dealers, and is expected to be broadly available in the first half of 2002. The companies stressed i-Deal's worldwide reach, saying it will support "multidealer, multiproduct, multitranche and multicurrency securities offerings globally."

For Microsoft, which has been working hard to sell its server software into large corporations, the deal offers an opportunity to find a home for its newest products in the finance industry. The i-Deal platform will use the company's .Net enterprise servers, including BizTalk server, its software for integrating business applications.

The i-Deal system will be able to tie in with businesses' existing, proprietary computer systems using XML (extensible markup language) technology, the companies said.

For bankers and investors, the i-Deal platform is designed to let them manage all parts of a deal including monitoring transactions, reviewing prospectuses and conducting online roadshows, the companies said. Pulling together information from numerous sources and offering it on a single platform that can be accessed by all parties should make issuing securities faster and more efficient, the companies said.

As part of the deal, i-Deal will acquire Thomson Financial's New York-based Dalcomp unit, providing it with software used to issue municipal securities as well as relationships with some of the largest investment firms. i-Deal will also offer Thomson's market data. Thomson Financial is a division of The Thomson Corp.

More information about i-Deal is on the Web at http://www.i-deal.com/.

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