Salomon Smith Barney retained the top spot in a ranking of brokerage Web sites from Gomez Inc.

Other firms receiving high marks from the Waltham, Mass.-based Internet research firm included UBS PaineWebber, Merill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Prudential Financial. According to Gomez, changes to the firms’ sites were "few and far between" since the last scorecard was issued in August 2002. As a result overall rankings remained relatively stable.

"Online capabilities haven’t been increased from a tools standpoint," says Dan Burke, vice president of research at Gomez. Despite this, Burke says firms are still committed to the online channel. "They’re making a greater effort to get advisors involved in online experience."

SSB was able to capture top honors for the second consecutive time, with a score of 6.96 out of a possible 10, by making more enhancements to its site than any other firm according to Gomez. In its review of the SSB site, Gomez applauded the firm’s integration of third-party research from Standard & Poor’s. UBS, with a score of 6.36, bumped Merrill Lynch from the second spot, largely due to the site’s ease of use and the introduction of a tool allowing advisors to leave virtual post-it notes for their clients.

In general, firms are striving to improve online interaction between clients and advisors. SSB and UBS have developed tools that let advisors view their clients’ Web environments with one-click from their desktops. Such contact often translates into more business. "If you don’t give investors something to interact with there’s no stimulation," says Burke. A separate study conducted by Gomez in 2002 supports this. According to the study, long-term investors using any sort of screening tools made 4 online trades and 6 offline trades on average per month. Long-term investors who did not use screening tools made only 2 online and 3 offline trades.

Despite the potential power of the Web some advisors don’t feel the impact of their firms efforts. "My older clients aren’t sitting in front of their computers," says one UBS broker. "I haven’t really seen any leads coming from this yet," says another rep. "We’ve got a long way to go," says Burke, "but I’m encouraged by what I see."