Dow Jones affiliate unwraps on-line products for feds

In an effort to bring Wall Street to Washington D.C. a New York-based financial publishing database and software consulting firm is targeting the federal market with on-line products and services designed to make the average federal employee a smarter investor.

IDD Enterprises under the majority ownership of Dow Jones & Co. Inc. is marketing Pension Agent an on-line service that provides information on stocks and investment plans. The product will give federal employees options for "moving money around " said Jim McCain a vice president with IDD Digital Alliances. "It gives them another tool to help with the planning for their lives especially with government downsizing and early-outs now playing such a role. There are so many things to consider when you are making a decision like that and so few tools available."

IDD - for Investment Dealers' Digest - opened a Washington office called IDD Digital Alliances in May. That office is chartered to pursue business among federal and state government personnel offices and possibly with associated employee unions looking to provide government personnel with investment data. For federal employees Pension Agent is being tailored to track federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) holdings. But it also provides alternatives for individual investment.

Agencies' Obligation to Help Employees

"There really is an obligation on the part of the agency to help employees understand" investment options said Judy Russell who will soon leave her Government Printing Office post to join IDD Digital Alliances as director of its Government Services Division. "You continually hear in the federal government `Don't rely just on our pension plan as your entire pension. You need other investments.' "

Most agencies have individuals on-hand to provide retirement counseling for which there are automated packages available to project retirement benefits based on government plans. There are some efforts within government personnel offices to make these services more accessible. For instance the Office of Personnel Management according to an agency spokeswoman is considering placing in an employee resource center access to its software package to allow employees to project retirement benefits based on different scenarios. Pension Agent however would go one step further alerting employees to the gamut of pension and stock options available to the public.

Russell described a scenario in which IDD would sell Pension Agent - priced at $20 000 to $30 000 a seat - to a federal personnel office. "Our thought is that it could be an employee benefit service in an agency library which employees could [use] on their lunch hour or it could be linked to seminars" on retirement planning held regularly by federal agencies she said.

Pension Agent was originally developed as a pension-tracking system to be used internally by IDD employees. Because the program was written in Java it was easily adaptable to other markets said John Cook IDD's product manager. "What's great about Java is that it is a network language that can be supported on any platform " Cook said. "As long as you have a standard Web browser there is nothing to install or maintain. You dial in from the outside."

The first release of Pension Agent is scheduled for Oct. 15 and the company plans within a month of that date to revise the software to include TSP-related data Cook said.

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