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With a new wealth management edition and a 25,000-seat deal at Merrill Lynch, is committing to one of CRM's biggest verticals. yesterday embarked on a major push toward the financial services industry, signing up 25,000 subscribers at Merrill Lynch and releasing a new wealth management edition.

Speaking to press, analysts and customers in New York, Marc Benioff, the San Francisco-based company's CEO, laid out the strategy bluntly as prepares to take on Bloomberg, which provides real-time news, market data and analysis to financial advisors.

"We think it's an industry ripe for change," Benioff said, pointing to what he called the museum of financial services in the corner -- an abacus, an adding machine and a Bloomberg workstation. "We're evolving to focus on the financial services industry." calls the new edition "the next-generation desktop" for financial advisors. Its CRM technology is combined with mashups from management and financial services partners and offers client tracking information, team calendaring, client action plans and household management tools to understand the household profile of clients in a single view.

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The service is a direct shot at Bloomberg, which charges $1,500 per month for a terminal and data services. Wealth Management costs $500 per month.

The Wealth Management edition becomes's first industry-specific application. To date, the company had let customers and partners on its AppExchange, an online repository of on-demand applications, create customizations for their specific industries. Software as a Service (SaaS) competitors were quick to add industry-specific modules. Salesnet, which has since been acquired by RightNow, introduced vertical editions in 2004 for telecomm, commercial lending and advertising/media sales. Shortly thereafter, Siebel Systems introduced vertical on-demand editions for insurance, high tech, automobile, communications and media.

Financial services has been an early adopter and big spender when it comes to CRM technology. has obviously seen some opportunity there, releasing a tool from Okere as part of its Winter '07 release last month. Okere created a financial markets information tool for based on's relationship with Thomson Financial.

Merrill Lynch selected the Wealth Management edition as the standard for its financial advisors after running a one-year pilot with 5,000 subscribers. It is expanding that number to 25,000 users, becoming's largest customer. also announced another major deployment yesterday, signing up 4,000 subscribers at CA, which had already purchased CRM software from SAP, Benioff was happy to note.

Benioff couldn't help but tweak another competitor yesterday. has purchased Siebel's former headquarters and is currently leasing office space to independent software vendors (ISVs) building applications on the AppExchange.

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