What can fund companies provide online to help you?

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Oct 11, 2010 6:01 pm

First thing first -- I'm not an analyst or financial advisor.  I'm a technology/strategy consultant who was recently hired by a mutual fund company to help define a new online strategy.  The firm is full of people who have ideas, but I'm looking for feedback from actual Financial Advisors, like yourself.  I've been reading the forums, and there's a lot of great discussion, but I still have a few questions.  Some of these are going to sound naive, and that's fine -- while I know a little, this isn't my industry, and I don't mind hearing the obvious answers (I've heard some nice one's from my own advisor.)  So here goes:

All things being equal, why would you choose one fund provider vs. another?

What are you looking for from mutual fund companies, beyond the funds themselves?

What could a mutual fund company offer you (online) to help you with your business?

What companies are doing a good job with their online offerings?

If you have any other thoughts on what a mutual fund company could do online to make your life/business easier, please do suggest it!

Thanks!

Oct 12, 2010 10:38 am

[quote=visitingtechguy]

First thing first -- I'm not an analyst or financial advisor.  I'm a technology/strategy consultant who was recently hired by a mutual fund company to help define a new online strategy.  The firm is full of people who have ideas, but I'm looking for feedback from actual Financial Advisors, like yourself.  I've been reading the forums, and there's a lot of great discussion, but I still have a few questions.  Some of these are going to sound naive, and that's fine -- while I know a little, this isn't my industry, and I don't mind hearing the obvious answers (I've heard some nice one's from my own advisor.)  So here goes:

All things being equal, why would you choose one fund provider vs. another? -  In no specific order, performance, management, process, cost, service.  There is no such thing as all things being equal in the mutual fund business.  I may not like the service I get from a certain fund family, but if their performance, process, and cost are the best I can find, I'm going to use them.  

What are you looking for from mutual fund companies, beyond the funds themselves? -  Service and consistency.  I want to know that I have a resource to get in touch with if I have a problem or a question.  I want things to be consistent in regard to their performance, management style, processes, and the message they're delivering to my clients.  I can live with a little inconsistency in performance in the short term.   But if suddenly management changes directions for no apparant reason or a fund manager completely changes his process and it has a negative impact on his results, that's when I start looking elsewhere.  There doesn't even really need to be an obvious change.  For instance, Van Kampen was recently bought by Invesco.  There were some obvious changes in fund managers.  There are also some questions about the future of all of the funds.  I can't tell my client that they're going to see Comstock act the same way it has for the last 25 years because the management has changed.   

What could a mutual fund company offer you (online) to help you with your business?  - Most of us have all of the planning tools we're going to use through our own firms.  They're already integrated with the rest of the software we use.  But, in the case of Edward Jones, our planning tools don't have a simple Monte Carlo analysis tool.  I think one of our vendors used to have one online.  It was a hassle to use that and then to use the Jones tools and try to make them work together.  So, I stopped using the vendor tool. 

I use Smartmoney.com's website all the time.  I know I can go there and in 15 seconds have a pretty decent picture of a fund that a client owns or that they ask me about.  It's all info from Lipper.  It's a lot quicker than using the Morningstar platform through Jones.  I know they're not a fund company, but if a fund family had a tool like that, I'd probably be on their site as much as I am Smartmoney. 

What companies are doing a good job with their online offerings? - Hartford and Lord Abbett have access to 401k info.  That can be helpful for someone looking at getting into that business.  And it's free.   Those are the only things I'll go to a specific vendor to use.  I'm sure there are others, but I just don't use anything else.

If you have any other thoughts on what a mutual fund company could do online to make your life/business easier, please do suggest it!

Thanks!

[/quote]

Were you hired by a no load company (Vanguard, Fidelity, T Rowe Price) or a broker sold company (American Funds, Oppenheimer, Franklin Templeton)? 

Oct 12, 2010 12:43 pm

Thank you Spaceman Spiff.  It's a broker sold company.

Your answers match some of what I was expecting -- that you have your own tools and resources already, and you really just need timely, accurate data through your tools (not necessary from a fund companies' website.)  Instead, the fund companies might just focus on transparency -- being very clear about how the fund is managed, where it's investments are, and why.  In other words, clear communication from the fund managers.

Oct 12, 2010 1:44 pm

ishares website. I like their drop down boxes, flow of their site.

Whatever I need, a few clicks away, then I get deep into the holdings.

First Trust also has a nice drop down system to help me find a theme or style box equation/answer.

Fund families have burned their bridges very bad with me. Always the company over shareholders and reps... And ALWAYS trying to hustle their hot fund....

Oct 14, 2010 5:21 pm

If it were me, what I would do is generate a single site that provides everything independent brokers need and have the mutual funds be a secondary site linked directly and easily flowed between.  For example daily I visit sites to get:

1. daily market commentary - unbiased

2. links to important articles that are moving the markets (I get that from blogs, why not a fund company?) and international economies and markets.

3. link some TOTAL market research and expectations.  First Trust does a good job with that in emails.  Daily stock market movers, why things are moving, bond market news, commodity news.  Bloomberg's basic website gives a ton.  Blogs provide a LOT of this info, not sure you couldn't also. 

For the funds themselves:

Let me download copies of all the literature and allow me to customize a small box where I include my name, firm name and address (Franklin allows that on some stuff but I want it on all).  That way I can print or email them to clients for quicker delivery.

There is a company called Forefield Advisor.  I get their service via my clearing firm.  You should mimic some of their products, it would be easy to do. 

GIVE me a generic newsletter I can print off and mail / email to clients.  Basic financial planning / investment management / tax planning ideas.  Not specialized but I can put my name and address on it. 

JMO but a fund website should be DIFFERENT from the rest if it wants to set itself apart.  You want me there 2-3x per day and not just when I'm looking for new ideas. Just as a heads up, I visit Naked Capitalism, Calculated Risk, zero hedge, FT Alphaville and Credit Writedowns daily.  They provide real information and I send some of that stuff to clients via email.  It generates client activity and discussion.

Oct 15, 2010 12:57 pm

Thank you Beagle.  If you happen to check back, do you have a preference on:

 1) Downloading a PDF with blank form fields for you to enter your name, firm name, etc.?

or

 2) Setting these values as part of an online profile so that the PDFs are auto-generated with your information?

Option #2 sounds compelling.  It could save time.  However, it might also mean that the final document isn't editable.