BOSTON - Accountants and insurance agents have been stereotyped as boring compared to Wall Street's stockbrokers, but their sales potential is nothing to yawn at, according to fund executives who spoke at a conference here last week.
The conference, "Marketing Mutual Funds to Financial Intermediaries," was sponsored by International Business Communications, a conference organizer based in Southborough, Mass.
Accountants represent a huge potential sales force that could be fully developed within three years, says Keith Nixon, senior vice president and national sales director for Federated Investors of Pittsburgh, Pa. Federated is actively seeking accountants now in hopes that they will become a lucrative distribution channel.
"It's going to take time, but I believe this is going to happen, and it's going to happen in a big way," Nixon said.
Federated is using a mix of print advertising and Internet marketing to attract accountants to sell its funds. It is trying to reach accountants in this manner rather than directly contacting individuals because it does not have a database of accountants' names and addresses.
Federated put up a web site expressly for accountants in January (www.cpaadviser.com) where accountants can leave contact information. It has also been running print advertising in accountants' trade publications in an effort to persuade accountants to visit the site for the past six or seven months, Nixon said. The site has been visited by as many as 2,000 accountants each month, he said.
"Right now, this is the best way to address this market," Nixon said.
The channel has enormous potential, Nixon said. There are 330,000 members of the American Institute of Certified Financial Accountants, a trade group for accountants. About 20 percent of those members are expected to get involved in asset management over the next five years, according to Nixon. That represents a distribution channel of 66,000 people, three times the size of the registered investment advisor channel, Nixon said.
While there is considerable potential, at the same time, a lot of business that could come through accountants is being lost because of software advances that make it easy for people to do their own taxes and accounting, said Nixon.
"Technology is taking over their traditional accounting job," Nixon said. "Their income stream is flat to down." So, accountants are looking at money management as a means of supplementing their income.
"It's truly a logical extension of the business that they're in," Nixon said. "Good accounting clients make good asset management clients because they have money."
Nixon predicts that the accountant channel will operate much like the registered investment advisor channel - that is, accountants will work on a fee basis with their clients and buy mutual funds through no-transaction fee fund supermarkets.
Because of this, Nixon suggested that fund companies use their existing registered investment advisor marketing and wholesaling infrastructures to work with the accountant channel.
Ray McCarthy, vice president, national accounts with Delaware Investments of Philadelphia, urged mutual funds to also court the insurance broker/dealer market, but to do so with the understanding that they are a distinct channel.
"Be very conscious of what you call an insurance agent," McCarthy said. "Don't call them brokers. In their mind, they're not a broker. They see that as the transaction jockey up the street."
Sales of mutual funds through insurance broker/dealers selling non-proprietary funds have increased about 20 percent in each of the last two years, McCarthy said.
He recommended that fund companies begin their efforts to sell through insurance agents by focusing on one insurance broker/dealer.