Last year, Dave Nadig proposed what turned out to be a radical idea during a meeting of the Investment Company Institute's SEC rules committee.
He told the room full of executives from major fund companies that the industry should adopt a best-practices policy of disclosing mutual fund portfolio holdings more than the twice a year the Securities and Exchange Commission currently requires.
For Nadig, the executive vice president and co-founder of MetaMarkets.com of San Francisco, the suggestion was a simple matter of consumer awareness. He said shareholders have a right to know at any given time in what securities their money is being invested.
But the idea was not well received at the ICI, he said. Executives protested and contended such disclosures would put them at a strategic disadvantage.
"I walked out and my suit promptly fell apart," Nadig said, jokingly implying that the executives had ripped his ideas, and him, to pieces.
Now, with data from a survey his company commissioned and released last week, he has evidence that the idea has the support of financial advisors across the country, Nadig said. Someday shareholders will get a statement each month that outlines exactly which securities portfolio managers have invested in, he said.
The study, conducted by Harris Interactive of Rochester, N.Y., shows that a majority of financial advisors want fund companies to disclose their portfolio holdings more frequently and to include more detailed data in those reports than they currently do.
Sixty-seven percent of the advisors said they could provide their clients with better advice if mutual fund companies disclosed their holdings more than twice a year, according to the survey, which queried 538 fee-based financial advisors between March and May. Forty-five percent of the survey's respondents said that monthly releases of portfolio holdings would ensure a sound balance between a shareholder's right to know what he is investing in and a fund company's desire for privacy.
The numbers have Nadig crowing. The study shows the folly of the ICI group's contention that there was no demand for more frequent portfolio disclosure, he said.
The two MetaMarkets.com mutual funds provide portfolio data instantaneously via the Internet, said Nadig. The problem of insufficient information is exacerbated by the 60-days fund companies can wait before releasing their holdings for the past six months. Many fund companies do disclose their holdings more frequently than the SEC requires, but those firms are in the minority, he said.
Portfolio disclosure has been a prickly issue, especially among large fund companies that say telling where and when they invest will cause other smaller investors to "run in front of them," Nadig said.
But he said it is easy to spot a fund company's movements in the market anyway. For example, when a large fund liquidates a vast stake in a given stock, the stock price drops and investors naturally take note, he said.
And more frequent disclosures would give individual investors important advantages, he said. For example, a fund with a large stake in Microsoft would not suit the diversification needs of a Microsoft employee with generous stock options, he said. But if a fund company does not tell that investor that it has invested in Microsoft until six months after the fact, Nadig questioned how the investor is going to make that decision.
"I think the real reason there's such opposition to this is that it adds a layer of accountability that some fund companies are not willing to stomach," Nadig said. "You open yourself to constant scrutiny. People can see what you're actually doing with your money. That's like being a chef in an open kitchen. It puts the pressure on. It also makes you a better chef."
But, disclosing portfolio holdings more often than the SEC requirement would expose the firm's proprietary research to the marketplace, which would be a disadvantage to shareholders, said Vincent Loporchio, a spokesperson for Fidelity Investments of Boston.