Use of automation and big data is the way providers will most successfully pinpoint competitive opportunities, according to attendees at this year's Investment Company Institute conference in Washington.

Forward, a mutual fund provider, is using big data to help streamline the firm's fund line-up after acquisitions. In 2009, Forward bought Kensington Funds and a minority stake in a subadvisor, Broadmark. As of April 2011, Forward offers more than 30 mutual funds across multiple asset classes, with $5.08 billion in assets under management.

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