Intek Information, a call center company based in Denver, Colo., is offering a new service that will allow mutual fund companies to hire Intek customer service representatives on an as-needed, shared basis.
Unlike other call centers that charge a set rate for dedicated representatives, Intek's new "Impact" service charges fund companies $12 an hour for an Intek representative's time, with the clock running only when the rep is actually on the phone for a particular company. The program will dedicate teams of 12 to 15 customer service representatives to serve six to eight mutual fund complexes at a time, with a minimum charge of $4,000 a month.
A year ago, Pat O'Neal, managing director of Intek, was intrigued by the idea of a small company being able to shuttle executives and VIP clients around on a private jet through "net jet" cooperative ownership programs. If companies could jointly own fancy jets, O'Neal wondered, why not share core services like call centers?
Intek will train its Impact representatives on-site as well as bring them to each fund complex for additional training. Proprietary computer software Intek has developed, called Telweb, will help the representatives answer questions about specific funds and investment choices.
Impact is specifically aimed at handling initial inquiry calls to mutual fund companies, or what Intek terms inbound marketing calls. These calls are generally simple, straightforward queries for general information, marketing material, prospectuses or applications, O'Neal said.
While these are the easiest types of calls to answer, each Impact team will be limited to working for no more than eight mutual funds, O'Neal said.
"The human mind has certain limitations and can only grasp so much at one time," he said.
The shared time allows Intek to charge as little as $12 an hour for each representatives' time, he said.
"Normally, the pay can be as high as $42 an hour - $90-plus when you take into account real estate, hardware, software, office equipment and management time," O'Neal said.
Impact makes economic sense for companies that receive 1,200 phone calls or less each week, O'Neal said. It could also make sense for a company that is planning an advertising campaign that could lead to a sudden spike in calls, he said.
Intek introduced Impact last month at the Investment Company Institute annual meeting in Washington, D.C. It has signed up one client, Trust Company of the West, based in Los Angeles, and is talking to other potential mutual fund clients, O'Neal said.
TCW signed up with Impact as a pilot customer in March, when it began selling its nine Galileo funds to financial advisors and individual investors, said David Prichard, senior vice president and director of advisor services for the TCW Group. Previously, TCW had only done business with institutions and, with only 650 employees, did not have the manpower to create a call center, Prichard said.
He chose Intek because it is a well-known, large call center company with 1,000 employees and numerous high-profile customers, including Fidelity Investments, American Century, American Express, Morgan Stanley and Prudential Securities, said Prichard.
In addition, Intek has a system for recording information about callers that is compatible with TCW's, Prichard said.
Stephen Beard, president of Stephen Beard & Associates of Belleair Bluffs, Fla., a consultant to call centers, said he had never before heard of a shared call center. The economies of scale make sense, he said. But, he wondered whether Intek's customer service representatives could effectively service six to eight mutual fund complexes.