WELLESLEY, Mass. - Gone are the supposed days when wholesalers stood around conference booths all day, cavalierly handing out golf balls, or taking brokers out for cigars and whiskey. To get through the new "Fund Selection Unit" gatekeepers at brokerage firms, today's wholesalers need not just have excellent people skills and be nimble, but be highly knowledgeable about the mutual funds they are selling, retirement planning issues and the economy, as well as be technologically savvy.

"Wholesalers act as the quarterback in the field," said Matthew Witkos, president of Eaton Vance Distributors, at the National Investment Company Service Association's General Membership Meeting here, held last Monday at the Wellesley Country Club. "They have such a huge responsibility. Imagine trying to remember what product you have on what platforms at what time."

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