NEW YORK - Fund companies interested in tapping into the growth of overseas mutual fund markets should consider foreign supermarkets, said John Payne, a consultant with Cerulli Associates of Boston.

While direct channels are largely undeveloped abroad, the growth of the Internet is speeding up the development of supermarkets, said Payne at a conference on electronic distribution strategies for the fund industry sponsored by the Institute for International Research here last month.

There are approximately 15 million online brokerage accounts abroad and Korea has 1.6 million of them, said Payne, citing an unreleased study on global online brokerages. Germany, Japan and Britain also have a large number of accounts, he said.

Investors in places like Hong Kong, where 70 percent of funds are sold through banks, should be especially open to supermarkets as Internet use and online brokerages proliferate, he said.

Global supermarkets are expected to grow because use of the Internet for online investing overseas is expected to mirror the development of online accounts in the U.S., Payne said. Two million investors conducted transactions online including moving money or redeeming shares last year in the U.S. while one million investors opened accounts online, Payne said.

Transactions for fifty percent of Charles Schwab's accounts, with $725 billion in assets, are conducted online. Fidelity of Boston has about 30 percent of its accounts online, he said.

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