As the mutual fund industry increases its focus on meeting a variety of investors' needs, load firms are facing the challenge of how to offer the convenience of direct online sales without threatening the relationships they have with intermediaries, according to fund executives and analysts.

It is generally assumed that direct sales channels like the Internet pose a threat to financial intermediaries, said Steve Cummings, director of research for Financial Research Corporation of Boston. Most load funds are hesitant to offer a no-load fund or share class because they do not want to make any move that would be perceived by intermediaries as a threat to their role, Cummings said.

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