While recent stock market volatility has unnerved many mutual fund investors, it has also shaken up the marketing departments of fund companies. Last year investors may have only worried about the risk of not being fully invested, but now there is concern about performance risk. Marketing departments are combating investor jitters with a re-dedication to consumer education.
Much of that education is taking place in cyberspace. For example, a teaser on the first screen of www.kemper.com reads, "How can you cope with today's volatile markets? See our complete report." The report includes articles on, "The Long-Term Thinking Behind Every Kemper Fund," "How To React To Market Volatility" and "How To Make The Market Ups And Downs Work For You."
The site also offers visitors economic outlooks by Dr. Robert J. Froehlich, chief investment strategist of Scudder Kemper Investments Mutual Fund Group.
David M. Swanson, Scudder Kemper's director of marketing considers the firm's on-line area as its chief publication.
"Our department recently made a major change -- we stopped thinking about making things in print first. Today, all our information is first published electronically. Only after something appears on-line do we consider committing it to paper. It may seem simplistic, but this is a very big change for us," he said.
Because people expect the most current information online, Swanson's department has had to reorient its thinking.
"When you build a Web site or develop a multi-media tool, that's only the starting point. It takes a real commitment to keep it current. When it comes to the Web, whatever site people first begin using becomes their resource of choice. We hope that by updating our site frequently, we'll become that first choice for people,"Swanson said.
Swanson updates the site as little as once a week or as frequently as several times a week. He says the necessity of getting information out quickly has been a shock to the firm's compliance department.
"The first few times we did this, the compliance people said to us, I'll review it this time, but it is Friday at 4:00.' And our response was, This is a new world. I'm sorry the market went down today, but if we aren't going to respond to it immediately, then what we have to offer is of no value,'" he said.
The commitment to the on-line world has also meant organizational changes. In addition to hiring dedicated content management staff for the electronic area, Swanson has moved print publications people into the electronic area.
"Any money we invest here will serve us well. Two years from now I'd love to say that we have nothing in print and ask customers to print off our web site. On the Web, there are no boundaries in terms of the information we are able to offer. In print, for example, we might have room to list only a fund's top 15 holdings. We're not bound by that on the Web. You can have your dream house," he said.
Not everyone is focusing on the Internet as a means to calm investors' nerves, however.
Tom Miltenberger, general partner of Edward Jones of St. Louis, Mo., says his firm ran a number of broadcasts on market conditions to offices around the country via satellite television.
Miltenberger will also soon be using a brochure published by the Forum for Investor Advice called, "Bear Essentials: What to do during market declines."
The brochure counsels investors not to panic but to take stock of their goals and to focus on the long-term.
Miltenberger says in times of turbulence, the tone when addressing market declines is important. He likes the relaxed approach in the Forum's brochure.
"The Forum's pieces are always well thought out and in tune with what people are thinking. For long-term investors, this is not the end of the world, it's really an opportunity. If you act like it's the end of the world, people start to look up in the sky," he said.