MFS Investment Management was founded in 1924 and is one of the oldest asset management companies in the world, operating roughly 60 mutual funds. The firm is credited with establishing the first U.S."open-end" investment fund, the Massachusetts Investor Trust, in 1924.

Last month, MFS unveiled a new branding campaign to emphasize its international initiatives to its increasingly diverse client base.

Money Management Executive recently spoke to Jim Jessee, president at MFS Fund Distributors, Inc., the distribution arm of the firm's U.S. fund business, and co-Head, Global Distribution, about the firm's "Building Better Insights" branding initiative and other trends he sees within and outside of the firm.

So you've been with the firm since 1987, starting out as a wholesaler and having worked your way up to our current position. What changes have you seen in your 25 years at the firm?

What hasn't changed in that period of time is the organization that I joined at that point had a very strong culture, which promoted teamwork and collective success. We tend to think about organic growth and we feel that we're in an incredibly strong position right now, and in spite of the industry's challenges, we can grow organically.

I sit on our executive committee and we don't go into a meeting thinking of buying whatever property is up for sale. We talk about how we manage money and do we have the investment platform set up the way we want? We also talk about how we're servicing existing clients.

What has changed is the makeup of our clients, the fact that 40% of clients today are outside the U.S. and nearly half of them institutional investors.

Did you use an outside vendor for the new campaign and what type of feedback have you gotten from the market so far?

We sent out an initial communication to over 100,000 advisors in an email with an attachment explaining the new MFS and we had open rates of over 25%, which is very high with any type of mass communications. It's gotten their attention and people's individual tastes vary. We did use an outside consultant who helped us develop the position and that was Lippincott. In terms of the timing, we really feel that MFS has changed significantly as an organization over the last 10 years. Ten years ago, we were primarily a U.S. mutual fund organization. But what we saw was a tremendous amount of growth outside of the U.S. and in our institutional business. Part of the rebranding was to position MFS much more globally.

It just happens to coincide with us moving our corporate headquarters here in Boston at 500 Boylston St. to 111 Huntington Avenue. We're also opening international offices in Hong Kong and Sao Paulo. We already have offices in London, Tokyo, Singapore and Mexico City.

What's your approach to the Asian and Latin American market?

So our approach in Asia is really focused on the institutional opportunities around global equities, emerging market debt and we've even seen interest in our blended capabilities where we've taken the intersection of our quantitative and fundamental analysts and seen quite a bit of interest from our institutional purchasers. In the case of Latin America, we have actually been selling our products since the late 1980's. We've had a sales office there since 1988-89 so our presence there is more retail in nature.

What does your sales team look like today and where do you see growth opportunities for MFS going forward?

On the external sales efforts in the U.S., we have a team that covers defined contribution investment only and Registered Investment Advisors. In the aggregate those groups look about 90. Our internal sales force has approximately 60 people.

We are actively hiring on the internal sales force side. We'd like to get that ratio closer to 1:1. On the external side, we'll continue to look where we have opportunities but we will not be doing any massive wholesaler hiring campaign.

We have had a very strong growth in the [defined contribution] business. In recent months, we've hired two external people. We believe that the DC business will represent for the next 20-30 years one of the best growth opportunities for any mutual fund organization. We have our funds on virtually all of the major recordkeeping platforms so we can reach out to the advisor community. We've recently introduced share classes that respond to the fee disclosure issues at the Department of Labor with zero revenue sharing built into them. We also have collective investment trusts so we have the range of products relevant to the DC space.

We find today that the bulk of assets end up with core asset categories. We do have a nice business in the target-date and target-risk line-up. We are looking at making some product enhancements to our target-date lineup to make sure they stay very competitive and relevant.


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