Mutual fund companies are working to develop more personalized Internet relationships with advisers by targeting relevant information, reducing clutter and personalizing, a new survey shows.

Sixteen of 22 fund firms surveyed by New York City-based research and consulting firm Pyramid reported that they offer some form of personalization on their adviser Web sites or are planning to in the next six months.

The participants included big firms like Fidelity Investments of Boston, AIM of Houston, and smaller ones like Domini Social Investments of New York and Rydex Funds of Rockville, Md.

One important improvement is reducing the amount of information that's irrelevant to a particular adviser. For instance, fund companies are tailoring online information to broker/dealers or to registered investment advisers, rather than lumping all the content together and letting the advisers sift through it.

Fund firms are also customizing content by brokerage firm, for instance, providing information about only the specific funds a particular brokerage firm is allowed to sell. In addition, some are starting to push more services to reps who are big producers. For instance, they are giving them information about new products ahead of the pack.

Success Breeds Success

Finally, fund firms are beginning to provide individual reps with more information on the products that they have a history of selling.

"The industry is making more of an effort to target the appropriate information to financial planners," said Nanette Cuccia, president of Pyramid. "Planners don't have a lot of time to plow through all the content of all the financial services companies whose products they sell, so this is going to save them a lot of time and effort."

Many fund companies are also trying to make their sites more useful and manageable because advisers are not using them enough, according to Cuccia.

If Marilyn Steinmetz is any guide, fund firms have their work cut out for them. The CFP with Money Matters, in West Hartford, Conn., said that getting passwords and locating information on fund company Web sites is such a hassle that she uses the phone, instead.

"It takes so much less time to call and have them fax a form," she said, adding that fund firms provide little training on how to use their sites.

An exception to that is SEI Investments of Oaks, Pa., because of its history as a tech firm, said Percy Ermon Bolton, a CFP in Pasadena, Calif.


SEI's training includes weekly Webcasts, which Bolton and his staff use. "Most of the mutual funds have pretty' Web sites," he said, "but you have to train yourself and your staff."

Bolton also gives SEI high marks for providing marketing materials online that are pre-approved for compliance. They can be private-labeled and sent along to clients.

Other firms' sites are improving, Bolton continued. But Fidelity's site, for instance, is "still mind-boggling to me," he said.

The Pyramid study also showed that the Internet is being used to deepen wholesalers' relationships with their customers. Some fund companies now give their wholesalers a homepage for which the wholesaler chooses the content, and then makes available to his advisers.

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