In an effort to provide better education to mutual fund executives and expand its presence globally, the National Investment Company Service Association [NICSA] launched a new Web site based on a book by author and fund operations specialist, Lee Gremillion.

The site amounts to a 14-chapter online seminar based on Gremillion's book "A Purely American Invention--The U.S. Open-End Mutual Fund Industry." The book was published by NICSA earlier this year.

The goal is to help fund companies educate staff so workers can broaden their expertise and move more rapidly into more-senior positions, said Jim Walsh, VP of business development at tech consulting firm Acadient. Acadient partnered with NICSA for the project and developed the site's technology as well as its graphic interface.

Breaking Down the Silos

"This solves the problem of the silo mentality that a lot of fund companies have," Walsh said, referring to the practice of training staff for one discipline, which makes it difficult for them to work in other areas. "There wasn't any training out there for people."

The project also plays into NICSA's aspirations to expand globally, serving for example, the burgeoning offshore fund markets of Dublin and Luxembourg, said the association's new president, Barbara Weidlich. Walsh said Gremillion's book has been popular overseas and the new Web site will make it easier for offshore fund executives to access the material.

In addition, with the industry pushing its representatives to do a better job of educating clients, the material on the Web site could make financial planners, brokers and others more likely to reach that goal, said Kathleen O'Halloran, NICSA's director of education, a newly created post at the organization.

Web-based Means No Travel

The launch of the Web site could be well-timed. NICSA and Acadient had planned to introduce the site at NICSA's East Coast regional meeting on Sept. 13. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted the organization to reschedule the event for Oct. 24, and the site was officially launched at the rescheduled event. Now, with companies still rethinking when and how often their executives travel, the resource may prove more attractive than sending executives to live educational seminars.

"Times do change," Weidlich said. "Eventually, it is more convenient to do it from home."

Companies must pay NICSA to access the tool. Firms can buy each of the site's 14 courses individually, paying $120 for NICSA members or one $150 for non-members. In addition, firms can purchase access to all 14 courses at once for $1,200 for NICSA members and $1,500 for non-members. NICSA splits the proceeds with Acadient.

Slow Initial Sales

So far, two companies have paid to beta-test the site, Walsh said. More deals are in the works. Acadient has been in contact with roughly 100 companies, he said. Many are calling Acadient with unsolicited requests to use the tool.

The coursework, which amounts to more than 23 hours of study, closely follows Gremillion's book with the exception that the Web site uses an auto-industry theme that, promoters say, makes the material easier to understand. In each section, users read material, view animation and click to hear audio content. Each course is followed by a quiz.

For example, the most elementary of the work compares the fund industry to the Ford auto company of the early 20th century. Whereas Ford made the automobile accessible to the average family, mutual funds did the same for the average investor, the tutorial says. The text is accompanied by an animation file illustrating how automated manufacturing practices brought cars to the masses.

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