Barbara Weidlich became the National Investment Company Association's first woman president in July. She succeeded Bob Goldberg, who had served as the organization's president for ten years.
With Weidlich's appointment comes a renewed emphasis on expanding NICSA's presence globally. The organization has been working in some European markets for years, but Weidlich, a German-born fund executive who has vast experience in Europe's fund business, brings new and uniquely qualified emphasis to those efforts.
Although she has lived in the Boston area since the early 1960s, Weidlich has spent much of her career building Europe's fund industry. She most recently served as managing director for BIL Fund Services in Dublin. Before that, she designed the strategy for launching State Street Bank and Trust Company's global offshore funds. She was also managing director of State Street Bank Luxembourg from 1989 to 1992.
Weidlich discussed NICSA's plans with Mutual Fund Market News reporter Tony Lystra.
MFMN: You have said you wanted to see NICSA expand its presence overseas - which has been a goal at NICSA for awhile. How do you plan to make that happen?
Weidlich: People have overlooked how successful NICSA has been overseas. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of a conference by NICSA in Luxembourg. This last conference was right after Sept. 11 so the American presence was diminished. But there were 400 people there. If the Americans had been there, there would have been 500 or 600.
And NICSA and the Dublin Fund Industry Association. have worked together to host a conference. The fifth one is upcoming in June of 2002. We have an effort underway in Tokyo with the Kenzai Institute [a Japanese version of the Investment Company Institute]. That's still in the beginning stages.
So people don't realize how active NICSA has been internationally. And we have some ambitions to go further. We're looking at China and South America. Sometime in the next year we'll announce an alliance with an international group somewhere. That is our ambition.
MFMN: Why is NICSA placing such high importance on the international market?
Weidlich: Our membership has gone overseas increasingly. Some American companies have been acquired by foreign entities. The penetration of the mutual fund industry domestically is certainly very high and therefore international expansion is important.
Our membership wants to be abroad and we want to make it possible for the American companies to interact with their counterparts in the foreign locations they are working in. Those working overseas want to hear America's story.
But you can't just take the American story and supplant it overseas. Everybody has been working and hoping and praying that the retirement market is going to come alive in Europe and Asia, which has been a slower process. But when it opens it's going to do what it did for the U.S.
MFMN: Ideally, what would you like NICSA's role to be in those international regions?
Weidlich: We have certainly in the past been affiliating with the local fund associations and doing joint conferences. We are also seeing that there are conferences that are focused on particular issues that we could frame into courses or something other than conferences. But travel has been curtailed. So now we're looking at Web casting. But Web casting also presents a problem. You can't join Asia in one unless you turn your hours upside down. But I suppose we could catalogue it and people could access it later.
The conferences have always been in English in Luxembourg, but they have been translated into German and French. Now we're seeing more Spanish. I don't know how much of China speaks English. But there are challenges.
MFMN: How is NICSA's membership likely to change in the coming years?
Weidlich: We would certainly like to expand our membership with the firms that are putting together new product structures, such as the venture capital firms, the fund-of-funds firms, the law firms, the financial advisors. We'd like to include the law firms because so much of our business is about regulation and compliance; there's a natural extension there.
Right now our membership is about half the traditional fund firm. The other half is custodian, banks, and transfer agent companies. We believe we can expand this membership by expanding the other groups.
And, of course, our membership is about 10% international and I'd like to take that to 30%. I think that would also enrich the membership. But this is certainly not the first time that NICSA has thought about this. The heart of NICSA is really volunteer work. The execution of the idea is being supported by a very fine staff in the office, and that will allow us to do more.
MFMN: You're the first woman president of an organization that has a reputation for being a good-old-boy network where annual conferences largely involve constant networking on the golf course. Do you think the characterization is true and, if so, should it be changed?
Weidlich: I think that is an old perception. But we do have to take it seriously. This group has had active successful women on the board and committees and I have been active in NICSA for 25 years. I was on the board before. That is a perception that is not entirely accurate. And as you know, women play golf, too. I think we can hold our own just fine. I'm not a revolutionary.
MFMN: How will the fund industry have changed five years from now in terms of distribution, products and general strategy?
Weidlich: Technology will play an increasing role in it. It's definitely going to be much more international. Probably not a whole lot more diverse, when you look at the array of investment products.
But I've said that before. This industry is amazing in doing things creatively. What the industry needs to do is focus on education for the shareholders. Help them understand asset allocation and understand how you can manage risk and come out healthy.
The industry has historically done an unbelievable job of educating the public in shifting it from a saver to an investor. Now investors are ready to learn about those other things.
MFMN: Everybody is talking about the widespread emphasis on load products in the industry to meet investors' demand for advice. For how long and to what extent do you think that emphasis will continue?
Weidlich: I'd like to think forever. There is always another generation coming along. The more educated the shareholder, presumably the richer they will be. Potentially, that's an opportunity to keep the shareholder as a lifetime investor. The companies that hand-held their clients and hand-held them through the crisis [surrounding the attacks of Sept. 11] got a lot of high marks. This industry has done a tremendous amount of training of the personnel. The challenge is to get properly compensated for it.
MFMN: Analysts have been saying, especially after Sept. 11, that fund complexes need to do a better job of communicating with their clients - in both good times and in a crisis. How do you think the industry did in the wake of Sept. 11?
Weidlich: It can always do better, but the industry did a very good job of telling the shareholder, Don't do anything if you don't have to.' And the shareholders listened. There has not been a rush to the exits.
NICSA at a Glance
History: The organization was founded in 1962. Since, it has served as a forum for mutual fund executives looking to improve strategies, including customer service.
Membership: NICSA counts 400 member companies located primarily in the U.S. and in Europe. Firms include, among others, fund companies, custodian banks, transfer agents and investment management firms.
Staff: Scores of volunteers drive NICSA's efforts, but the operations are organized by eight staff members, including president Barbara Weidlich, director of education Kathleen O'Halloran and marketing and communications manager Ellen Weinraub. Other staff positions are responsible for planning and organizing conferences as well as servicing the organization's membership.
Key Conferences: East Coast Regional Meetings in New York, Jan. 24 and March 14; Operations Conference, Feb. 17-20 Miami; Technology Forum 2002, April 17-18, Boston; Can Japan Compete? April 30; Dublin Mutual Fund Conference, June 18-20, Dublin.
Key Products: The NICSA Online Learning Center provides a macro view of the fund industry via Web-based courses. One of the courses is based on a book called A Purely American Invention: The U.S. Open-End Mutual Fund Industry by PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner Lee Gremillion. The text was published by NICSA last year.
Key Partnerships: L'Association Luxembourgeoise des Fonds d'Investissement (ALFI), Dublin Funds Industry Association (DFIA), Kenzai Institute, The Insurance Library Association (ILA), The New England College of Finance (NECF)
Contact: 36 Washington Street, Suite 70
Wellesley Hills, MA 02481.