In an effort to improve online interaction with consumers, the website of Pioneer Investment Management of Boston is offering "Financial CyberGuides" which, much like real advisors, listen and respond to investors' questions.

But, these intermediaries are computer-generated facsimiles of the real thing. And although the cartoon-like figures speak and answer questions about basic investment topics, they pose no competitive threat to Pioneer's existing intermediary channels because the computer-generated reps will always steer potential investors to an intermediary, according to the company.

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