Mutual Fund Market News was launched at the annual Investment Company Institute General Membership Meeting in May 1993. The publication, which replaced Dalbar's FACS of the Week, was designed to be the mutual fund industry's newsweekly of record.
The publication, which at the time was an oversized, European-style tabloid, had a specific editorial mission and staff. Mutual Fund Market News, then as today, provided senior-level investment company and service provider executives with the news and information they needed to survive and thrive in the industry - even as it began its bull run ascent. New products, new trends, new hires and fires, legal and regulatory affairs, new distribution channels then, as today, were standard fare.
I had the good fortune of serving as editor-in-chief of the publication from 1993, when the staff was just myself and an editorial assistant, to the spring of 1998, when Mutual Fund Market News, along with other publications in Dalbar's stable, was sold to what was then called Securities Data Publishing, a Thomson Financial subsidiary.
Today, Mutual Fund Market News is part of the Thomson Media publishing empire that includes Financial Planning, On Wall Street and sister publication American Banker, which, founded in 1837, is one of the oldest publications in the United States.
Nothing Short of Remarkable
What were the stories of the day while I was at the helm? Well, first and foremost, one cannot deny - having the luxury of looking back from today's perch - how unprecedented a time it was. Asset under management, thousands of new funds, shareholder account growth - all was nothing short of remarkable.
Assets under management for the more than 400 fund complexes in existence during my five-year tenure at the helm of Mutual Fund Market News nearly tripled, rising from $1.6 trillion at the end of 1992 to $4.4 trillion by the end of 1997. At the height of the market, today's $6 trillion industry topped $7 trillion.
The number of shareholder accounts, excluding money market funds, grew from 56 million at year-end 1992 to 134 million at year-end 1997.
What stands out, from where I sit, a decade after Mutual Fund Market News began its journey to become the trade publication of record for the mutual fund industry, are the following themes:
Legal and regulatory issues, especially those concerning the first-ever scandal to affect the mutual fund industry in modern times, stand out in my mind. So does the creation of the Simple and the Roth IRA retirement plans, and the approval by Arthur Levitt and the SEC of the most significant disclosure reforms in the history of mutual funds, including the then much-ballyhooed "plain English" prospectus.
In 1994, in the wake of Invesco firing John Kaweske for personal trading conflicts and abuses, the ICI was forced to develop industry-wide guidelines that would affect the personal investment activities of mutual fund managers. In essence, the then-called Blue Ribbon committee said mutual fund managers had to disclose what they wanted to buy and sell.
Assets, inclusive of employee-sponsored accounts, increased tenfold, from $601 billion at year-end 1992 to $6.2 trillion today.
Branding became a popular term as fund firms attempted to adopt the marketing strategies used in other industries, especially consumer goods. Firms moved away from just promoting performance and mountain charts to dramatic, sophisticated, even humorous print and TV ads. Indeed, Fidelity Investments even produced and aired in 1994 an advertisement vehicle usually reserved for new abdomen exercise devices: the infomercial.
And who could ever forget Fidelity's odd juxtaposition of Peter Lynch and Lily Tomlin, or the insouciant ads of Janus and E*Trade at the height of the boom?
Open architecture, the brainchild of Charles Schwab, drew in millions of investors to the privilege of running their own brokerage portfolios - even introduced them to the thrill of day trading via a Blackberry on the fly.
The 1990s witnessed the rise of the no-transaction fee platform, a platform that enabled individual investors to buy and sell mostly all the mutual funds they wanted from one single source.
Education, a longstanding issue, today is being discussed in the halls of Capitol Hill, the boardrooms of corporations and the dining tables of the American public. Mutual Fund Market News predicted early on that education would become institutionalized. Today, we hear the argument being played out in the debates that Enron has sparked.
The dawn of personal financial advice evolved in spite of the relative growth of the direct-market channel versus the sales-force distributed channel. Yes, the 1990s will be remembered as a time of conflicting trends, but Mutual Fund Market News published, in the fall of 1996, the results of a landmark Dalbar survey that would start to put to rest the long-standing debate over which method of distribution was winning the so-called battle.
The key statistic, which ultimately became institutionalized, was this: nearly nine out of 10 investors with investment portfolios of $100,000 or more wanted personal financial advice.
Today, that early finding is even more noteworthy, given the decline and absence of the individual, do-it-yourself investor in the wake of the Internet bubble and bear market of the past two years and the rise of institutions such as Schwab Institutional.
Mergers and acquisitions, which in the wake of a 1994 Goldman Sachs investment bank report accelerated the number of transactions, including Liberty's purchase of Colonial; AIM and Invesco's marriage; and Dreyfus and Mellon's get-together, to name just a few.
Indeed, the Goldman Sachs' Changing Economics of the Mutual Fund Industry, sometimes referred to as the Hurley Report, set in motion a cascade of domestic and global mergers and acquisitions (not to mention a bevy of investment-banking fees for Goldman). The gist of that report: small fund firms with less than $10 billion in assets will have an increasingly harder time surviving as the cost structure of the industry evolves.
Robert J. Powell III is managing director, Acadient, co-author of Decoding Wall Street (McGraw-Hill), and executive producer of PBS' "More Than Money." He is the founding editor of Mutual Fund Market News.