T. Rowe Price, TIAA-CREF, MFS and John Hancock Mutual Funds have won top honors in this year's 9th Annual Fund Operations Awards, this year renamed the NOVAs-as in innovation.

The awards program is produced by Money Management Executive, a SourceMedia publication, in conjunction with co-sponsor NICSA.

This year, there have been a number of improvements to the program-most notably, the new, more memorable name. The awards were renamed the "NOVAs" to recognize the tremendous innovation in fund operations, as asset management companies embrace new technologies and strive to become more effective in serving their clients.

All nominations this year were limited to innovations made by individuals or teams at asset management firms.  Service and technology providers were able to nominate asset managers that effectively used their products, in the course of producing their innovations.

Money Management Executive also expanded the program to include a fourth category, Creativity in Marketing Operations. Fund companies have certainly become more imaginative in recent years in reaching their customers, particularly in their use of social media, microsites, smartphones, iPads and videos.

The four NOVA categories are: Visionary Leadership, Innovation in Customer Experience, Innovation in Back-Office Efficiencies and Creativity in Marketing Operations.

Finally, this year, the sponsors selected only two winners in each of the four categories: Platinum and Gold.

Eight industry executives served as independent judges this year, generously giving of their time to very carefully assess the entries. They are: Neil Bathon, partner and founder of FUSE Research; Anne Collins, president of Bayshore Management Corp.; Peter Delano, research operations director of capital markets, wealth management and insurance at Tower Group; Michael Ellison, president of Corporate Insight; George Gorman, board member of NICSA and independent trustee for the Bank of America Money Market Funds Series Trust and the Ashmore Funds; Kathleen Whalen, principal and managing director of Dalbar; Robert L. Williams, chairman of Hengtian Services and Insigma Hengtian Software; and William Young, former NICSA chairman, member of the NICSA Nominating Committee and a non-voting member of the board.


Visionary Leadership

Wayne O'Melia, president of T. Rowe Price Services, is this year's Visionary Leadership Platinum winner. A 27-year veteran of the asset management industry, Wayne has distinguished himself by expanding T. Rowe Price's direct retail distribution business and introducing its in-house brokerage arm. O'Melia was also involved in the firm's entry into third-party distribution, as well as its global expansion and its support of the 401(k) boom.

Known for his focus on customer service, O'Melia has displayed hands-on leadership by developing programs to increase customer satisfaction and reinforce the importance of each associate's role at T. Rowe Price. For example, O'Melia and his leadership team developed a new business process improvement program that uses the Lean Six Sigma framework. This methodology allows T. Rowe Price to provide tools to identify and implement better ways of servicing clients.

Michael Quain, chief compliance officer, and Victor Simon, director of operations at Artio Global Management are this year's Visionary Leadership Gold winners. Working together for the past seven years, Quain and Simon have created a proactive compliance program that addresses every component of their investment product service line. Quain has distinguished himself by successfully building a compliance team at Artio, while Simon has built strong partnerships with the firm's service providers, continuously monitoring them for efficiences and compliance with regulations.


Innovation in Customer Experience

TIAA-CREF is this year's Innovation in Customer Experience Platinum winner. Since 1999, TIAA-CREF's Tuition Financing Inc. (TFI) unit has been a leading provider of program management services to the 529 plan market.

Most notably, TFI has distinguished itself by providing families with online tools to help them manage their 529 college savings, eliminating paperwork and allowing investors to redeem directly from their 529 plan to the school of choice.

Primerica Shareholder Services is this year's Innovation in Customer Experience Gold winner. In June, Primerica, in partnership with Lockwood Advisors, launched the Primerica Advisors' Freedom Portfolios. These are managed accounts with a minimum investment of $25,000, among the lowest in the industry, aimed at the long underserved middle market. The Freedom Portfolios offer investors a multi-fund platform, asset allocation, portfolio selection, ongoing due diligence and periodic rebalancing by Lockwood.


Innovation in Back-Office Efficiencies

In the Innovation in Back-Office Efficiencies category, the MFS Corporate Actions Team is this year's Platinum winner. The team restructured and streamlined MFS' corporate actions workflow and response process. The system now integrates SWIFT messaging and information into a Web-based portal that allows MFS to easily monitor corporate action events, track all notifications and responses and reduce much of the risk associated with corporate actions processing.

Russell Investments is this year's Innovation in Back-Office Efficiencies Gold winner. The firm developed an automated performance system that manages enterprise data around the world. The "follow-the-sun" system collects data, calculates performance, confirms its accuracy and delivers performance reports and data feeds sequentially from one time zone to another around the world for each location where Russell's funds are domiciled: Seattle, Toronto, London, Sydney and Tokyo.


Creativity in Marketing Operations

Finally, in the Creativity in Marketing Operations category, John Hancock Mutual Funds is the Platinum winner, for its "Who Knew?" marketing and advertising campaign showcasing the performance of its produce line. A multi-media campaign, it included TV ads, social media, direct mail, video, e-mail and website communications. (See related story, "Hancock Extends 'Who Knew' Ad Campaign, page 4.)

Legg Mason is this year's Creativity in Marketing Operations Gold winner, being recognized for delivering performance updates to its salesforce, advisers and clients in a more timely manner-by modifying workflows and better leveraging technology.

The result has greatly improved Legg Mason's image among both advisers and investors.

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