Retirement calculators used to be all the rage on mutual fund websites. But, compared to the type of features that are popping up on fund sites these days, those retirement calculators are practically passe.
"We're really going into a new phase where mutual funds have to provide more detailed information that is frequently updated," said Steven K. Miyao, senior vice chief executive officer of kasina, an electronic commerce consultant in New York.
This is because investors have ever higher expectations when they visit websites, Miyao said. Many financial websites are becoming highly sophisticated in how they present information, and the fund industry has to adapt to this change, he said.
One of the more established fund companies that is unusually sophisticated is the Montgomery Funds of San Francisco, said Miyao.
The Montgomery Funds has created funds that were designed especially for the Internet and to accommodate shareholder interaction, similar to funds previously created by MetaMarkets.com of San Francisco and StockJungle.com of Los Angeles which show portfolio holdings more frequently than semi-annually, as is required by the SEC.
"That really is where I think the fund websites are going to be moving to," Miyao said.
The new Montgomery products are called "Stock Solutions" and the first fund in the series is the Montgomery U.S. Select 20 Portfolio, which has $3.07 million in assets under management. The Stock Solutions website was started on April 11.
Shareholders can log onto to the website to view the fund's holdings, as well as detailed information about those stocks and why the portfolio manager bought or sold them. Changes to the portfolio holdings are posted two weeks after they are made.
SmartMoney.com, another website that Miyao believes is outstanding for its interactive content, provides the Montgomery Funds with the software to run Stock Solutions.
This type of content will be so important that fund companies will have to move to develop it internally so that they are not offering the same content or calculators that other funds are offering on their websites, Miyao said. SmartMoney.com hired a video game programmer to help develop innovative, interactive content, and mutual fund companies could do the same for their sites, Miyao said.
"Most of the websites today are too complex," Miyao said. They have too much information and have too much text, including PDF files, and too many big articles that explain the fundamentals of mutual funds, he said. Investors need to interact more with the website, he said.
Funds that enable investors to open accounts online are also growing. Invesco Funds Group of Denver is no longer the only fund that allows investors to purchase fund shares online without having to mail in an application with their signatures. The Quant Funds of Lincoln, Mass. started offering a similar service May 1.
"We are attempting to create a truly compelling web environment where current and potential shareholders can conduct the majority, if not all, of their business online," said Frederick Marius, president of Quantitative Advisors, advisers to the Quant Funds.
More fund companies will follow with this type of capability and it will soon be nearly standard, Miyao said. Service providers such as DST Systems of Kansas City, Mo. are also creating software to facilitate those services, he said.
But, transactional capabilities are not the most important capability for a fund company, said Miyao. Support of shareholders and intermediaries is also important, he said.
"The transaction piece of that is just a small piece that the website can offer," Miyao said. Other innovative capabilities on mutual funds websites include so-called "shopping carts," like those used by Amazon.com, that allow visitors to order fund materials, such as fund prospectuses and profiles, online. Franklin Templeton Distributors of San Mateo uses this technology. The Strong Funds of Milwaukee, Wis. also enables investors to participate in online chats with portfolio managers.