There's no question about it. Here in the U.S., fund complexes are increasingly turning to intermediaries such as broker/dealers and financial planners to sell their products. U.S. funds might see a model for such growth in the U.K., where the intermediary channel, made up mostly of independent financial advisers, is known as IFAs.

The different regulatory scheme in the U.K. makes direct comparisons complex, but the U.K. offers some important lessons. While intermediaries in the U.S. saw their market share wane in the late 1980's as technology increasingly empowered the individual investor to manage his own portfolio, IFAs on the other side of the Atlantic enjoyed a hey-day. Legislation that was passed as the decade came to a close created a clear distinction between intermediaries, who can sell any U.K. fund from any company, and "tied agents," who work for one complex and can only sell that company's product.

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