The Vanguard Group is about to simplify the names of dozens of its funds in what some suggest is the largest single effort to rename funds within the same complex without a merger of fund companies.
Beginning Oct. 27, more than 40 Vanguard funds will change to shorter names which generally reduce technical jargon and more clearly identify investment objectives. In many instances, the word "portfolio" will simply be replaced with the word "fund." In other cases, Vanguard will drop words which seem to convey little information to investors. For example, the "Fixed Income Securities Fund -- Long-Term U.S. Treasury Portfolio" will become the "Long-Term Treasury Fund." The "Specialized Portfolios -- REIT Index Portfolio" will become the "REIT Index Fund."
Charlene Haykel, president of Simplify LLC, a New York company which advises fund companies on how to reduce jargon in prospectuses, said the renamings show a desire to move from "insider language" with which fund officials are comfortable to "outsider language" that is more understandable to prospective investors.
"With everything you do with the investor, you want to signal simplicity," Haykel said. Using names with jargon "immediately sends a signal that this is tough stuff."
Vanguard officials, who last week announced a series of steps to improve the firm's brokerage service, were not available for comment on the planned name changes. The renamings were disclosed in an SEC filing two weeks ago.
Fund companies currently are in the midst of simplifying the language in their prospectuses as a result of an SEC rule change this year. That rule requires funds and other entities who file documents with the SEC to use what is being referred to as plain English. Vanguard, which sells its funds directly to investors, was among the first fund companies to simplify its prospectuses and shareholder mailings.
Haykel and others said that while a fund group periodically will change the name of a single fund, it is unheard of to rename numerous funds at one time. The occasional exception is when two fund companies merge.
Irene Etzkorn, director of the simplified communications group for Siegel & Gale, a New York consulting firm, said that jargon-filled or obscure names pose a particular problem for fund companies which describe several funds in the same prospectus. If the names of individual funds are not distinct, it can make it more difficult for investors to tell one fund from another. Etzkorn said Vanguard probably has "intelligently seized upon an opportunity" to change fund names as the firm revises its prospectuses to meet new SEC rules.
Vanguard identified more than 40 funds whose names would change in the recent SEC filing. In addition to those funds listed, Vanguard said it would make minor changes in other fund names it did not identify. The filing suggested, but did not say explicitly, that the name changes did not reflect altered investment objectives. Vanguard, of Valley Forge, Pa., the nation's second-largest fund company, has approximately $370 billion in assets under management.
Last year, the SEC proposed a new rule which would have required that a fund's name be consistent with at least 80 percent of its investments. The proposal faced industry opposition and has not been acted upon.
The changes in Vanguard's brokerage business, announced last week, included the addition of online trading later this year and the expansion of its mutual fund supermarket, known as FundAccess. FundAccess will offer more than 2,000 no-load funds, up from about 400.