In an effort to cut costs and reach a wider audience, John Hancock Funds of Boston on May 1 held its first webcast, replacing annual road shows it has long held for advisors.

A webcast allows many people to simultaneously participate in forums with both audio and visual components and view presentations. A web browser and a telephone are usually the only tools necessary to participate.

The one-hour Hancock webcast, called the MAYDAY! webcast, was held at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at a special website ( Hancock had constructed expressly for the event, said Liz Kennedy, a Hancock spokesperson. The separate website was developed so that the presentation and expected traffic would not overwhelm Hancock's existing website, she said.

For the webcast on how to navigate volatile markets, Hancock assembled a panel of five investment managers, each of whom discussed recent market conditions and answered about 200 questions submitted via e-mail, said Kennedy. A live PowerPoint presentation was broadcast at the site, along with each speaker's remarks.

The panel, moderated by Keith Hartstein, executive vice president of sales and marketing at John Hancock Funds, was assembled at the in-house TV studio of the John Hancock Life Insurance Company, said Kennedy.

The speakers' presentations lasted 30 minutes. Questioners wanted to know where a Hancock value fund portfolio manager is finding investment opportunities, why high yield bonds tend to move with the equities markets and how funds achieve a five-star rating from Morningstar, said Kennedy.

The webcast was scheduled for May Day because the day could be evocative of two opposite market trends, said Kennedy. If the markets were to continue their declines, May Day - a reference to an aviator's cry for help - would be fitting. If the markets were bouncing back, then the May Day reference would be evocative of a Spring rebirth, she said. The date for the webcast was set last fall.

Hancock executives decided months ago to replace its traditional road show with a webcast, Kennedy said.

For the annual roadshows, Hancock had taken a few portfolio managers to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and a few other major cities to meet with brokers, she said. But the cost of these road shows was growing and because of the limited number of cities visited, many brokers were left out. In addition, scheduling conflicts among the participating portfolio managers became a challenge, she said. The webcast cost about half as much as the roadshow, Kennedy said. The costs for the webcast were in the marketing of it, she said. She declined to disclose actual costs.

In view of the market's volatility and brokers' requests for more information, Hancock re-evaluated its road shows.

"We wanted to think of ways to get information out cost-effectively to brokers and investors in an efficient and valuable way," Kennedy said.

Hancock announced the webcast in a new release and through postcards sent to the brokers who sell Hancock funds. It also ran ads in The Wall Street Journal, Barron's and USA Today announcing the event. The company also ran banner ads on both the Yahoo! Finance, and websites to attract new customers, Kennedy said. A notice was also sent out with Hancock Funds' shareholder account mailings.

While webcasting technology has been available for several years, only a handful of mutual fund companies have used it.

Putnam Investments of Boston has hosted several webcasts over the past few years, mainly for financial advisors who sell Putnam funds, said Matt Keenan, a Putnam spokesperson. But some webcasts Putnam has hosted have been for both advisors and their clients.

Besides through the Internet, access to the Putnam webcasts can be gained at any of 20 national conference centers. Putnam usually assembles speakers in Boston who discuss the economic outlook or special products, said Keenan. Brokers can e-mail questions to be answered during the webcast, and qualify to earn continuing education credits for their attendance.

Putnam's webcast attendance has run between 1,800 and 2,000 people, Keenan said. The webcasets have usually been held during normal business hours, he said.

Putnam's next webcast was scheduled for May 3 for several hours beginning at 8 a.m. A different topic was to be discussed every hour. Topics included the economic outlook as well as growth and value investing.

Fidelity Investments of Boston has been hosting retail investor Internet webcasts since November 1999, and it held three webcasts last year, said Jessica Catino, a Fidelity spokesperson. Any investor can participate in the webcasts, not just Fidelity fund shareholders, she said.

Fidelity's webcast panels usually include two Fidelity portfolio managers and an analyst from Lehman Brothers of New York, Catino said. Participation ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand per webcast, Fidelity said.

Fidelity is planning to begin hosting quarterly webcasts, said Catino. The next one is scheduled for May 22. It will include some Fideltiy portfolio managers and will address investing strategies for volatile markets, she said.

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