Website content is the biggest challenge mutual fund companies face in making their websites attractive to customers and financial advisors, executives agreed at a technology conference sponsored by The National Investment Company Service Association held here earlier this month.

Fund companies need to offer current and practical tools and information on their websites in order to get their customers to return to the sites, said technology executives from mutual fund and brokerage firms speaking at the conference.

Fund companies can make their funds attractive to planners by engaging through the Internet, said Byron Vielehr, global head of e-business for Merrill Lynch Asset Management Group.

"You don't need to be the highest performing fund," he said.

Fund companies need to understand their audience and offer compelling reasons to return to the site, the executives said.

Companies should focus their energies on providing compelling content on their websites to make them popular, said Thomas O'Shea, vice president of Internet Marketing and Business Development for Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Company. Money managers offering perspectives on market conditions and frequently updated information can keep planners and customers coming back.

The key to success is a good strategy that is understood and supported by the entire organization, the executives said.

"If you don't have a very cohesive strategy that involves all levels of management, you will fail," said Gerald Sullivan, director of e-commerce for John Hancock Funds.

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