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Fund Forward

Fund Investors, You Say You Want a Revolution?

Whether it's protection of their own investments or a sense of responsibility to the world, there is an intriguing, if not unexpected, movement developing among mutual fund investors.

They're raising their voices and asking fund companies to be heard.

As investment firms have long viewed investors as an apathetic group, more interested in the performance of their holdings than any other issue, investors' sudden interest in how funds run their businesses has got to be taking some industry executives by surprise. Smart fund companies will rise to the occasion and view this as an opportunity to gain their audience's loyalty and trust.

There's been evidence of this growing development just within the last month. By announcing it will review conflicts of interest and egregious and hidden fees in 401(k) plans, the Department of Labor is raising investors' awareness of how much they pay fund companies-and how much that can deplete their welfare in their senior years. The DOL said it will work with the Securities and Exchange Commission to figure out a way to better disclose fees and pressure plan sponsors to keep them low.

Then, a labor activist group called CtW Investment Group, the investment arm of the Change to Win federation of labor unions, sent letters to 14 of the nation's largest fund companies, taking them to task for supporting excessive executive pay through their proxies.

On the socially responsible side of the coin, last week, the Save Darfur Coalition launched a national television and print advertising blitz against Fidelity Investments and Berkshire Hathaway. The coalition wants them to divest holdings in companies in Sudan that, it claims, support a government guilty of genocide in the Darfur region. Fidelity's response? It will curtail its investments only if the federal government sanctions it to do so.

Co-Op America, a not-for-profit advocacy group whose slogan is "economic action for a just planet," is urging mutual funds to vote in favor of anti-global warming proxy resolutions. The organization has sent out 10,000 e-mails and letters to the nation's 100 largest mutual fund companies, asking them to "rethink your strategy on climate change issues and take seriously the impact that global warming will have on your funds."

These campaigns aren't quite the mark of a revolution, but they are signs of a more astute and demanding investing public.

(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

http://www.mmexecutive.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

Recent Posts

Mutual Funds Must Go High-Tech-v. 3.0

Over the last number of years, mutual fund transfer agencies and shareholder communications companies have tried to convince shareholders to accept paperless summary prospectuses, proxies, trade confirmations and electronically stamped signatures. Fund supermarkets and web home pages have broadened their horizons to include market commentary, videostreaming and personal financial news. At the same time, exchange-traded funds, funds-of-funds, hedge FoFs, unified managed accounts, target dates, 401(k) auto enrollment and heightened awareness among people throughout the country of the difficulties of being retired-have taken off.

Test of the Massey Mine

Fund giant boards of directors at AllianceBernstein, American Funds, Fidelity, Vanguard and others are reportedly starting to bring about meaningful change in the corporations in which they are invested. Proof should come any day now, when the shareholder proxy votes from the annual meetings are released. Fund chief executive officers spoke about the power and influence their proxies wield in an interesting Reuters article last week, "Mutual Funds Seek to Shed 'Rubber Stamp' Tag."

Milestones

In 2011, 401(k) plans will turn 30, but the milestones the mutual fund industry has reached in this time are but a nanosecond in the history of U.S. retirement policy. Executives we interviewed for this special edition of Money Management Executive for the Investment Company Institute's meeting in Washington, speak to important milestones of the recent past and into the future. Look inside for observations and forecasts by Ted Benna, Robert L. Reynolds, Dan Fuss, David C. John, Steven Miyao and others.

At Age 30, It's Time for a Revamping for the 401(k)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 401(k), the revolutionary retirement savings vehicle that has been annihilating pension plans, empowering individuals to take part in the stock market-and, sadly, that left retirees with the misfortune of leaving the workforce in 2000 or 2008 very badly off. The cracks in the system are prompting many asset managers, regulators and retirement experts to take a hard look at 401(k)s and how they can be fixed.

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Lee Barney

Lee Barney served as editor of Money Management Executive from 2002 to 2010. Previously, at United Media’s Wall Street & Technology magazine and Risk/Waters Information Services, she covered financial IT. For TheStreet.com, she wrote the daily “Meet the Street” column covering a broad spectrum of market-moving events. Lee began her career as a reporter in Tokyo with The Japan Times and was executive editor of Spotlight magazine.