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Women Called Key to Japanese Fund Market

BOSTON - The key to tapping into an estimated $10 trillion in retail assets in Japan is through women investors, according to a consultant in marketing in Japan.

Women make the decisions about how the typical Japanese household invests its assets, according to John Kochevar, president of Kochevar Research Consultants of Cambridge, Mass., a consulting firm that has been conducting market and social research in Japan for more than 20 years. When an estimated $10 trillion in certificate-of-deposit-style assets mature in Japan next year, it will be the women in households who decide whether those funds are invested in mutual-fund-style vehicles or some form of bank deposits, Kochevar said.

Women "will be one of the deciding factors in the shift from savings to investing," Kochevar said.

Kochevar made his remarks at a conference on "The Political and Cultural issues Facing the Potential Mutual Fund Big Bang' in Japan," sponsored by The National Investment Company Service Association in Boston earlier this month.

On Dec. 1, 1998, rules went into effect that began to deregulate Japanese financial markets. That regulatory change, frequently referred to as the "Big Bang," has prompted U.S. mutual fund companies to try to enter the Japanese investment trust market. Japanese investment trusts are roughly equivalent to U.S. mutual funds. Japanese investment trusts had approximately $510 billion in assets under management as of Oct. 31, according to Cerulli Associates of Boston, a mutual fund consulting firm.

Money management firms such as Goldman Sachs of New York have had some success targeting their investment trust marketing efforts toward women, executives at the conference said. Overall, however, the potential of the Japanese investment trust market may be illusory for U.S. money management firms, said Kurt Cerulli, founder of Cerulli Associates.

Although the potential for investment trusts seems vast, the Japanese traditionally have had a high degree of aversion to investment risk, Cerulli said. That risk aversion has made it difficult to sell investment trusts to Japanese investors, he said. An additional obstacle to investment trust sales efforts is that the financial services industry does not have a good reputation among the public, Kochevar said.

Although there has been an increase in investment trust sales this year thanks to the performance of the Japanese markets, investment trusts assets will only increase to about four percent of Japanese retail assets by the year 2003, Cerulli said. Investment trust assets account for about two percent of the market based on Bank of Japan estimates, Cerulli said.

Nevertheless, there is an opportunity. An estimated $10 trillion in bank deposits in the form of 10-year certificates of deposit are scheduled to come due next year, executives said.