Sign up today and take advantage of member-only content — the kind of timely, cutting edge industry insight that only Money Management Executive can deliver.
  • Exclusive Online Only Content
  • Free Daily Email News Alerts
  • Asset Management Blogs

TECHNOLOGY


Fidelity fund customers will be able to gain access to their accounts and buy and trade fund shares through wireless devices by late summer, making Fidelity the first fund company to both provide fund customers information and enable them to gain access to their accounts over wireless devices, according to Fidelity Investments of Boston.

AIM Advisors of Houston has been allowing customers and non-customers to see its funds' net asset values via Palm Pilots since July 1999. However, because the number of people using its wireless service has been small, AIM has no plans to expand the service to fund access or trading, said an AIM spokesperson.

Fidelity is planning to provide its comprehensive wireless hookup first for 401(k) plan participants by mid-summer and then for all fund shareholders by late summer, said Joseph Ferra, senior vice president of online brokerage business for Fidelity Investments of Boston.

So far, Fidelity has signed 25 licenses with wireless service providers across the country, according to the company. Fidelity is counting heavily on the growing popularity of wireless devices, and hopes to form other partnerships with additional phone companies and personal digital assistant and pager manufacturers, Ferra said.

Fidelity's existing partners have placed the Fidelity logo on the opening screens of numerous wireless devices and have allowed Fidelity to offer non-customers delayed stock quotes and general market information, Ferra said. Fidelity customers using wireless devices can see their accounts and instantaneous quotes and receive alerts on the movement of stocks in their portfolio, Ferra said.

Fidelity believes placing its logo on wireless devices as well as offering financial information and trading will produce the kind of brand awareness that Microsoft and Netscape have enjoyed as the two leading Internet browsers and that Yahoo! and GoTo.com have earned as two of the leading portals on the web, Ferra said.

Fidelity believes wireless devices will diminish the role of personal computers as providing the predominant means of Internet access, Ferra said. As people increasingly turn to wireless devices for voice communication and to get onto the Internet, Fidelity hopes to become the financial "killer app," Ferra said.

"More and more people are going to be using cell phones, as well as an adaptation of the Internet through a micro-browser on a cell phone or a PDA, rather than on a PC," Ferra said. "Some estimates say that wireless phone usage will grow 50 percent over the next three years and, even more impressive, wireless access to the Internet will grow 730 percent.

"We not only view wireless as an opportunity to differentiate ourselves but as a requirement. There is a very relevant need to be in this space."

Stephen Miyao, a senior vice president with kasina LLC of New York, an electronic commerce consulting firm, said offering wireless access to fund customers was a smart move by Fidelity, particularly because so much of Fidelity's business is retail.

However, the number of Fidelity online brokerage customers currently using wireless devices to gain access to their accounts is miniscule, Ferra said. Of Fidelity's 4.4 million online brokerage customers, only 60,000, or 1.3 percent, use wireless devices, he said.

Ferra does not expect wireless access to mutual fund accounts to lead to a significant increase in day trading or redemptions. And, even if it did, the positives would outweigh the negatives, he said.

Fidelity's first wireless service, introduced in October 1998, enabled Fidelity, through proprietary technology, to send alerts or e-mails to customers with online brokerage accounts to any e-mail address, brand of pager or PDA, according to the company.

Fidelity has since extended that one-way, "push" wireless capability to give customers two-way access to their brokerage accounts through 25 wireless licenses that Fidelity has signed or is in the process of negotiating with specific wireless service providers across the country, according to the company. This includes a partnership that Fidelity formed with 3Com Corp. in October 1999 to supply Fidelity online brokerage data on 3Com's wireless Palm VII handheld organizer.