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Supermarket Web Sites Aren't Enough

Fund marketers who believe promoting their companies on the Web sites of major supermarkets such as Charles Schwab and Fidelity is all the Web presence they need are gravely mistaken, according to a Web industry executive.

Even after aligning themselves with supermarkets, companies must unilaterally maintain a strong Web presence to service current investors and educate potential clients, said Stephen Miyao, CEO of Web consultant kasina, which mainly serves mutual fund companies.

"Most of the firms who distribute primarily through Schwab think they don't need a Web presence, which is really a misconception," said Miyao, who spoke about the issue at an Institute for International Research conference on mutual fund supermarkets in Boston late last month.

Supermarket sites, such as the one hosted by Fidelity, typically only include a fund's name and basic data, he said. The Schwab site includes some additional information, under a heading called "Direct Detail," but the information is limited compared to what a company can offer on its own site.

"Most consumers will come from [supermarket] sites," he said, "but many of them are going to want to find out more about the fund company, so the primary reason to have a Web site if you distribute through these platforms is to build brand and prove that you are a trustworthy company that can provide value to your investors."

To achieve those goals, Miyao has a list of essentials that must be included on any fund company site. The basics include company history, information about portfolio managers, such as their bios and track records, and contact information like phone numbers and e-mails.

E-mail has long been cited as an effective way to manage customer requests and distribute information, but Miyao said most firms need to learn how to use it better. Most fund companies respond to e-mail requests within 22 to 73 hours. "That's just way too long," he said.

In addition, companies need to update their sites more frequently with news about how market developments are affecting their products, important internal developments and portfolio manager commentary.