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Give Mutual Fund Investors the 'Gold Card' Treatment

Get a little imagination, guys.

It never ceases to surprise me how uninspired most financial services, and in particular, mutual fund, advertisements are. Only two come to mind as standouts: AXA's ads with the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room, representing the big question of how underprepared most people are for retirement, and another, by an investment firm I cannot even remember, in which an older couple resort to comically drastic financial measures, like taking in an unlikely boarder in order to get by.

If mutual fund marketing executives took even one page from credit card companies' sales playbooks-American Express most notably comes to mind-they would come up with a million creative ideas.

Why not play up giving investors exclusive access, for example, to presentations by world-class portfolio managers with the same type of cachet of wielding an Amex Gold Card? Anyone who signs up for an American Express Gold Card gets premium access to extra perks, including a website where they can purchase the best seats to sought-after events like Broadway hits or the U.S. Open, frequently before tickets go on sale to the public.

Fund wholesalers do a good job of selling to brokers and financial advisers by playing up their company's unique attributes and holding special seminars at which they may have access to mutual fund portfolio managers, analysts or economists.

With so many Americans involved and interested in managing their retirement savings these days, they would undoubtedly respond well to that kind of distinguished access. Why not hold headline events in key cities and market them to select groups of investors at low cost through e-mail blitzes?

Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard already have adopted this kind of "special access" approach by offering lower fees to investors with higher balances.

On the other end of the scale, the same kind of mass-market consumerism that works so well with packaged goods, would do well with pitches for mutual funds. Investors would take notice if a fund were available to them at a one-time-only fee discount. Or if, like a closed-end or interval fund, it were only open to new investments for a short period of time.

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