A mutual fund family managed by First National Bank of Omaha has turned to a little-known Milwaukee company for key support services.
The First Omaha Funds, with $303 million of assets, recently notified the Securities and Exchange Commission of the plan to bring in a unit of Sunstone Financial Group as administrator and distributor.
Officials at the bank, a unit of $4.5 billion-asset First National of Nebraska Inc., said they expect fund shareholders to approve the contract sometime in the first quarter of 1995. Sunstone would replace Bisys Investment Services Group, an Ohio-based unit of Bisys Group, Little Falls, N.J.
Bisys Investment Services, with 29 bank clients and nearly $20 billion under administration, casts a long shadow in bank mutual fund circles.
Sunstone counts among its clients the Portico Funds, a $2.6 billion-asset mutual fund family managed by a unit of Milwaukee's Firstar Corp. Sunstone's president, Miriam M. Allison, spent 20 years at Firstar before launching the company in 1989.
Last year, Sunstone added Northern Trust Corp.'s Northern Funds to its client list.
First National officials said they chose Sunstone over Bisys because of the smaller company's roots in the banking industry.
"They had a team that was very successful at Firstar and we were impressed with the approach they had," said Robert E. Johnson Jr., the senior vice president who heads First National's trust and investment department.
Bank officials decided to go with Sunstone this spring, after a due diligence review of the bank's partners, Mr. Johnson said.
"It wasn't a case of anything lacking from [Bisys] but just a matter of having a better fit with Sunstone," he said.
That fit included a marketing strategy that would help the bank crack the booming 401(k) market. "Our focus will be on simplified 401(k) plans as a vehicle for our funds," said Mr. Johnson. "It's an important part of our retail strategy."
Bisys helped launch the First Omaha Funds three years ago from money the bank converted from employee benefit plan assets.
The funds were started under a mutual fund complex Bisys already had in place and had dubbed Sessions. The bank retained control of its individual portfolios under the Sessions name but shared the complex with funds from other institutions.
"They wanted to break away from our umbrella," said Mary Anne Houlahan, senior vice president of the fund services division at Bisys. "They wanted to have local board representation and have the fund registered in Nebraska."
Bank officials acknowledged independent control was a top priority, but said Bisys had been considered to remain as distributor.
First National may receive more hands-on service from Sunstone, but one industry analyst says the decision may be a bad move in the rapidly changing business of mutual funds.
"There's quite a bit of software and support that a bank would need and I have a hard time believing that a small company like this can keep up with the technology," said Mark D'Annolfo, senior vice president, Adams, Harkness & Hill, Boston.
Sunstone at a GlanceHeadquarters MilwaukeeFounded 1989Business Administers and distributes mutual fundsBank funds * Anthem Funds * Northern Funds * First Omaha Funds * Portico Funds