After massive preparations, 440 Financial Group has taken over from SEI Corp. as distributor and administrator of Banc One Corp.'s mutual funds.
The switch, which officials at both Banc One and 440 Financial said went off without a hitch, followed a six-week conversion in which the records for 22 mutual funds were electronically transmitted from SEI's computers to 440 Financial's.
In addition, employees at 440 Financial had to learn to communicate with Banc One's investment advisers, traders, and custodian bank on a daily basis. And Banc One's sales materials needed to be reprinted to reflect 440 Financial's role as the organizer and seller of the bank's mutual funds.
"It takes a lot of planning, work, and communications to pull this off," said Marge Harten, vice president in charge of investment accounting at 440 Financial. "You need very committed people on both sides."
For 440 Financial of Worcester, Mass., the conversion, which officially took effect Dec. 1, is a significant one. Banc One is only the second high-profile bank to align itself with the distribution firm, which made a name for itself by helping Fleet Financial Group emerge as a leader in the bank fund business.
Executives at Banc One, an institution known for its retail banking prowess, are hopeful that 440 Financial can help it, too, become a leading fund provider. Indeed, the Columbus-based banking company is working with 440 Financial to revamp the marketing of the One Group, its family of funds, which currently boasts more than $6 billion of assets.
"We're totally redesigning our marketing material and plan to roll out a new look in late April," said Michelle Lenzmeier, the head of Banc One's mutual fund program. "The core of the strategy is needs based. The delivery of the product and the product itself will be focused on the needs of consumers in our markets."
Technically, 440 Financial will perform for Banc One the functions that its bank charter prevents it from doing for itself - organizing and registering mutual funds and offering them for sale to the public. But Ms. Lenzmeier said 440 Financial's role will go further: The company, she said, is Banc One's strategic partner.
For example, 440 Financial is known as a savvy telemarketer - a reputation that stretches beyond the mutual fund business. The company is the servicer behind the flowers-by-phone business that is known as 1-800-Flowers.
In addition to helping out with marketing plans, 440 Financial will handle accounting and some record-keeping duties for Banc One's funds.
So far, Ms. Lenzmeier said, she has been pleased with how 440 Financial has handled the transition.
Possible switchover pitfalls - ranging from an inability to calculate the net asset value of One Group shares tid not being able to get the funds' prices into daily newspaper listings - were avoided, she said.
Ms. Harten would not disclose how many 440 Financial employees are exclusively dedicated to Banc One. But, she said, the company did move several experienced employees over to the Banc One account and hired additional staffers from outside the company.
One reason the move went smoothly, observers said, is because 440 Financial as well as SEI have been involved in such transitions before.
"Conversions are something people can do in their sleep now," said Geoff Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in Denver. "Most organizations have gone through conversions before, so their state of mind and capabilities are better suited to it today."
Problems more typically occur, Mr. Bobroff said, when older, more established
funds switch distributors.
In such cases, it is not uncommon for longtime employees to keep some important information about the funds in their heads, rather than in their computers.
"When you've been in the business 20 or 30 years, there can be a loss of continuity," he said.