With individual investors around the world taking increased responsibility for their own retirement savings, the global mutual fund business is poised to explode, in the view of a company owning two solid names in the American mutual fund market.
"We believe there is a significant revolution going on in retirement and personal savings," said Michael Benson, chief executive officer of Invesco Global, the global arm of Amvescap PLC, parent of the Invesco and AIM Management fund families. The emphasis in retirement savings is shifting in country after country from government and corporate pensions to personal assets, Mr. Benson said. That, he said, has investors thinking more about performance, which will provide an opening around the world for foreign asset managers.
Its experience in the United States, where equity markets are far more developed than even in Western Europe and where the shift to self-directed retirement planning has already fueled tremendous growth in mutual funds, could position Amvescap well to a grab a chunk of the expected growth in the global asset management business, analysts say.
"The leg up that U.S. companies have is, they see what can happen," said Kevin McDevitt, a mutual fund analyst for Morningstar Inc.
Although based in London, Amvescap is largely an American company, with 90% of its assets under management owned by American investors. The holding company was formed in March 1997 when Invesco, which makes its U.S. headquarters in Denver, acquired the fast-growing Houston-based AIM Management. The acquisition created the 12th-largest fund company in the United States.
The view shared by Amvescap executives and analysts that foreign markets offer handsome growth opportunities, especially for American asset managers, underlies the company's pending $1.3 billion acquisition of GT Global, the asset management division of Liechtenstein Global Trust.
The deal, which is expected to be completed in late May, will add $55 billion of assets under management to $192 billion managed by Amvescap units at the end of 1997. More significantly, it will expand and deepen Amvescap's presence outside of the United States. Even with 64% of its assets under management owned by U.S. investors, the addition of GT Global will boost Amvescap non-U.S. business to 14% of the total.
Invesco Global, which handles both retail and institutional marketing outside of the United States, has offices in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, Argentina and Bermuda, and also markets funds in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. GT Global covers asimilar swath of the world and also will bring Invesco to Germany, where it manages $5 billion, for the first time.
Amvescap will realize some cost savings from the GT Global acquisition, Mr. Benson said, by combining offices in places like Tokyo and Hong Kong and by merging some funds. That does not mean, however, that Amvescap will move quickly to fold all the funds it acquires into its own, he said.
"We recognize that in many parts of the world, the GT name is a good name," Mr. Benson said. The bigger benefit, he said, will be increased clout in countries where it will gain greater scale.
"By putting the two businesses together, we will become of one the larger foreign-owned investment management companies in Japan," he said.
The prospect of wooing away even a small portion of the more than $5 trillion in Japanese deposit accounts that pay less than 0.5% annually has Mr. Benson salivating. Domestic stock brokers dominate investment sales in Japan, but cracks in the facade are opening. "With Big Bang occurring, we are looking at all other distribution channels open to us," he said.
The acquisition will vault Amvescap from the 14th-largest non-Asian asset manager in Asia outside of Japan to fifth-largest, he said, giving it greater access to institutional customers and raising its profile with brokers who handle most retail sales.
The company's biggest challenge in the United Kingdom and Continental Europe, where its global business is strongest today, will be breaking the hold of bank-owned funds, said Diana Mackey, managing director for Lipper Analytical Services International in London. European banks have most of their customers' investment business and are not eager to distribute independent funds, she said.
At the same time, Ms. Mackey said companies like Amvescap and Fidelity Management are leading change in Europe by building investor awareness of performance, something that bank funds have not had to emphasize.
Importantly, banks are known for fixed-income products, said Bruce Brewington, an analyst in San Francisco with the brokerage firm Putnam, Lovell, deGuardiola & Thornton. Banks will not automatically retain their traditional market leadership as investor interest in equities grows, he said.
For now, most fund sales in Europe, Japan and other Asian markets are through intermediaries, such as banks, brokers and financial planners. In the long run, analysts say, Amvescap's experience, particularly through Invesco, in selling directly to individual investors will prove valuable around the world.
Direct sales will eventually gain favor, said Ms. Mackey. "When it takes off, it will move very, very quickly. But what we don't know is when it will start to take off."
Until then, Mr. Benson said he is trying to lay the groundwork for direct sales by brand development.
"Where we ultimately want to end up is having name recognition around the world so that people see an advertisement and ring up," Mr. Benson said from London, "You could say Fidelity has achieved that and you might even say that Templeton has achieved that. I wouldn't say Invesco's there yet."
Establishing an identity that spurs sales is a slow process, said Ms. Mackey, noting that the Invesco name is no better known to typical European investors than perhaps Italy's leading bond firm is known in the United States. She praised Amvescap and its Invesco Global unit, however, for its approach. More than some American companies, she said, Invesco has staffed its offices with local people. "You have to have a local presence. You have to spend a lot of time talking with the players," she said. "It's a very long-term strategy, but ultimately the most likely to be successful."
It's also a costly strategy. Mr. Brewington, the Putnam, Lovell analyst, wrote last summer that Invesco Global contributes 25% of total revenue to Amvescap but only 7% of operating profit.
Mr. Benson chalked up the unit's poor performance to the cost of establishing beachheads in new countries, but acknowledged that he needs to show a better return on those investments before too long.
He declined to give a specific timetable for closing the gap in profitability between the American businesses and the global business, but said the GT Global acquisition would move it along more quickly.