BankAmerica Corp., in a bold play to capture more assets in long-term mutual funds, has introduced a fund family with a simplified investment approach geared to novices.
The new proprietary fund family, called the Time Horizon Funds, consist of three portfolios designed for investors with financial needs that are 10, 20, and 30 years into the future, respectively.
"The concept makes it easy for an investor," said Debra McGinty-Poteet, BankAmerica's managing director of funds management. "All they have to do is determine when they need the money and we do the rest."
Industry observers applauded BankAmerica's latest effort, noting that the company, along with Wells Fargo, which introduced a similar product 18 months ago, is now in the vanguard of banks searching for ways to simplify mutual fund investment.
"'The market isn't saturated with these types of life-cycle products yet and it's an approach that the first-time buyer would be inclined to try," said Geoffrey Bobroff, a consultant based in East Greenwich, R.I.,
BankAmerica's introduction of a new fund family comes as it searches for ways to increase the assets it derives from more profitable long-term stock and bond mutual funds.
While the $226.5 billion-asset banking company managed more than $11 billion in proprietary fund assets as of June 30, only a tenth of those assets were in stock and bond funds, with the rest in money-market funds. Most of the current long-term proprietary assets are in the bank's more conventional Pacific Horizon family.
By contrast, virtually every other large banking company, including Wells Fargo & Co., Mellon Bank Corp., and NationsBank Corp., has a bigger percentage of mutual funds in long-term portfolios, which generate greater management fees than money-market funds.
The launch of the new fund group comes a year and half after San Francisco competitor Wells Fargo introduced its "lifecycle" fund family. So far, Wells' LifePath funds have amassed $600 million in assets, a level of success that hasn't gone unnoticed by Ms. McGinty-Poteet and other fund watchers.
But Ms. McGinty-Poteet pointed out in a telephone interview that the Time Horizon Funds draw their inspiration from a variety of other successful nonbank lifestyle funds and from the comments of focus group participants.
"Our focus group research told us that there is a huge segment of the population - particularly females - that aren't plugged in," she said.
Ms. McGinty-Poteet said BankAmerica plans to launch the new fund family in coming days with a print-ad campaign in national and San Francisco-area consumer publications.
The funds will be sold through the bank's toll-free investment line, branch brokers, and by direct mail. Ms. McGinty-Poteet believes the new fund family can generate $200 million in assets by the end of 1996.
Investors can buy either class A shares, which carry a 4.5% front-end load, or class B shares, which carry a 5% deferred sales charge.
In addition, total fund operating expenses are estimated to be 1% for Class A shares and 1.75% for Class B shares.
Investors can open a Time Horizon account with only $500 and make subsequent purchases for as little $50 at any time.
The investment strategy for the funds: The longer the investment horizon, the greater the weighting in stocks versus bonds. The investment mix will be adjusted over time to reflect where each fund is in its life cycle.
During the early years, for example, the Time Horizon portfolios will be managed relatively aggressively in order to grow the funds.
But as the funds approach their time horizon target dates, the management objectives will change gradually to more conservative investments to help preserve capital.
With most traditional stock and bond funds, the investment objective remains the same over time.
The funds are sponsored and distributed by Concord Financial Group.