Coming soon to a bank branch near you: three of the country's best- known no-load mutual funds.
Craig D. Cloyed, vice president and chief marketing officer for Berger Associates, Denver, is targeting institutional sales - including the bank channel - to increase the assets of the $3 billion-asset fund family.
Few no-load funds have penetrated traditional retail bank brokerages, because it's difficult for them to compete with commission-rich load funds for brokers' attention.
But to move his shares Mr. Cloyed is concentrating on bankers' role as financial intermediaries. He's packaging his no-load funds inside products that generate hefty fees, and he said he expects that to make Berger's sales soar.
"Distribution is king," he said, "and you have to get it however you can."
Berger Associates has built up its three funds - Berger 100, Berger 101, and Berger Small Company Growth - through aggressive advertising and direct sales.
And thanks to several years of superb performance, Berger has the kind of brand recognition that any mutual fund executive would envy.
Last year, a survey conducted by Nationwide Surveys, Miami, found that 29% of more than 1,300 people who had bought mutual funds in the previous 12 months recognized the Berger name. That put it ahead of such well-known no-load competitors as Strong, Stein Roe, and Neuberger & Berman.
Persuading bankers to add Berger funds as options in 401(k) plans is one promising avenue for sales, Mr. Cloyed said. "We hope to parlay our name recognition into a desire on their (bankers) part to include us in 401(k) alliances."
Banks are "finding a need to offer nonbank products" inside their 401(k) plans, said Geoffrey Bobroff, a consultant based in East Greenwich, R.I. "Banks have come to conclusion they can't offer only proprietary funds. Employers and employees, to a lesser extent, are demanding choice."
Mr. Cloyed is also preparing to include Berger funds inside a variable- annuities wrapper underwritten by American Skandia, Shelton, Conn. "It's a quick and easy way to get into the (banking) business," he explained.
He is also eyeing bank-managed mutual fund wrap accounts, asset allocation programs that typically generate annual fees to bankers in excess of 1% of assets. "If banks are doing a wrap account on a proprietary basis, we want to be a part of it," he said.
To reach bankers, Mr. Cloyed is hiring four institutional salespeople, or "wholesalers," and training two people to support institutional sales by telephone. These are new approaches for the no-load company, he said.
Mr. Cloyed concedes Berger will never match the sales resources of established load-fund competitors. But he hopes to make the most of his lean sales force by hitting trade meetings and bank seminars for brokers.