When its mutual fund customers balk, Chase Manhattan Corp. listens.
The New York banking company last week scuttled plans to increase the purchase fees for its proprietary Vista Funds, after customers blasted the move.
Chase wanted to raise the front-end load -- a fee paid at the time of a mutual fund purchase -- to 5.75% of the amount invested, from 4.75% at present.
The rate hike would have affected Vista stock and bond funds bought after Jan. 1, adding $100 to every $10,000 purchase.
With the increase, Vista would be above the average charged by all load funds, but in line with the loads of some other well-known fund companies, such as Putnam Investments and Oppenheimer Management Corp., according to Morningstar, a mutual fund research firm in Chicago.
The Vista Funds have been a hit with, investors, growing to $6.4 billion of assets as of Sept. 30, up from $4.4 billion a year earlier. Executives at Chase said they expected little, if any, opposition to the rate hike when it was decided this fall.
But "reaction was quick and swift," said James Detmer, national sales manager for Vista Capital Management, the Chase unit that manages Vista funds.
"It became very clear to us the market would not tolerate increased loads," Mr. Detmer said.
The banking company heard from existing fund customers who were notified of the change in quarterly statements.
Chase also received calls from the outside brokerage firms that sell Vista funds across the U.S.
And the bank's own mutual fund "wholesalers" -- sales representatives who promote the funds to Chase's brokerage sales force -- voiced disapproval, fearing their brokerage clients would abandon them.
"If the brokers didn't like it, you can be sure our wholesalers wouldn't either," said Steven Samson, Vista Capital Management's director of product management.
Mr. Samson said Chase was especially surprised by opposilion from brokers, who would receive the increased fees as higher commissions.
The brokers recognized that customers would not pay higher loads, especially when low-load and no-load offerings are receiving so much attention, industry experts said.
"I'm surprised in this environment that Chase would go in the opposite direction," said Michael VanDam, a manager at Morningstar, a Chicago-based fund research company.
Chase is one of a handful of banks that, besides selling its funds through its own branches, offers the products through outside brokerages like Smith Barney and Royal Alliance.
In Chase's case, the outside avenues account for more than half of the Vista Funds' retail sales, Mr. Detmer said.
Whitfield C. Wannamaker, a senior vice president at Great Western Financial Corp., said mutual fund customers are not inclined to accept higher sales charges.
Like Chase, the Chatsworth, Calif., thrift is pushing its proprietary mutual funds through unaffiliated brokerage firms. Most of its Sierra Trust Funds carry a 4.5% load.
The financial institution has no plans to change the charges, said Mr. Wannamaker, who oversees the effort to find new sales outlets. Anything higher "would make it harder to attract money into the funds," he said.