Backed by cash from a new corporate parent, Delaware Group has embarked on a campaign to beef up its customer service and attract new mutual fund investors.
The struggling fund company, based in Philadelphia, plans to spend more than $10 million this year, and at least as much next year, to improve its computer systems, hire more sales representatives, and launch new products.
The $12 billion-asset fund company's moves are in response to six years of sliding market share at a time of record inflows for the industry. Delaware's well-heeled owner, Lincoln National Corp., an insurance company in Fort Wayne, Ind., bought the firm in April 1995 and now expects to double Delaware's assets by 2000.
"We don't aim to sit it out anymore," said Keith Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of Delaware's distribution unit.
The fund company was previously owned by Castle Harlan Inc., a New York leveraged buyout firm, which spent more paying off Delaware's debt than marketing its mutual funds, observers said. Like many small and midsize fund companies, Delaware needed a parent with deep pockets to fight the fund industry's fierce competitors.
"You've got to have the bucks to play, and Lincoln is a much more aggressive company than Delaware has been," said Louis Harvey, president of the Boston-based research firm Dalbar Financial Services Inc.
Last October, at the request of Lincoln, Delaware executives drew up a blueprint for revamping the company after scrutinizing its customer service systems, ability to penetrate various markets, and product offerings.
Since February, Delaware has added seven portfolios to its menu, and it plans to seek a go-ahead from the Securities and Exchange Commission for more.
The fund company is also redesigning its marketing materials and upgrading its technology to give brokers that sell its funds faster and more detailed access to information on fund portfolios and customer accounts.
Mr. Mitchell said sales through banks will play a significant role in the company's long-term growth strategy. He wants to increase banks' contribution to total sales from 8% to 15%.
To achieve that, Delaware will boost its bank division sales staff from three representatives to six. And the company will enter three new markets: New England, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Among Delaware's current bank clients are Wachovia Corp., CoreStates Financial Corp., and Comerica Inc., Mr. Mitchell said. The company also sells its funds through brokerage firms and financial planners.