Three years ago, Eaton Vance Corp. thought it had a great idea to get more banks to market the bond fund portfolios it manages.
The Boston-based municipal bond fund company became the first to begin offering a "hub and spoke" fund structure. Under this arrangement, Eaton Vance would act as a "hub" portfolio manager, generating fees from bank fund families - the "spokes" - which would market the pooled assets under their own names.
But so far, not a single bank has signed up with Eaton Vance, which manages 57 portfolios totaling $14.9 billion of assets.
"I wouldn't say we're going to stop" promoting the program, said Walker Martin, vice president-marketing at Eaton Vance's investment management subsidiary, "but it's harder than we thought to close a deal."
Eaton Vance's struggle doesn't necessarily suggest that the innovative concept is doomed. Indeed, Citicorp, Chase Manhattan Corp., Bankers Trust New York Corp., and J.P. Morgan & Co. have been able to capture assets for their fund programs from smaller banks and brokerage firms using a hub-and- spoke approach.
According to sources, Eaton Vance suffers from the specialized nature of its fund assets. Most of its funds are munis, and banks already manage plenty of those.
"Conceptually, I don't have a problem with hub and spoke, but it has to be a portfolio I'm not going to manage myself or I don't have the capabilities to manage myself," said Christopher Maxwell, an executive vice president who oversees KeyCorp's Victory Funds.
Indeed, hub portfolios have captured $59.4 billion of assets nationwide, about 2% of all mutual fund assets in the country.
About one-third of hub portfolios are managed by bank fund programs, according to Signature Financial Group, a firm that helps companies structure these portfolios.
Eaton Vance's "hub-and-spoke" effort was dubbed Vantage Asset Program, and it had been overseen by William J. Kearns Jr., a vice president who left in November. Mr. Martin has taken over that role. Eaton Vance refused to comment on Mr. Kearns' departure.
Mr. Martin said Eaton Vance isn't throwing in the towel because banks still have not proven they can generate enough assets for their funds on their own.