While Fidelity Investments realigns the system it uses to sell mutual funds through banks, brokers, and insurance companies, its rivals are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I think Fidelity has the vision right, but I think they might be two or three years early," said Michael Vessels, national sales manager at Aim Management Group, Houston.
Daniel T. Geraci, the executive vice president who is the architect of the changes at Boston-based Fidelity, disagrees.
"We want to make sure we're out front," he said. "You evolve or you die- Darwin was right."
Fidelity announced this month that it is assembling a team of high-level executives who will deal at the corporate level with financial services clients that are an amalgam of banks, brokerages, and insurers.
Fidelity's old system of sales executives targeting banks, brokerages, and insurers separately will remain in place in case the merged companies they deal with do not centralize operations.
"We are now set to mirror the evolution of any client," Mr. Geraci said.
Fidelity's move was prompted by a wave of mergers that is creating financial services supermarkets. The biggest recent deal is the one that would join Citicorp and Travelers into a huge entity offering banking, insurance, and investment management.
Other fund companies say their top executives meet formally at least once a year with their counterparts at big distributors.
Jim Ruff, president of OppenheimerFunds' distribution arm, said he did not know that Fidelity's realignment was "any great sea change."
"Our strategy has been to have relationships all the way up the ladder," he said.
But Fidelity's approach is aimed at more frequent summits of top executives, the company says. And Fidelity is the first to formalize such a structure.
"Fidelity is way out in front in terms of a visible organizational move," said Louis Harvey, president of Dalbar, a Boston-based research firm.
Other fund companies may follow Fidelity's lead depending on the results, Mr. Harvey said.
"If through this structure Fidelity becomes a major player in the Citigroup system or some other distributor, you can count on the herd joining them," he said.
The idea for Fidelity's "relationship and market management group" grew out of discussions with its intermediaries, even though many of those companies do not know how they will ultimately be structured.
"They're saying, 'We don't know what we'll look like in three or four years; all we know is we're going to look different,'" Mr. Geraci said.
Mr. Geraci said fund company rivals will probably end up following Fidelity's example, but he questions whether they will be as effective. "The real issue comes down to execution," he said.
Fidelity's bank, broker, and insurer distribution arm has $145 billion of assets under management, nearly a quarter of the company's total assets.