Seeking to leverage its relationships with affluent consumers, Fidelity Investments is actively pursuing one-on-one contact with select customers.
Through personalized letters, the mutual fund giant is urging investors who live near a Fidelity "investor center" to schedule meetings with financial representatives. Such "portfolio reviews" are meant to help investors allocate their assets and set investment goals - and to help Fidelity sell more products.
The tactic is a departure for Fidelity, which has long taken a somewhat passive approach to client contact. Historically, the mutual fund giant has reached out to investors only after they have asked for brochures and sales information via the telephone or walked in to an investor center.
"Previously, they reacted to you," said Les Dinkin, managing principal of NBW Consulting Group, Westport, Conn. "Now, they are proactively making contact in a systematic and disciplined way."
Referred to as an "outreach" program within Fidelity, the letter campaign is a nationwide effort, designed to reach clients that live near one of the fund company's 82 investor centers in 30 states, a Fidelity customer service representative said. Fidelity's Boston headquarters is generating the list of recipients, culling from the company's data base customers within a defined set of demographics, the representative added.
The program is just the latest example of how the mutual fund industry is responding to consumers' growing demands for personalized service and financial advice. Just this week, discount brokerage king Charles Schwab & Co. announced plans to offer semicustomized mutual fund portfolios geared to fit several investment profiles.
"There is a sense in the marketplace that the baby-boom generation will do the legwork, but they still want a sense of touch," said Geoff Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in Providence, R.I.
That message is not lost on bankers, who are trying to attract to their brokerage and private banking units the same well-to-do consumers targeted by Fidelity and Schwab. Fidelity investor centers, for instance, are typically in the same big cities and affluent suburbs covered by banks.
"We should all be encouraged to come up with a proactive way to talk to our customers," said J. Peter Benzie Jr., president of Chase Manhattan Investment Services. "You're going to see more proactive mining of customers to increase assets at Schwab and Fidelity.
"It's intelligent marketing," he added.
But consultants say that some banks could not mimic Fidelity's program if they tried. For one thing, Mr. Bobroff said, the banking industry has not shown the same willingness to experiment with data base marketing that the mutual fund industry has.
For another, many banks have yet to embrace a sales culture that would enable them to seal a transaction once they contacted a customer.
"It's difficult for many people in banks to ask for more business," Mr. Dinkin said. "At Fidelity, they will ask for the order."
The Fidelity program, however, is not without its potential pitfalls. Unlike brokerage firms that employ armies of representatives, Fidelity is not staffed to hold its clients' hands. If too many customers try to schedule a portfolio review, some Fidelity investor centers could find themselves in a bind.
"It's not a bad idea,' Mr. Bobroff said of the program. "But it's very people intensive."