Fidelity Investments is moving swiftly to take advantage of Japan's deregulation of financial services.
With Japan just weeks away from giving banks the green light to sell mutual funds to Japanese investors, the Boston fund company unveiled plans on Tuesday to distribute its funds through 23 Japanese banks.
Fidelity's plan will put its mutual funds in 1,000 Japanese bank branches by Dec. 1, when the country's so-called "big bang" occurs. Banks on the list include: Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., Sumitomo Bank Ltd., and Mitsui Trust and Banking Co. Ltd.
Fidelity will initially sell eight funds through the Japanese bank channel, and there are plans to add three more to the roster soon.
"Our goal is to dominate the bank market in Japan," said Roger T. Servison, a Fidelity managing director and executive vice president.
Mr. Servison said Fidelity can harness the bank channel successfully in Japan by heeding lessons learned while dealing with banks in the United States, where it sells funds through 400 banks.
In the United States, banks struggled with the desire to limit sales to their proprietary funds, he said. However, by complementing their own funds with "brand-name" portfolios they attracted more customers, he added.
So in dealing with Japanese banks, Fidelity is "preaching the importance of open architecture" as well as education and marketing, he said.
"We're recommending to the (Japanese) banks that they don't just sell Fidelity funds," he said. But Fidelity will spend "millions" advertising the availability of its funds, he said.
Fidelity does have competitors in Japan. Among them: Goldman, Sachs & Co., Massachusetts Financial Services, and J.P. Morgan & Co. Morgan recently announced a joint venture with Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Ltd. to distribute mutual funds in Japan.
But not everyone setting up shop in Japan has found it easy.
Merrill Lynch & Co. has said that its efforts to break into the Japanese retail brokerage arena have been costlier than it anticipated.
Merrill hired thousands of former Yamaichi Securities employees after that firm folded earlier this year.
Mr. Servison concedes that Japan's economy is not the most robust right now. But Fidelity has had a presence there for nearly 30 years, he said.
The company manages Japanese pension assets, sells through Japanese brokers, and just this year began directly marketing to retail customers.
Fidelity now manages nearly $4 billion of Japanese assets, which Mr. Servison said is up from $2 billion last December. He is also president of Fidelity Brokerage Services in Japan.
Mr. Servison said, "We've tried to select banks that we think are going to be strong and survivors."