When Fidelity Investments reported day-old prices for its mutual funds on June 17, bankers heard barely a peep from customers. But the episode served as a strong reminder that slipups in fund pricing can cause major headaches, bankers say.
One of the attractions of mutual funds is that customers can follow the prices of their investments in the daily newspaper. But when fund companies report the prices incorrectly, as Fidelity did earlier this month, one worry is that customer confidence in the funds could be undermined.
Fidelity's mishandling of the situation could hurt sales, even though "they are kind of downplaying it," said Robert Shurman, senior vice president in charge of mutual funds at Shawmut Investment Advisors in Boston.
Unintentional Errors Rising
As it happens, Mr. Shurman noted, most of the funds Fidelity sells through banks are part of a special family known as the Advisor Funds. Those funds weren't affected by the mispricing, possibly sparing banks the backlash, he said.
Though deliberate errors like those admitted to by Fidelity are rare, unintentional errors and the use of estimated prices are becoming more commonplace as the fund industry expands.
The mutual fund business "is the World's largest growth industry. There are bound to be some growing pains to go with it," said William M. Ennis, director of mutual funds at First Union Corp., Charlotte, N.C.
More than 4,000 mutual funds report prices to the National AssoCiation of Securities Dealers each day, and the association in turn reports the prices to newspapers. The explosive growth of the fund business and the profusion of product offerings has caused a bottleneck when reporting time rolls around at the end of each day.
Customer Could 'Get Nasty'
Bankers say that more mistakes are bound to happen. One big worry is that bank customers who rely on published information when buying or selling fund shares could blame their bankers When pricing mistakes come to light.
"When you think about the ripple effect, there could be major problems," said Kathleen Bradshaw, sales manager at Indiana Federal Bank, Valparaiso, Ind.
If a disgruntled customer wanted to "get nasty," he could say he was entitled to the price reported in the newspaper, one bank executive said.
Fidelity argues that no one was hurt by its pricing errors because customers never know at the time they buy or sell shares what the actual trading price is. The price isn't pinned down until the fund is valued at the end of the business day.
"It was a one-day event," a Fidelity spokeswoman said, and the company is taking steps to "make sure this does not happen again."
Fidelity said it would consider "on a case-by-case basis" making amends for "CUstomers who believe they may have suffered a loss," a company spokeswoman said.