FleetBoston Financial Corp. is now providing its defined-contribution clients the type of investment and asset allocation advice that until now it gave only to administrators of large pension funds and defined-benefit plans.
The service was added this week and is delivered online through Financial Engines Inc., whose Financial Engines Investment Advisor uses proprietary asset allocation models to determine if customers of Fleet Retirement Plan Services are investing wisely.
The Palo Alto, Calif., company's simulation engine can generate thousands of scenarios that weigh variables such as inflation, interest rates, and market returns to gauge a portfolio's potential. It calculates how much money a client is likely to have in five years and by retirement, then recommends products in its database of 4,000 mutual funds and 7,000 stocks.
Another feature is an e-mail alert program telling customers when the outlook for their portfolio is turning "sunny" or "cloudy" and how they might improve matters.
Peter Hill, senior vice president with Fleet Retirement Plan Services, said this sort of service adds value to any Fleet 401(k) retirement plan. Jeffrey Maggioncalda, president and chief executive officer of Financial Engines, said most banks have been slow to provide financial advice online because of liability concerns; his company avoids liability by being licensed as a registered investment adviser and by charging a blanket fee, he said.
Analysts said that services like Financial Engines Investment Advisor will become crucial to banks in client retention.
Laurie L. Cochran, a senior consultant with Spectrem Group in New York, said a survey by her company indicated that in the next three years $2 trillion of individual investment funds will be up for grabs. Banks, she said, must provide a full range of guidance services to hold on to these assets.
"The No. 1 reason to keep your money somewhere is that you have an existing relationship there," Ms. Cochran said. "With the frequency of job-changing in our economy and the coming wave of retirements among baby boomers, it is critical for banks that want to retain their assets to provide advice."