The new president of Forward Management LLC in San Francisco says he will strive to take advantage of a recent acquisition to begin distributing Forward's mutual funds and separately managed accounts through banks.
Newly acquired Accessor Capital Management LP, which distributes through the trust departments of community and regional banks, gives him an opening, said Jeffrey Cusack, who joined Forward a little over a month ago. "Accessor has had terrific relationships with their banks over the years," he said, "and the banks want more."
J. Alan Reid Jr., Forward's CEO, said the company also wants to distribute Accessor funds through registered investment advisers and big brokerages, which have been Forward's main distribution partners. "Accessor has got great products that have never seen distribution outside of banks," he said.
However, the wire house world has changed drastically since Mr. Cusack joined Forward, as Lehman Brothers failed, Bank of America Corp. bought Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., and the remaining Wall Street firms face uncertainty. Forward has "established relationships with virtually all the wire houses," said Mr. Cusack, adding that he does not worry that his company will be hurt by the turmoil.
"I think we will have clients who are going to be a little distracted for a while," he said. "But we have, for example, strong relationships with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, and those are unlikely to change."
In the next year or two, combined companies will merge investment platforms, he said, and this is likely to involve staff consolidation. But when all is said and done, Mr. Cusack predicted, roughly the same number of advisers will be selling Forward's products.
Still, to gain ground on its rivals, Forward has its work cut out for it, says Burton Greenwald, a mutual fund consultant in Philadelphia. It lacks name recognition and needs a "breakthrough fund in terms of performance," he said.
"They are still a marginal group, fighting to get shelf space at the big distributors," he said. "This is a tough environment for the big boys, and far more so for small players."
Turmoil in the stock market has hurt the Forwad and Accessor's fund families, which Forward began integrating on Sept. 1. In October 2007, the net assets in Forward's open-ended funds were $2.46 billion, but by August, they were down to $1.9 billion, according to Morningstar Inc. Net assets in Accessor's open-ended funds, meanwhile, fell from $1.95 billion in August 2007 to $1.63 billion last month, Morningstar said.
Performance is part of the reason. From January through August, Forward's funds were down 12.9% overall and Accessor's, 10.9%. To be fair, few mutual fund families distinguished themselves during the period, as the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 11.4%.
The companies have 33 funds, including Accessor's six lifestyle funds and its recently introduced Strategic Alternatives Fund.
Mr. Cusack will focus on bringing Forward's managed accounts to banks, Mr. Reid said. It has $800 million in such accounts.
Mr. Cusack was an executive vice president of sales and marketing for JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s private-client services unit. Before that, he was a senior vice president and head of managed accounts at Charles Schwab & Co. Inc.
Mr. Reid, who was Forward's president and CEO, relinquished the former title to Mr. Cusack. He is focusing on the strategic direction of Forward and ReFlow Management, which provides liquidity services to fund companies.
Forward has used acquisitions to help build its roster of mutual funds. Last June it agreed to buy the San Francisco retail division of Berkeley Capital Management LLC, which brought it the investment portfolios and managers of the company's Global Dividend, International Dividend, U.S. Dividend, and SmallMidCore portfolios.
In 2005, it made a deal to acquire three mutual funds from Emerald Advisers Inc.