Invesco Funds Group is bulking up the unit that markets its no-load mutual funds through brokerages, registered investment advisers, and banks.

The move underscores the growth of "nontraditional direct" sales, including those made through flat-fee investment accounts. Nontraditional direct sales take place when no-load funds - which usually are sold without a middleman - are sold through financial advisers.

The Denver-based mutual fund company, which has relied on telephone sales, has hired four wholesalers in recent months, doubling the size of the team that targets the intermediary market.

Those wholesalers report to Ray Cunningham, Invesco's national sales manager, who joined the company March 20. Mr. Cunningham had been national sales manager at GT Global, whose parent was bought last year by Amvescap PLC, the company that owns Invesco and AIM Management Group.

Invesco hired four wholesalers to market through the intermediary channel in 1997 but had not made the effort a priority, Mr. Cunningham said.

"We have not created an environment to help advisers at the level we should," he said.

The company plans to add four more wholesalers as soon as possible, Mr. Cunningham said. Eventually it will have a total of 30 employees, including internal support staff members, to go after the advice-based market.

Invesco's push into the nontraditional direct market comes as the growth of the direct sales business has reached a plateau.

"The market is maturing and becoming more competitive in the traditional arena," said Dennis Gallant, a consultant with Cerulli Associates of Boston. "The financial adviser wrap is where the growth of no-load funds is."

Mutual fund wrap accounts-in which investors pay a flat fee rather than up-front commissions-attracted $20 billion in sales last year, up 15% from 1997, according to Strategic Insight, a New York research firm.

Industry observers say wrap accounts may bring in one-quarter of all mutual fund sales within five years.

Invesco's wholesalers will market the company's funds to wire houses, regional brokerages, financial planning firms, and banks to be included in products such as 401(k) accounts and wrap accounts.

Mr. Cunningham would not disclose sales figures for his group but said sales for the first four months of the year were twice the year-earlier figure.

Invesco's new wholesalers are Jim Sandidge, who was with GT Global; Corey McClintock from Nicholas Applegate Capital Management; Tony Rogers from Global Asset Management; and Campbell Judge from Equitable Distributors Inc.

Invesco has $26 billion of assets under management. London-based Amvescap manages $280 billion of assets.

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