J.P. Morgan & Co.'s mutual fund group attributes its 72% increase in assets under management last year to ratcheting up its sales and marketing efforts.
Morgan's fund family, which had $20.1 billion under management at yearend, grew at more than twice the rate of bank-affiliated funds as a group, which increased 28.2%. Three-quarters of the surge in assets came from net sales. And the bank bested its previous year's performance, when assets grew at the more typical rate of 30%.
But Morgan did not achieve such results overnight. Over the past two years the bank has created a sales force to reach outside its fold, changed the names of its fund families from "Pierpont" and "JPM" to simply "J.P. Morgan," and dropped the minimum investment for retail investors to $2,500 from $100,000.
Though its private clients invested more in the family, especially after new funds were rolled out, a lot of sales came from investors who are clients of other institutions, said Mary Savino, the vice president in charge of the mutual fund group.
Morgan touts itself as a highbrow investment adviser.
"One hundred fifty years experience in dealing with clients - that's the added value," Ms. Savino said. "We're not just a product provider."
Morgan established its mutual fund family in 1982 but did not begin selling to investors through third parties until the beginning of 1997. The national sales force of 15 representatives who call on institutions including banks is coordinated with a similarly sized team from American Century, the Kansas City, Mo., mutual fund company in which Morgan took a 45% stake last January.
Morgan's smallest distribution channel, selling its funds through broker-dealers, is supplying "good flows," Ms. Savino said.
Absent a star manager, a well-publicized high-performance story, or a big advertising campaign, Morgan's growth spurt is unusual, said Eli Neusner, a senior consultant at San Francisco-based Spectrem Group. "They've done it the hard way," he said.
Ms. Savino credited much of the success to her predecessor, George C.W. Gatch, a managing director who moved to Japan last month to lead investment products sales there. Previously, Ms. Savino was responsible for fund distribution in J.P. Morgan's private-client group.
She also said some assets flowed into six mutual funds launched in 1997 and three started last year, bringing the number of portfolios to 45, with $24 billion of assets managed today.
The breakdown among asset classes in the fund complex is roughly 65% in money markets, 16% in fixed-income and municipal bonds, and 19% in equity.
Three of the new funds use so-called "disciplined equity" strategies that strive to be more discriminating about stock selection than broad index funds. Morgan stresses active management at a time when passively managed index funds are more talked about.
"I have a personal bent on the equity side," Ms. Savino said. "I look at the money going into index funds, and it makes the hair stand on my back because our best-kept secret is our equity strategies."