Bank One Corp.'s alliance with Fidelity Investments to offer a new 401(k) product has expanded both the Chicago banking company's product line and the mutual fund giant's bank distribution reach.
The product, bearing the lengthy moniker Pathways to Retirement with Bank One and Fidelity Investments, is a 401(k) plan sold exclusively through Bank One's institutional investment sales force to businesses with $1 million to $5 million of revenues. The alliance was announced April 12, the same day the product was launched.
Plan sponsors and participants can select investment options from Bank One's One Group mutual funds, Fidelity's Advisor Funds, and other third-party fund families.
"Our goal is to create a whole bigger than the sum of its parts," said Bill Thompson, senior vice president of marketing at Fidelity. "Bank One is skilled in creating relationships, and Fidelity brings products and administrative abilities."
The Boston fund company had been in talks with Bank One for about a year to create the product, he said.
Fidelity, which manages $195.9 billion of assets, began a similar 401(k) alliance with Harris Bankcorp, a unit of Bank of Montreal, in March. The Harris Insight Retirement Connection, which is intended for the same market, is a 401(k) exclusively for Harris customers, who can choose from among the Advisor Funds, Harris Insight Funds, and other third-party mutual funds.
The Fidelity brand name is an important marketing tool because customers and plan sponsors want local and personal relationship management but also want the Fidelity name and products, Mr. Thompson said.
Julie Caruthers, a spokeswoman for Bank One, said it allied itself with Fidelity for those reasons. "Our strategy was to concentrate on what we do best -- education, investment management, and marketing -- and partner with someone to provide the back-office expertise and fund management choices."
Bank One, which has $265 billion of assets, analyzed three investment firms -- Fidelity, Scudder Kemper, and Invesco -- before selecting Fidelity, she said.
Though both Bank One and Harris are based in Chicago, Mr. Thompson said he is unconcerned by the fact that two competitors would be using Fidelity. Both Harris and Bank One have national penetration, he said, and neither would limit its marketing to the Chicago area.
Ann Mahrdt, a consultant at Spectrem Group in New York, said the future of the 401(k) marketplace lies in such bank-fund company partnerships for creating the right product mix. Banks initially were hesitant to ally themselves with fund companies because they feared it would hurt their proprietary product sales, she said, but now such alliances are commonplace.
"The reality in the marketplace is that 401(k)s are created with an open architecture, offering many funds in many ways," Ms. Mahrdt said. "Linking with a brand name can only benefit you when you walk in the door to see your client. Banks have distribution and relationships, while fund companies offer back-office services and brand recognition. It makes for an easy sale, and it makes sense."
Mr. Thompson said Fidelity is continuing to explore partnerships and alliances with banking companies but none is imminent.
"We are always looking, but we can only analyze these partnerships on a case-by-case basis," he said. "But we are looking to extend our reach a bit."