Barclays Global Investors of San Francisco, the defined-benefit-plan unit of Barclays Bank, has traditionally had clients that are industry Goliaths such as General Motors, Boeing, and Sony.
Now it is turning its attention to the Davids.
Barclays has introduced ClientConnect 2000, a Web-based service that lets the company offer defined-benefit plans to companies with as little as $5 million of assets.
Michael E. Fisher, the managing director of ClientConnect, said Barclays will now be able to provide smaller companies with the kinds of pension products and services once reserved for institutional clients.
Barclays has a unique product line, and we dont think it needs to be limited to an elite list of companies, Mr. Fisher said. With ClientConnect, he said, Barclays could potentially attract 30,000 new clients.
Barclays built its reputation serving Fortune 500 pension plans with assets of $100 million to $350 million. It began looking into expanding into the middle market in October 1999, analyzing retirement plans with $1 million to $100 million of assets. Barclays found that it had passed on $1.5 billion worth of business in 1998 and 1999 because some companies did not have the required minimum assets.
It was time to begin thinking outside the box, Mr. Fisher said. If Barclays wanted to expand, Internet technology had to be part of the equation.
We realized that all of our clients were treated the same. Each had an individual relationship officer there was a lot of hand-holding. And because of the amount of time representatives spent with clients, smaller clients were turned away.
Through ClientConnects dedicated Web site clients can access fund reports, trust statements, performance details, current and historical unit values, and monthly reports, as well as information about billing and new product offerings. By the end of the year, Mr. Fisher said, they will be able to place orders, view entire portfolios, and monitor sector breakdowns and fund statistics.
Adele Spillane, an account manager for Barclays, said that ClientConnect would not eliminate one-on-one attention, however. Our clients dont want the Web to replace people. They want it to be available in addition to the other services we provide, she said.
The response to ClientConnect was excellent in initial testing, Mr. Fisher said. It accumulated 180 middle-market clients, representing $9 billion of assets under management. He said that he intends to build the business to 2,000 accounts totaling $100 billion of assets.
Because of Barclays reputation, Mr. Fisher said, he does not anticipate a big marketing campaign. ClientConnect will build its client roster by focusing on what he calls the sweet spot in the middle market: companies with pension plans that are now advised by consulting firms.
Barclays will offer middle-market clients the same price it offers institutional clients 5 basis points. Comparatively, Fidelity Investments charges 24 basis points and Dreyfus 20 for pension customers of similar size.
We can offer institutional products at institutional prices to middle-market clients. I dont think many others can, Mr. Fisher said.