Wells Fargo & Co. is eager to take advantage of the heft and depth in mutual funds created by its merger with the former Norwest Corp.
While the actual integration of the fund families, Stagecoach and Norwest Advantage, is planned for the fourth quarter of 1999, the banking company is already making all the funds available throughout its network of close to 700 brokers.
All Wells financial consultants, as the bank calls investment sales representatives, are able to sell funds from either family, said Michael Hogan, head of proprietary mutual funds at the new banking company, which is based in San Francisco.
"We wanted to give each channel access to those really good performing funds before the merger" of the families, Mr. Hogan said.
To avert overlapping, the 45 Stagecoach funds and the 42 Advantage funds should ultimately be whittled down to a total of roughly 65, Mr. Hogan said. But each company managed several kinds of portfolios the other did not, such as Wells' large-cap value equity fund and Norwest's small-cap value equity fund.
Stagecoach's most popular funds include its California tax-free bond fund, two asset-allocation portfolios, and its life-cycle mutual funds, known as LifePath, according to Richard H. Blank, vice president of Stephens Inc., the Little Rock-based distributor of the family.
Melding the offerings should boost sales, he added. The two families combined have assets of $49.9 billion.
"Anytime you put more arrows in your quiver, it's better for you," Mr. Blank said.
Stephens also co-administers the funds with Wells, which has done its own fund accounting. All three duties are handled for Norwest Advantage by Forum Financial Group, which is based in Portland, Maine.
Mr. Hogan expressed interest in maintaining ties with both firms once the fund families are merged.
Though many mutual fund families experience growth spurts, Stagecoach and Advantage have both had consistent sales on a pro forma basis in recent years, according to Avi Nachmany, an analyst at Strategic Insight, a research firm in New York.
Estimated cash flows into the families were $4.3 billion through Sept. 30, $5.9 billion last year, $4.8 billion in 1996, $5.3 billion for 1995, $3.9 billion for 1994, and $2.8 billion in 1993, according to Strategic Insight.
The two families' mix of offerings creates a balance among asset classes and their differing revenue streams. In the two families combined, 66.9% of the assets under management are in money market funds, 25.5% in equity funds, and 7.6% in fixed-income funds. Stagecoach and Advantage have $27 billion and $22.9 billion of assets under management, respectively.
The latter could be a strong selling suite in coming months. "The clearest area of distinctive investment value is actually in their municipal line, where all of the funds show outperformance," Mr. Nachmany said.
Mr. Hogan, who joined the old Wells from American Express Co. in Minneapolis, agreed.
"Norwest has an excellent national tax-free fund, and we'd like to be able to get that to Wells financial consultants as soon as possible," he said.
A name for the planned single family of funds has not been decided on, and the company will "either pick a brand that leverages off Wells Fargo- Wells Fargo Funds or Wells Advantage Funds-or perhaps something completely new," Mr. Hogan said.
The new family could also get an $8 billion boost from assets of the old Wells that are in common trust funds, which may be converted into mutual funds.
In the new company's table of organization, Mr. Hogan reports to Michael Niedermeyer, who oversees institutional investment management, mutual funds, trust, and brokerage. Also reporting to him are: Jim Paulsen of Norwest Capital Management and Bob Bissell of Wells Capital Management.