The decision to go load or no-load may be yesterday's concern for mutual fund marketers.
Instead, fund sellers now are facing murkier and more challenges questions, according to participants at a conference here sponsored by the Federal Bar Association and the Investment Company Institute.
"Investors want the best of both worlds: They want the no-load investment plus the advice traditionally provided by brokers" regarding load funds, said Robert M. Siewert, a compliance officer for Society Asset Management, a unit of Cleveland-based KeyCorp. "And that's a big challenge for banks," he declared.
Mutual fund marketers said they need to find creative ways to sell shares by satisfying consumers' hunger for financial advice at a modest cost.
At a panel session, they said one strategy might be dropping loads or sales charges from funds traditionally sold through brokers to appeal to fee-based financial planners. Another approach might be to include these charges as part of asset allocation services, such as wrap accounts. And traditional no-load funds may want to consider adopting 12b-1 fees to support distribution through these same financial intermediaries.
Years of consumer education and direct experience with 401(k) programs has finally convinced many investors of the value of portfolio diversification and asset allocation, several panelists said.
Many load funds are responding by offering new classes of shares or waiving commissions to create shares that can be sold by financial planners. And no-load funds are finding a 12b-1 fee necessary to support sales through the same intermediaries.
These responses are blurring the lines between funds.
"Increasingly it's not load vs. no-load but advice versus do-it- yourself," said James B. Hawkes, executive vice president Eaton Vance Management, which sells funds through financial intermediaries.
But load companies' entry into nontraditional sales channels has "created some interesting culture clashes" said John McGonigle, senior vice president and head of the Mutual Fund Marketplace and OneSource fund supermarkets at Charles Schwab & Co., San Francisco.
Load-fund salesmen are eager to peddle funds to financial planners, who bristle at anything that would interfere with their analytical selection of financial instruments, Mr. McGonigle said.
Mutual fund wrap accounts, which automate allocation of a consumer's portfolio, are an increasingly popular approach that has struck a responsive chord in the general market and is proving especially appealing in the bank channel, said Kurt Cerulli, principal of Cerulli Associates, a Boston-based consulting firm.