Corp., and banks figure to play a big role in achieving them. Ms. Macaskill, who took over as chief executive from Jon S. Fossel on Sept. 30, is determined to boost the New York mutual fund company's assets from $38.2 billion to $100 billion by the end of the century. "We don't believe we can be one of the best mutual fund companies unless we get bigger," Ms. Macaskill said in an interview at her office in Manhattan's World Trade Center. She said the company will grow in two ways: by acquiring competitors and by squeezing more business out of its existing network of brokers. Perched on the edge of a brown leather sofa in her 34th-floor office overlooking the Hudson River, Ms. Macaskill described banks as an important ally in the effort. One reason: Bank brokerage customers have shaped up as an extremely loyal group of mutual fund investors. "Banks are not known for churning assets," Ms. Macaskill explained. "They have much lower redemptions than any other channel." Indeed, though the company sells its wares through financial planners, brokerage firms, and insurance companies, banks are its fastest-growing distribution channel. So far this year, Oppenheimer has pulled in $850 million of sales through banks, up from $50 million in 1990. The company currently derives 16.5% of its sales through banks, and is aiming to boost that ratio to 25% during the next few years. Ms. Macaskill has simple advice for banks that wonder why they should do business with Oppenheimer. "You better choose the mutual fund company that's going to survive," she says with a smile. Observers certainly seem to think Ms. Macaskill has what it takes to lift Oppenheimer from its current position as the 17th-largest U.S. mutual fund company. A 47-year-old native of Britain, Ms. Macaskill joined Oppenheimer in 1983 as director of marketing and had risen to the post of president by 1991. She is known as a savvy fund executive with strong insights into investor psychology. After the '87 market crash, for instance, Ms. Macaskill, then executive vice president, convinced her higher-ups that Oppenheimer had overemphasized aggressive stock funds and persuaded them to switch to a steady-growth strategy, said Troy Shaver, a John Hancock Funds executive who was Oppenheimer's national sales manager at the time. "Bridget was really one of the leaders in convincing executives we needed to be that conservative company," Mr. Shaver said. Ms. Macaskill is quick to acknowledge that, unlike many of her peers in the mutual fund industry, she has risen to chief executive without ever having been a portfolio manager. Still, she gets rave reviews from her predecessor, who came up the fund- manager ranks. "She's very street-smart, savvy, a quick learner," said Mr. Fossel, who remains as Oppenheimer's chairman. He pointed to Ms. Macaskill's prior experience as marketing director for St. Ivel's, a leading dairy company in the United Kingdom. "She was delivering milk," Mr. Fossel said jokingly. Though she lacked a finance background when she arrived at Oppenheimer, Ms. Macaskill knew "how you treat customers." She emerged as one of the mutual fund industry's most visible leaders in the early 1990s when she helped Oppenheimer identify and reach out to an overlooked group: women investors. "Women rely very much on the relationship they have with their financial adviser," Ms. Macaskill said. "If you start with that principle, the likelihood is you'll keep that client." To help Oppenheimer crack that market, Ms. Macaskill undertook extensive research about women's investment patterns and attitudes. She hit the lecture circuit to talk about the findings, and even landed on the cover of Money in 1992. Observers speak admiringly of Ms. Macaskill's accomplishments. It's rare enough for a non-American to rise to a top job in a U.S. mutual fund company, said Christopher Poll, chairman of Micropal, a London-based mutual fund tracking firm. "To be a woman and do that is doubly difficult." But Ms. Macaskill insists there's much more to her than theories about women and investing. For instance, she is working to add new pricing options to Oppenheimer's 70 mutual funds. Instead of paying commissions up-front, investors would have the choice of deferring sales charges. She also intends to keep up Oppenheimer's relentless focus on banks, which is unusual for a fund company of its size. Oppenheimer has 38 sales and support staff dedicated to banks under the guidance of senior vice president Maryann Bruce. So far this year, the company has snared 20 new banking clients, including First Union Corp. and Mellon Bank Corp. No staffing additions are planned, but Oppenheimer is expanding its services to banks. Right now, it is helping bank-based brokers develop a financial planning approach with training programs and seminar support, and is stepping up offerings of 401(k) services.
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