Despite wrap accounts' growing popularity, financial planners who make their living serving the Grey Poupon set say they disapprove of the "packaged" products for their clients.
"We've rejected the cookie-cutter approach that the mutual fund wrap is based on," said Peggy Ruhlin, president-elect of the International Association of Financial Planners and principal of Budros & Ruhlin, Columbus, Ohio.
"We're beyond that," she told a group of executives meeting here to discuss mutual fund wraps. Planners sell services, not products, she said.
But according to bankers, wrap accounts that diversify holdings among multiple mutual funds may be well suited for the masses who have a little money to invest but don't know exactly where to put it. The accounts could be particularly appealing to bank customers, several bankers attending the meeting said.
The key for banks, however, is to aim the product at the mass market. That's what Richmond, Va.-based Signet Bank found out - the hard way.
Its first wrap product, introduced in 1993, had expenses of 1.5% a year, an account minimum of $100,000, and a poor selection of funds. It was notably unsuccessful, conceded James Eads, president of Signet Financial Services.
After "shooting the product dead" in 1994, Mr. Eads said, the bank went back to the drawing board to design a fund with broader appeal.
In February, Signet launched a wrap fund with a $10,000 minimum, annual fees of 0.90%, and a mixture of name-brand and proprietary funds. Sales skyrocketed; assets under management now stand at $150 million. Already, the wrap product makes up almost two-thirds of all brokerage sales.
"In a bank environment," Mr. Eads said, smiling, "I think these products do very well."
Wrap accounts usually put customers into one of a handful of relatively standardized sets of mutual funds.
Most financial planners, by contrast, promise to give their clients highly personalized investment and tax-planning advice. That is an expensive proposition, so many planners deal only with the well-heeled.
Consumers must be willing to invest at least $200,000 to deal with Wealth Management, an Appleton, Wis.-based financial planning firm, said its president, James E. Putman. Clients who meet that threshold want more customized service than most wrap products can offer.
We're "managers of the chaos," not product peddlers, Mr. Putman said.