Casting a wide net over a growing market, PNC Bank Corp. has begun selling mutual fund asset allocation services to its own customers and to smaller institutions.
Like other products of this variety, PNC's asset allocation services use personal computer software to assist brokers and trust officers in devising a mix of mutual fund investments. PNC's asset allocation product distributes investments among the 23 portfolios in the PNC Funds retail family.
PNC is currently training its own brokers and trust officers to sell a version of this service called Capital Directions.
The service PNC is selling to other banks is called MutualPartners. The target market is banks that are too small to launch proprietary funds. PNC officials expect the products to be well received.
"I think there's good demand for it," said Dushyant Pandit, a managing director of PNC's Investment Management Corp. unit in Wilmington, Del.
Indeed, according to the mutual fund consulting firm Cerulli Associates Inc., Boston, investments in mutual fund wrap accounts, as these services are called, have nearly tripled in the past year and a half to $8 billion.
Glen Casey, a Cerulli consultant, said the products are becoming more popular because they help investors make sense of the dizzying array of mutual funds.
"Investors are just finding it a difficult proposition to cull through all the information," he said.
Mr. Casey predicted that the flow of assets into mutual fund wraps will continue apace for at least a few more years.
PNC officials predict the asset allocation services will boost their proprietary fund assets, which total just over $20 billion, including $4.8 billion in the PNC Funds.
The services also will bring in additional fees.
For its Capital Directions service PNC is charging an annual fee of 1% of the first $500,000 of invested assets, on top of the normal mutual fund charges.
Fees charged to other banks and their customers will vary. But Mr. Pandit said fees collected from the banks by PNC will be "nominal," amounting to the "high hundreds or low thousands" of dollars per year.
Fees collected by PNC could consist either of software licensing Charges, or a splitting of mutual fund sales loads with the banks selling the service, or both, he said.
Mr. Pandit said that just over half a dozen banks, which he did not name, now are using MutualPartners to sell investments to their customers.
The MutualPartners service is being sold by Mr. Pandit's Investment Management unit, which also manages the portfolios of PNC's money market funds.
Mr. Pandit said the unit is the third-largest institutional money fund manager in the country. Banks are among its biggest investors.
A sister unit of the Investment Management Corp., called PFPC Inc., administers mutual funds for banks and other companies.
PNC will be able to market MutualPartners to many of the bank clients of these units, as well as to its traditional correspondent banks.
Mr. Casey said the breadth of PNC's bank relationships should help it with marketing.
"I think it's got tremendous potential," he said.
He added, however, that there are already about a dozen major asset allocation services available, and the competition is well entrenched. Some of these services allow allocations among different companies' mutual funds, a popular feature that PNC lacks.
But Mr. Pandit said PNC's avoidance of that feature was actually an advantage for the investor, since using only proprietary funds helps PNC control investor risks. Mr. Casey added that using only proprietary funds is more profitable for providers of asset allocation services.