After seven years of selling its mutual funds only through registered investment advisers, Rydex Funds, a $7.83 billion-asset fund family in Rockville, Md., has decided it is ready for the mass market and sees the bank channel as the right way to go there.

"As a firm, we cut our teeth on the registered investment adviser community, and that segment isn't even going to look at a product without scrutinizing it thoroughly," said Rob Steele, Rydex's vice president of marketing and product development. "If our product passed their litmus test, then it is worthy of the mass market."

Rydex said it will start distributing its entire product line - seven benchmark funds, 17 sector funds, and five variable annuities - to individual investors through banks and other third-party outlets, including the Internet, in the first quarter. "We are ready to cast a wider net," Mr. Steele said.

In going from registered investment advisers to the mass market, Rydex has chosen a path that seems to be the exact opposite of that taken by other successful 1990s start-ups, according to an industry analyst.

"This success is clearly off the beaten trail," said Burton J. Greenwald, an analyst in Philadelphia. "Individual investors (and now the Internet) are the favorite starting points for most fund companies. This firm chose to run the gauntlet with RIAs first. It makes them unique."

But for a fund company, reaching the mass market by distributing through banks is not necessarily a better or worse option than the Internet or some other channel.

"There isn't a right way or a wrong way," Mr. Greenwald said, pointing out that Rydex's method is "more difficult, and unique. It worked for Rydex - that doesn't make it the best way for everyone."

The company also has introduced a benchmark fund that is its first that can be bought and sold, even on the same day, without incurring surrender charges. The portfolio was introduced Nov. 28.

Mr. Steele said Rydex wants to be successful, not different. Its goal is to have $20 billion of assets under management within three years.


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