Charles Schwab & Co. is poised to announce at least one more distribution deal for its successful OneSource mutual fund program by yearend, according to a top executive at the firm.
With two banks already distributing the nearly 2,000 funds available through OneSource, San Francisco-based Schwab is now looking to cement further relationships, said Tom Seip. But banks are not the only potential partners, said Mr. Seip. He said that Schwab is courting other financial institutions, but declined to say what kind.
Mr. Seip, who succeeded Timothy McCarthy as president of Schwab's mutual fund and international areas in September, discussed his new post in a telephone interview last week. Formerly an executive vice president in Schwab's retail brokerage, Mr. Seip succeeded Mr. McCarthy when Mr. McCarthy was promoted to head the brokerage operation.
According to Mr. Seip, Schwab wants to distribute OneSource through multiple channels, including banks and other types of financial institutions, from which it gains fees for the fund program.
He said the firm's strategy for the mutual fund business involves making "it easier for people to buy mutual funds, whether they want to buy them directly from us, in a 401(k) plan, through a bank, over the Internet, here or overseas."
KeyCorp and First Union Corp. currently offer OneSource to their customers.
Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a mutual fund analyst based in East Greenwich, R.I., speculated that Schwab may well be looking to partner with an insurer. "They have a captive sales forces," he noted.
But he noted that insurers move slowly into new areas. Mutual funds are "not their primary, bread-and-butter business, so they're going to go at it slowly."
Mr. Seip said that for "the foreseeable future" the internal growth of OneSource will probably "outstrip the growth of the product through intermediary channels."
That, Mr. Bobroff said, may be because banks are looking to distribute OneSource for "defensive" reasons.
"If I were in Schwab's shoes, I would not be banking for a substantial portion of growth coming from those new outlets," said Mr. Bobroff.
But Mr. Seip noted that Charles Schwab is still putting a lot of energy into its outside distribution efforts for OneSource. The company recently appointed Chip Roame, a Schwab vice president, to head that effort.
"Chip Roame's mission in life is to move the bank partnerships and clearing partnerships down the road more quickly," said Mr. Seip.
Schwab wants to take a "deliberate" approach to distributing OneSource through banks, said Mr. Seip.
"We want to make sure that we conclude arrangements with only one bank in any given market," he said. Limiting the relationship to one bank per region will give OneSource a national franchise, while enabling Schwab to foster a closer relationship with the bank in question, he said.
Schwab's fund mart is not without competition. Broker-dealers and banks have concocted their own proprietary fund marts, their own versions of the OneSource formula. Serious competitors include Fidelity Investments, but banks are also grooming themselves as viable challengers, he observed.
"They're not yet," Mr. Seip said, "but they absolutely will be once they get the infrastructure in place-and when and if they make a real commitment to getting into this business."
Citicorp, Bank America Corp., and NationsBank Corp. are three banks that are serious about the mutual fund business, he said.These banks, though, are targeting only their own customers with their fund marts, while Schwab is seeking to bring OneSource to other financial institutions' customers as well.