Yet another mutual fund company has combined its banking and financial- planner sales efforts into a single unit.
Alliance Capital Management LP plans to give Richard Davies, a senior vice president overseeing sales through banks, responsibility for sales through financial planners as well. The move comes as the New York company struggles to regain its position as one of the premier mutual fund providers for banks.
Alliance's market share in banks has "basically leveled off, maybe slightly improved," said Mr. Davies' boss, Michael Laughlin, president of Alliance Capital Distributors Inc.
But broadening Mr. Davies' responsibilities is not a sign that Alliance has given up on banks, Mr. Laughlin said.
"We have no plans to pull back," he said. "Just the opposite."
Many fund companies that have reached only second-tier status in the bank market now see financial planners as a new area where they can establish themselves. Banks keep whittling down the lists of funds they will offer, and only about a half dozen fund companies have locked themselves in.
"Shelf space within banks is not available in the same quantity as elsewhere," said Geoffrey Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I. "Dick (Davies) has a good retail sense and is a logical choice" to head the division, he said.
Mr. Laughlin credited Mr. Davies with reestablishing Alliance's relationship with many former bank clients and arresting any sales declines.
To support Mr. Davies, Alliance plans to increase the number of sales representatives who target banks. It also plans to customize marketing materials for banks and to design products specifically for that marketplace.
Mr. Laughlin said the company also hopes to reach financial planners more efficiently. Previously, financial planners were served by the Alliance unit that marketed to traditional stockbrokers.
Because banks and financial planners place similar product demands on fund companies, Mr. Laughlin said, putting the two market under the same executive makes sense.
Competitors, however, offered a different take on Mr. Davies' new appointment.
"They can put as much spin on it as they want," said one sales executive at a rival company. "They had to give him more responsibility because they were afraid of losing him."
The competitor said Mr. Davies would get frustrated marketing only to banks because most of them don't want to add fund companies to their menus.
"Alliance, a few years ago, was very strong in the bank market. They have a taste for what it could do. They don't want to admit defeat yet," the competitor added.
Alliance's troubles started in 1994 when the bond market crashed. Its funds were hit especially hard because the company had invested heavily in foreign securities that performed poorly.
The company lost a lot of credibility among investors when the performance of its North American Government Income Fund plummeted 31% in 1994. The fund invested in bonds in Argentina, and investors complained they were mislead by the portfolio's name.
This year the fund's performance is up 30%, according to Morningstar Inc., a Chicago company that tracks funds.
Mr. Bobroff said all is not lost for Alliance as long as it refrains from offering esoteric portfolios. "There's nothing wrong with fringe products, but the market wants meat and potatoes," he said.
Still, bankers said Alliance, like many other fund companies, is going to have a tough time getting banks to sell its funds. Deposit Guaranty in Jackson, Miss., for example, offers only six fund families.
"Alliance or any other companies would have to come in here with a better product line from A to Z," said Alan Leach, the bank's brokerage president. "I'm not going to replace vendors in a cavalier manner."