Mutual fund investors rely more heavily on financial advisers than conventional wisdom holds, a new survey shows.

Almost three-fourths of mutual fund investors in the past five years have paid financial advisers to help them choose portfolios, according to a study released by the Mutual Fund Forum, a trade group of fund companies that sell their portfolios through brokers.

The 70-member trade group is hoping to dispel a growing public perception that the flood of financial information in magazines, television, and electronic sources has prompted investors to bypass financial advisers.

The Bethesda, Md.-based organization says 73% of mutual fund buyers made some or all of their purchases through investment representatives. And 60% bought mutual funds exclusively through a professional adviser, avoiding no-load funds altogether.

"I was surprised it was as high as that," said James Greenawalt, an executive vice president in charge of sales at Zurich-Kemper Investments, a load company in Chicago.

"Three years ago, you would have thought everyone was beginning to read Money magazine and was turning into a do-it-yourself investors," he said.

The survey was conducted by Yankelovich Partners Inc., Claremont, Calif., which interviewed 564 investors who had purchased funds in the past five years. The results were released last week at a news conference here.

The fund organization backed up its findings with independent research by Avi Nachmany, an executive vice president at Strategic Insight, New York. Mr. Nachmany claims that "the myth of continuing gains by direct retail distributors is unfounded."

Only one-third of fund investors contact a no-load mutual fund company on their own and purchase a portfolio, his data show. The rest get the funds through their retirement benefit plans or through a financial adviser.

Fund company executives added that their no-load competitors are also capturing assets largely from advisers, too. Many advisers recommend no- load mutual funds in wrap accounts, which charge a percentage of assets under management, they said.

The no-load fund companies acknowledge that most consumers seek advice before making large purchases of mutual funds.

"Yes, it's a trend, but I'm not dismayed," said Irving Straus, president of the 50-member trade group 100% No-Load Mutual Fund Council.

"The market out there for direct marketers is still a colossal one," he said. "Witness the growth of the discount brokerage business."

So where did the notion that no-load funds were stealing so much market share come from?

The no-load companies have a bigger advertising presence, their competitors say; they can afford to because they're not paying commissions to brokers.

At the same time, a minority of the largest no-load companies, such as Fidelity Investments and Vanguard Group, have seen most of the growth.

But their increases in assets "haven't been at our expense," said Steven M. Graziano, senior vice president, director of marketing at load company Pioneer Funds Distributor Inc., Boston. "They've been taking away one from the other."

No-load investors are more likely to act like stock jockeys, frequently trading their mutual funds, he said. Investors who get professional advice tend to stick with their picks longer.

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