Union Bank of California, for the first time, is seeking to sell its mutual funds directly to consumers outside the bank. And it's waiving the funds' up-front sales fee to do so.
The bank began advertising its fund family three weeks ago in Chicago, St. Louis, several Florida cities, and the New York City suburbs, said R. Gregory Knopf, senior vice president and managing director of the San Francisco-based bank's mutual fund division. The ads tout the funds' performance and note that the equity fund got five stars, the highest rating, from mutual fund rating agency Morningstar Inc.
Union Bank of California, a unit of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., faces rough terrain in marketing its funds directly to customers, said Geoffrey Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I.
Such efforts haven't succeeded over the years "until someone can build a brand recognition," Mr. Bobroff said. And the Japanese-owned West Coast bank does not have much, if any, name recognition in the Midwest or East Coast markets where the funds are being advertised.
The offerings will be known as the Highmark Funds once the merger of Union Bank's Stepstone Funds and Bank of California's Highmark Group is completed.
Superregional banks like First Union Corp. and NationsBank Corp., which have tried to sell proprietary funds outside their market, or "footprint," have had limited success to date, Mr. Bobroff said.
And the recent stock market turmoil may have thrown a wrench into Union Bank's advertising campaign, Mr. Bobroff said. The do-it-yourself investors who buy no-load funds direct from fund companies tend to slow down or halt their investment activity when the market is unstable, he said.
"They tend to question their own decisions and lie low," he said of investors who buy directly from fund companies. Those who invest through a financial adviser or broker tend to be more active because the salespeople have to sell investment products no matter what the market is doing, Mr. Bobroff said.
"I call it the greed factor."