Van Kampen Funds Inc. became the first firm to have its website awarded the Pricewaterhouse-Coopers BetterWeb seal -- and several other mutual fund companies are in the process of getting their own BetterWeb seals of approval.
Designed to allay consumer fears about privacy and security issues online, web seals have been popping up on online commerce websites across the Internet, primarily in the form of the TRUST-e seal and the Better Business Bureau BBB Online seal. Compared with other businesses, however, relatively few mutual fund companies have applied for web seals.
But the PwC BetterWeb Program has attracted interest from a number of mutual fund companies, including Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Van Kampen and applicants such as Putnam Investments Inc., ScudderKemper Investments, INVESCO Inc., Phoenix Investment Management Co., and First Union Corp., according to Chris Cornwall, head of the BetterWeb Program for Investment.
BetterWeb addresses the areas where consumers perceive the most risk in online transactions: sales terms, such as ordering products and shipping and delivery; privacy, regarding information collected about the consumer and how it is used; security, or protection of information being transferred or stored; and satisfactory handling of customer complaints, said Maryann Murphy, head of the BetterWeb Program.
"What we're doing is coming up with a fairly rigorous disclosure standards program whereby online organizations can obtain a license to display the BetterWeb seal if they agree to follow the disclosure practices," she said.
The three- to six-week application process includes a gap analysis, evaluation of the website against the BetterWeb standards and questionnaires filled out by the applicant, and consultation on how to make the recommended changes.
Ms. Murphy said she hopes BetterWeb provides disclosure standards that industries such as financial services can rally around so that "consumers know what to look for."
Steve Messinger, senior vice president and director of e-commerce and strategic planning, said Van Kampen opted for the BetterWeb seal because the connection to PricewaterhouseCoopers, a big-five audit firm, would resonate with its shareholders. In applying for the seal, said Mr. Messinger, the firm was try to get "more of our shareholder base comfortable with performing routine transactions online."
The biggest concern among Van Kampen clients, he said, was security. "We wanted to make sure that from a security standpoint, they felt like their transactions and the communications between their PCs and our servers was as secure as possible. "
Mr. Messinger has noticed an increase in online transactions at Van Kampen since December, but he wouldn't say the seal was solely responsible. Van Kampen has done a series of mailings highlighting web transaction capabilities and has asked customer service representatives to talk up the website more. Also, he said, tax season generates more web activity.