Money management firms are searching for a few good portal sites to gain the attention of pension fund executives.
The tastes and needs of the plan sponsor remain elusive, as many money managers are looking for a way to create e-business.
Institutional money managers have fallen behind their colleagues on the retail side when it comes to identifying specific sites clients flock to, according to those in the industry.
"If there were a Yahoo of the pension world . . .," said Jean Keller, president of Lombard Odier Inc., New York. "There is no one federating body at this time."
Mr. Keller's firm, like many others, has yet to form a decisive strategy when it comes to links and portal websites.
Indeed, there is an extensive list of web portals for money managers to consider, including:
* PlanSponsor, a web-based delivery of the magazine complete with an RFP tool and provider profiles;
* InvestorForce, an online community for plan sponsors, money managers and consultants that offers manager search capability, former consulting firm Asset Strategy's manager database and news;
* eFrontiers, an online marketplace for institutional investors that offers eRFPs and Mobius' money manager database tool and news;
* PIonline, a web version of this newspaper, plus money manager performance data, pension fund profiles, RFPs and more;
* IPE-Quest, a money manager search site targeted to plan sponsors, believed to be the home of the first online money manager search and hiring;
* NelNet, Nelson's online database of money managers, which includes links to managers' websites and quarterly rankings; and
* Market-Channel, a web video site with investment manager presentations and information.
Narrowing the list
Although most firms said they are putting off decisions on alliances with portal sites, they are quickly narrowing the list.
Fidelity Investments is considering buying a "showcase" on InvestorForce, highlighting the firm's international capabilities, said Michael A. Forrester, senior vice president at Fidelity Management Trust Co. "We would use it as we would any other medium of advertising."
This comes after an analysis of the business model, revenue model and status of what websites they consider plan sponsor Internet resources, including InvestorForce, eFrontiers, Market-Channel, IPE-Quest and PlanSponsor.
Bob Reynolds, president of the Boston-based firm, said Fidelity's new website geared to total benefits outsourcing will be linked with web pages containing health-care benefits information initially, with more links to be done on the institutional investment side in the near future.
At Payden & Rygel Investment Counsel, "we have been very aggressive in making the web work for us," said Jon C. Siciliano, principal.
The money management firm is in as many databases as executives can find, including those found at eFrontiers.com and InvestorForce. com. But before choosing a definitive portal, officials at Payden & Rygel, Los Angeles, are monitoring plan sponsors' use of the web.
Database or search tool?
They are waiting to see how their existing and potential clients use sites such as PlanSponsor and InvestorForce, Mr. Siciliano said. For him, it's a question of whether plan sponsors are using them as a database tool or as a money manager search tool.
Mr. Siciliano, with the help of an outside consulting firm, is studying portals that have nothing to do with money management -- but with subjects ranging from athletics to travel -- to find what draws people to them. In six to 24 months, Payden & Rygel expects to have more of a portal strategy in place, which may include some non-investment related websites.
At SSBCiti Asset Management Group, New York, the next step after launching a new website will be to forge links and portals with outside sites. "One of the biggest mistakes people make with building websites is thinking when you build it, they will come," said Theresa Snyder, director of global marketing.
She initially will be reviewing the possibility of links on industry publication websites. Ms. Snyder said she also would love to have a link on the websites of various consultants, but doubts consultants would be eager for such links.
Credit Suisse Asset Management also is studying online partnerships, which would include a site such as InvestorForce, said Jeremy Condie, spokesman for the New York-based money manager. "We take the view that not everyone will come to our portal first," he said.
Are the sites used?
Other managers are surveying clients to see if third-party intermediary sites are used by plan sponsors.
Said Laura Kirkpatrick, vice president and manager of marketing and client services at Brandywine Asset Management Inc.: "We're real anxious whether our clients are viewing that as a real value-added tool, as opposed to coming to our site first."
The Wilmington, Del.-based firm expects to have a strategic plan with respect to links with industry web portals in the future.
The firm is surveying clients both formally and informally on whether they are using some of the popular institutional portal sites, she said.
American Express Financial Corp., Minneapolis, also is studying sites with which to link. The company has a strategic partnership with MSN Money, but Sharon Solfest, director of e-commerce, is looking at what sites should be important to clients of American Express Asset Management.
She is tracking what websites users are coming from when logging on to the American Express site and said it helps the firm gauge if the clients are coming from general finance websites or other sites, so they may know whether they should have a link with a particular website.
Bill Roach, president of Atlanta-based GLOBALT Inc., also surveyed clients to find out which sites they use often. The portals of choice included general sites such as CNBC, Yahoo! Finance and CNNfn. But some also listed PlanSponsor.com.
He is taken aback by the cost to have a presence on a site like InvestorForce and questions whether such sites are going to be used and embraced by plan sponsors.
Said Frank Minard, co-chairman of Wayne, Pa.-based InvestorForce: "It's not expensive when you consider how much money it would take to jet around and meet all these plan sponsors."
He also said managers can enter data on InvestorForce's online database free of charge, and the fees paid by managers accessing the database are half of the current market rate.
Surprised by the cost
Regardless, the cost savings managers have realized on the retail side of money management -- in reaching customers through portals -- has yet to be realized on the institutional side, said Lee Kowarski, a web consultant with Kasina LLC, New York. He believes such a site will rise to prominence as more portals are created for institutional managers.
But ultimately, GLOBALT's Mr. Roach believes time constraints will ultimately prevent plan sponsors from using portals directly to conduct money manager searches.