Pension executives say they view the Internet primarily as an information resource -- and even then it is only a supporting player.
They still rely on traditional sources of data, as well as hard copies from their consultants, trustee banks and money managers for the information they need to do their jobs.
Granted, the web provides fast access to a broad range of information, pension executives said, but the Internet isn't yet an integral part of how they do their jobs.
According to a recent study by Greenwich Associates, Greenwich, Conn., only about 3% of corporate and 6% of public plan sponsors do not have access to the Internet. Forty-four percent of corporate plan sponsors and 37% of public plan sponsors said they use the Internet an average of more than 10 times per week. Greenwich officials said they didn't ask how plan sponsors use the Internet.
New online consulting capabilities and plan sponsor websites, web-based online communities, chat rooms and plan sponsor forums haven't captured much attention from time-pressed pension executives, nor has the possibility of using the web to help manage investment managers.
Aside from e-mail, plan sponsors interviewed by Pensions & Investments use the Internet most often for research purposes.
They apparently don't go back and visit those sites very often. Several said they have 10 or fewer bookmarked websites on their browsers, although one has bookmarked 150.
As for the Internet changing the way plan sponsors do their jobs, it has not happened yet. But it still might.
"The enthusiasm is high and I think we are getting there," said Mark Schumann, global communications practice leader with Towers Perrin, Stamford, Conn. Towers Perrin itself has been cited as one of the most innovative users of technology among large firms, and helps many of its corporate plan sponsor clients develop web presences.
Mary Willet, director of supplemental retirement plans for the state of Wisconsin in Madison, said she uses the Internet to conduct online research and has nearly 150 sties bookmarked.
"I use it a lot. I have several sites that I visit every day like industry and financial publications. I've found that, because of the online newsletters, I read the printed versions less often. The online versions are more current and easy to use," she said. "I love it. It's made me much more literate and allows me to stay current."
Among her favorites: ft.com (Financial Times); ibd.com (Investors' Business Daily); pionline.com; and sec.com.
In addition, the web offers invaluable research potential. "I don't know how I got along without it before," Ms. Willet said. "I've obtained studies and can find out about legislative issues just by entering a few keywords; all kinds of information is available right at my fingertips."
Vickie Ferguson, financial analyst at Citgo Petroleum Corp., Tulsa, Okla., who oversees the company's $1 billion pension fund, said she uses the Internet "quite a bit" as a source for news and financial information. She uses the web for research purposes as well, and often visits money manager websites.
"I don't know that it has changed the way I do my job, but it has affected it. It's made communications faster and has made more information available than before," she said.
Ms. Ferguson favors bloomberg.com and wsj.com for news.
Dwight Kadar, director of investment management at Cooper Industries Inc., Houston, with nearly $2 billion in employee benefit assets, said the Internet could be a "good tool, if used properly."
"There is a lot of communications going on back and forth, but really this is still a people business, and (the Internet) being so impersonal, we may be losing touch," he said.
Mr. Kadar said he checks in on some of the plan sponsor networks, occasionally posing a question or conducting an inquiry on benchmarking or asset allocation. He said he uses the Internet "sometimes" for information purposes. He said his use of the Internet for business purposes is somewhere "between a little and a lot."
Paul Lipson, chief investment officer at the $8.5 billion Federal Reserve Employee Benefits System, New York, said he regularly gets data from the Internet, calling the online universe "a treasure trove of information."
Information gleaned from Internet sources takes on added value since the Fed system doesn't use consultants, he said.
"Our analysts search out money manager sites, major trade association sites and even some consultant sites," Mr. Lipson said. "It doesn't answer all of our questions but it is an expeditious way of getting some of the data we need."
He doesn't use the Internet for manager selection purposes, he said, but sometimes looks at manager sites for explanations and background on performance issues. Mr. Lipson also conducts specialized searches for timely information. For example, he said, he recently obtained a report on a specialized fixed-income investment that he circulated to his staff of analysts.
In addition, he now can obtain more timely information that previously filtered through the system's trustee and custodial banks. He finds information on risk management issues "especially useful." That information comes from several sites that offer such information as Sharpe ratios for various equity styles, performance data and special reports.
Among his favorite sites: cmra.com, Capital Market Risk Advisors' site; Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.'s msdw.com; and barra.com, which is BARRA Inc.'s site.