LONDON - Fiduciary Trust Co. International is catering to a new breed of pension plan in Europe by opening shop on the worldwide web.
David Smart, Fiduciary managing director-Europe, said the money management firm is looking to achieve "cyber reality" for users of the company's revamped website.
And in an experimental web model for mutual fund distribution, Fiduciary now is marketing its mutual funds to participants in the Premium Pensions Myndigheten public authority plan, Stockholm, Sweden.
The firm's website, www.ftgfunds.com, now offers eight Fiduciary mutual funds to participants in Europe's first defined contribution pension plan.
It includes daily fund information in Swedish for Premium Pensions' 4.3 million participants.
This web distribution model is gaining popularity among other mutual fund companies, according to web consultants.
"The new technologies, databases and web (tools) are now starting to become more readily available in the European market," said Chip Miller, senior vice president-client development and management, Access Data Corp., Pittsburgh
One reason may be the way a good website can leverage a marketing and sales force for U.S.-based firms that are just opening a European office.
"In the past, for a company like ours (with not many employees), the logistical demands for disseminating information has been difficult because we needed a call center, if our advertising or PR work we did aroused interest," said Mr. Smart.
People power and web power may be Fiduciary's means of meeting the demands of a growing number of retirement plan participants in Europe.
Mr. Smart expects other European countries will launch plans similar to that of the PPM.
Fiduciary could get participants to use Fiduciary funds for their personal savings as well for their investments in these government-backed defined contribution plans.
This type of retirement plan also could be implemented in the United States if George W. Bush's Social Security private accounts plan were implemented, Mr. Smart added.
About 18 months from now, he expects the United Kingdom will set up a similar plan, which Fiduciary might subadvise.
But the testing ground will be Sweden, where the percentage of home web users remains at about 99% of the population.
PPM will act as a middleman, handling all redemptions and subscriptions for the fund participants while Fiduciary provides investment options.
Of the eight Fiduciary mutual funds offered to Swedish participants, the European small-cap and U.S. high-grade equity funds likely will be the most widely used, according to Mr. Smart.
Participants logging on to the Fiduciary website can download data on performance, investment strategy and daily net asset value in English, French, German, Italian and Swedish.
Each fund's benchmark, strategy and quarterly reviews written by the fund manager also are included on the site.
Investors also can pull down a bio on each fund manager and see a webcast featuring the portfolio manager.
"It's all public information, and we want to get it into as many hands as possible," said Henry P. Johnson, executive vice president and director of business development for Fiduciary.
He added that password-protected areas will be available to give clients give more account-specific information.
For example, investors can track performance of their Fiduciary mutual funds over a specific period of time, such as from the time they invested in the fund until the present date, said Mr. Johnson.
Personalization, customization and online transactions may be rolled out in the next year, said Mr. Smart, all concepts that are already embraced in the United States.
"The Swedish market gives us a chance to get a few years ahead of everybody else (in Europe)," Fiduciary's Mr. Johnson said.
The bent to customization and allowing individuals to make a website their own is something that lots of mutual fund companies and brokerage firms are shooting for in Europe, said Mr. Miller, who has worked on designing websites for global websites for INVESCO and Bank of New York.
"When you think about it, it's only a matter of crossing borders and understanding the pension laws and language," he said.
The key factor in web design is globalization, which is the tailoring of a money manager's offerings to the local market, including both culture and language, said Larry Colvin, general manager of Sapient's financial services unit, Cambridge, Mass.
Creating a site for global use is crucial in serving individual plan participants.
Mr. Johnson said Fiduciary officials studied many competitors' websites before reworking their own for this special project with the Swedish fund, making sure they were indeed ahead of the competition.
He expects further enhancements to the website may include more analytical tools for participants, similar, again, to what is already available to participants in the U.S. market.
Tools like this, coupled with individualized advice, are the wave of the future in Europe, said Mr. Colvin.