Not All Separate Accounts Sites Are Equal

A survey finds a wide variation in quality in Web

A new survey by kasina released October 16 has found that the Web sites of most asset management firms that run separately managed accounts are not serving their advisor users very well. In what it said would be an annual white paper, "Separately Managed Accounts: Servicing Intermediaries Online," the New York-based consulting firm found that only 30 of the 400 firms running separate accounts have a dedicated online presence for separate account advisors. Of those thirty, kasina picked 12 firms' sites as 'finalists,' and the sites of five firms--AIM Private Asset Management, John Hancock, Munder Capital, Phoenix Investment Partners, and Putnam Investments--as the best for advisors. The sites were rated highest by kasina in five main categories: branding, content, online services, usability, and Web technology. "Despite the large number of managers and the predominance of the intermediaries as a distribution channel," in the separately managed account business, "we've only seen 30 firms develop online content dedicated to advisors," says Lee Kowarski, a kasina consultant who worked on the survey. Kowarski expects that number to "grow greatly in the future," perhaps doubling within the next year.

The separately managed accounts (SMA) business has long been dominated by the wirehouses, but reports from Cerulli Associates and others have shown that regional broker/dealer reps and independent advisors are taking a larger piece of the SMA pie--from about 90% wirehouses to about 70%, according to Kowarski. Moreover, while assets in mutual funds have been slipping as a result of the prolonged bear market, assets in separately managed accounts have increased: up nearly 7% in 2001, according to Cerulli. Thus the attraction and retention of assets funneled by independent advisors should be a priority for the asset management firms, but many seemed not to have gotten the message, if their lack of a robust online presence is any indication. As an example, kasina notes that of its twelve finalists, 91% allow advisors to surf their sites without bouncing back and forth between advisor-only and retail portions of the site, while only 36% of the non-finalist sites provide that function. Furthermore, 64% of the finalists disclosed buy/sell decisions online, while only 17% of the non-finalists did so. "There are very few companies that are providing effective educational content to help advisors get into this market," Kowarski notes.

While kasina performed its own assessment of the Web sites for the study, a centerpiece of the judgment process was supplied by interviews with 175 advisors--from wirehouses, B/Ds, and independents--whose separate account online needs were gathered. Then the sites were assessed to see how well they measured up to those advisors' needs, according to Kowarski.

Kasina is a strategic management consultant group founded in 1999 that specializes in the asset management industry and e-business services. The report is available for $2,500 from www.kasina.com/sma or by calling kasina at 212-349-7412.

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