Few senior fund industry executives have heard of RSS (or so it seems), but that may be about to change. RSS -- which stands for "really simple syndication", or, less popularly "rich site summary" or "RDF site summary" -- is essentially a way to send Web site updates to individuals without them having to actively visit your site. Those with long memories may recall the "push" technologies of the 1990s. RSS is at heart the latest push technology.
It is also the latest trend in fund Web sites, according to the folks at Boston-based researcher Dalbar. The RSS feeds are being used by a number of fund firms to deliver news to investors along with fund updates and other information they wish to get into clients hands.
Vanguard, Thrivent, American Century, North Track Funds, and Van Kampen are among the firms that have added feeds, Dalbar found. It noted that each of the fund firms uses the feeds to get different types of information into investors' hands.
So why would fund firms use RSS feeds over email? For investors, the feeds offer anonymity in the age of spam. For fund firms, RSS solves the problem of spam filters by providing a secure channel for messages that have been requested by the reader. To receive a feed the user sets the Web location of the feed in a RSS reader. The reader then updates the feed, meaning that there is no need to give the Web site operator an email address. The feeds can also be scheduled, meaning that there is no need to remember to visit the site to get the updates.
There are, however, a number of problems with using RSS feeds. The biggest obstacle being a lack of awareness of the tool among the general population. Another significant issue are technological issues. For the most part users must have some knowledge and motivation to set up a reader and track down the location of various feeds. This may change as services such as Yahoo! and Google simplify the setup process and increase awareness of RSS.
One audience that may be a good target for RSS feeds is financial advisors. Fund firms can use RSS to create custom feeds for brokerage firms and other distribution partners that can be centrally managed and either added to the partners' intranet (freeing the advisors from having to set up the service), or marketed directly to advisors by the fund firm.
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Dalbar also named the top fund firm Web sites for the second quarter last week. Coming out on top were Fidelity and OppenheimerFunds. Both fund firms also had the top Web sites last year. Others winning Dalbars' "Excellent" rating included: Wells Fargo, Lincoln Financial, AIM Investments, T. Rowe Price, American Century, Franklin Templeton, MainStay Investments, and USAA.
MainStay Investments and Franklin Templeton were the only mutual fund companies to feature an "Excellent" web site for both consumers and financial professionals.
A site redesign pushed John Hancock up three spots in the consumer rankings and eight spots in the financial professional rankings. The Hancock redesign added search and view funds based on their equity style box, Morningstar rating, or risk tolerance along with fund tracker on the home page and interactive learning tours that explain financial concepts to clients. The advisor site features revamped navigation to provide consistent menu organization and location, menus and sub-menus that highlight user location on site, uniform text sizes, and a direct link from the advisor site to the consumer site.
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