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Monday, November 29, 1999

Internet Eyeballs

Reported by Hayley Green

It's getting to feel like that time of year again. Every company under the sun is releasing its annual survey. American Century,  today,  released its fourth annual Internet Adoption Study, tracking the online habits of mutual fund investors.

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Notably, 62% of mutual fund investors have access to the Internet. This is a threefold increase from the 18% of web- crawling investors in 1996, according to the study and up 12% from last year's 50% figure.

Usage continues to surge, according to Karen Seratti, PhD, assistant director of research and development at American Century, as PCs come down in price and access becomes easier.

Once online, however, the study shows little change in investors' behavior on mutual fund websites. In the three years of the survey, investors still check share price most often, download prospectuses next most, move money between accounts and in general use the Internet in the same way they did in 1996, with one exception. Thirty-four percent of web-savvy fund investors now use websites to check their account balances, whereas only 13% did so in 1996.

The Kansas City, MO-based mutual fund company says that fund investors are still in the early stages of utilizing online portfolio optimization, asset allocation and investment advice tools. Only 10% of those who responded to the survey said they use these tools, but 15% indicate that they would access a site that provides these types of features.

On the defined contribution side, information about 401(k)s on the Internet is abundant and continues to grow although the number of investors taking advantage of these opportunities remains flat. Fully 64% of plan participants have Internet access for their plans, up from 43% last year, but only 40% say they actually use it, the same percent as last year.

The reason for 401(k) usage remaining flat, Seratti said, is because people feel that they have less control and people are using the medium for retirement investments differently then they use them for personal investments.

As time goes on Seratti predicts that the Internet will become more of a commodity, like an ATM machine. "People are beginning to realize that security is not a big issue." Concern about security and privacy issues has decreased from 68% of the respondents in 1996 to 37% in 1999. 

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