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Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Advisors And The Web

Reported by Paul Braverman

Although the NASDAQ remains locked in a death spiral, the Institute for Business Communications is hosting a conference on the the glories of the Internet. The crowd at "Electronic Distribution of Mutual Funds," at the Regency Hotel in New York City, seemed mercifully oblivious to the latest doom and gloom.

Mark McKenna, senior vice president for Putnam Investments, spoke about the specific strategies employed by firms that sell load funds. Those firms have face an extra challenge because they have two audiences--advisors and shareholders.

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Putnam maintains separate Web sites for each. Although advisors work in an industry saturated with the latest electronic technologies, "The general public is savvier about the Web," McKenna said."Our public site gets five times the volume as our advisor site, but we don't get anywhere near as many questions. My message to advisors are that your shareholders are already online. You need to catch up."

One difference between advisor and public sites is primarily visual. The public site is marketing to shareholders and the general public, and is more colorful and visually interesting as a result. Advisors are more concerned with speed, and don't have a lot of time for fancy graphics to download. McKenna takes a perverse pride in describing Putnam's advisor site as "boring." The firm is so concerned with this issue that certain graphics that download quickly are removed from the site if they could be perceived as slow.

According to Putnam's research, advisors use the site for research, to get quotes, and to read financial journals, in that order. In order to be effective, a site must enable advisors to carry out these tasks easily and quickly. It must also give advisors value beyond what is available on the public site or from free sources like Yahoo or Bloomberg.

Once built, a site requires promotion to spread the word. For example, Putnam is mailing product guides and postcards to advisors, although there's no mass advertising campaign. The company is also holding seminars to teach advisors to use the site more efficiently.  

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