is the fund industry cultivating the Fourth Estate? Last week the Investment Company Institute took the time to burnish its image by hosting a shindig for the financial press. Between forty and fifty reporters gathered at the posh "21" Club in midtown Manhattan to hear two presidents -- Terry Glenn
, president of Merrill Lynch mutual funds and Matthew Fink
, president of the ICI -- share the industry's message while partaking of rare steak and free-flowing wine.
Spotted at the event were reporters from a wide variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal's Jim White, and reporters from the Smart Money, Business Week, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bridge News, the Associated Press, Crain's New York, Ad Age, Investment News and all of the trade rags.
Surrounded by the silvers and reds of old leather and formal service, Glenn touched on three topics: the state of the industry, investor awareness of the industry and retirement security.
Glenn underpinned the health of the industry by citing the more than $300 billion in net flows during 2000. He also touched on the ICI's efforts to reach minority investors through a partnership with the National Urban League.
He saved his emphasis, though, for ERISA reform. Glenn called for the passage of both the provisions of last year's Portman-Cardin legislation and the controversial Boehner bill. Portman-Cardin would simplify discrimination testing in 401(k) plans and raise contribution limits to 401(k)'s and IRAs while Boehner's bill would allow financial services companies to provide investment advice in 401(k) plans as long as the firms disclose any conflicts of interest.
Away from the podium, Glenn also dropped some hints about Merrill's plans. He seemed somewhat surprised by the slow growth of 529 college savings plans and expressed concern over the structure of those plans.
"We need to make sure that we don't do with the 529 plan what we did with the 401(k) ... give away the recordkeeping at a loss," he mused to reporters.
He also told a reporter from Fund Marketing Alert
that Merrill Lynch has no plans to change the level of its advertising budget for mutual funds this year.
Fink limited his remarks primarily to discussing the after-tax reporting now required by the SEC.
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