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Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Holy Investing

by: Tony Pennino

How can financial services firms capture new assets and new customers, especially in this troubled economy? Many firms are racing upmarket and embracing high-net-worth individuals. But Vision Funds is trying something new, and it is targeting investors with smaller pocketbooks.

Vision is launching its Affinity Marketing Program, Ken Thompson, vice president at the firm, told the MutualFundWire.com. The program is an extension of the firm's educational efforts.

"We target a number of different kinds of organizations like churches or organizations like the Elks Club," Thompson reported. "What happens is, say, a church puts half of its cemetery fund into one of our investment vehicles. Let us say that amount equals $250,000. Then any other member of the church can invest in our products, and because of that initial investment we can offer them break point pricing even if an individual invests $500."

Vision Funds are load funds. "We feel that financial advice and planning are a very important part of investing, but it can be costly for individuals who do not have a lot to invest. Yet, $500 means a lot to them. This program provides them an opportunity to get those services at a discount," the executive contended.

"We are looking to provide services for the average individual, not the affluent customer," he continued. The program also has application for institutions in enterprise zones that may not see as many investment opportunities as other parts of the country.

Vision Funds also has an arrangement with M&T Asset Management, its adviser. M&T Asset Management is affiliated with M&T Bank, which offers a bank-at-work program. Any employee that works for a company that is part of this program can get a 25 basis point reduction on any of the Vision Funds offerings.

"We have taken the idea of Sam's Club and extended it to the mutual fund business," Thompson added. "People pay a fee to be a member of the club, but then they have access to discounted products."

Vision Funds is concentrating its efforts primarily in the Northeast, especially New York and Pennsylvania.

"This is really a grassroots program. It takes people who have something in common and gives them another way to leverage that commonality," he concluded.

"We don't have the ad dollars of a Fidelity. This is our way of reaching the average-guy-on-the-street investor," the executive concluded.

Next week, the firm will be launching a proprietary variable annuity product. It will reportedly have a nationwide reach. Three Vision funds are a part of the offering. 

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