A few Canadian Mutual Fund websites are close to the leading edge of use of the Internet. Altamira has been leading the pack since the company became the first Canadian mutual fund company to have a web presence. If I were giving out awards, I'd give Altamira's site (www.altamira.com) the trophy for Best All-Round Canadian Mutual Fund Website. It's a clean, easy, to use site with enough graphics to make it pleasant to look at, but not so picture-heavy as to overload the band width.
Altamira's site has the usual descriptions of their own funds, as well as discussions, graphs, daily value tracking, and a few useful tools such as the RRSP Calculator and the Cash Management Calculator. Because this company sells its funds directly to the consumer, it has been well-motivated to go the extra mile to communicate with its customers.
But, even the Altamira site is not perfect. When I used the Cash Management Calculator and entered a monthly income of $20,000 (which I wish were true) and an RRSP contribution of zero, I was told "You are probably contributing less than your allowable limit." I was not impressed with this high-tech insight. But that's a minor complaint and I was looking for trouble. According to a designer of website for mutual funds (who did not work on Altamira's pages) "Altamira still sets the standards which other Mutual Funds aspire to meet."
Close runners up for top award would be the Dynamic Mutual Funds site at www.dynamic.ca, MacKenzie at www.mackenziefinancial.com, and Royal Mutual Funds. Dynamic has a very good entry-level explanation of the lay of the land in Mutual Funds for the complete novice, MacKenzie does a fine job of posing thoughtful questions to get a profile of what kind of investor you are.
If there were an award for the Best Collection of Links to Other Sites the Royal's page at www.royalbank.com/english/fund would win hands down. Not only is the list extensive and well-organized, it even includes listings for Royal's competitors, although with some snarky comments such as "Sir John [Templeton] goes cyber-crazy," and "not a whole lot here." Sometimes these very net-savvy comments are right on, but not when they refer to their own site the "premier site in Canada for mutual fund information." But the pot shots are rather harmless and are a tip of the hat to the guy who's paying the piper.
Even if Royal Mutual Funds can't be completely objective, The Fund Library comes pretty close. Tracey Wood, President of this industry-financed website at www.fundlib.com admits that the supporting members get more detailed listings on her site than do non-members, but this site would still be the only real contender if there were an award for The Best Directory of Canadian Mutual Fund Information.
Woods says that the Fund Library site would also get any award for The Most Popular Site Relating to Canadian Mutual Funds - it gets 2.5 million hits per month. "Hits" is often a mis-leading indicator since a browser can make multiple hits during one visit to a single site. Nevertheless, hit counts are often all anyone has to prove their site's popularity and so are usually carefully guarded secrets on commercial sites. Trimark, says Woods, has told her that its site gets 75,000 hits per month.
The Fund Library's site is also one of the largest. Tracy Woods estimates that with the recent addition of profiles of investment counselors, there are 5,000 pages in the site. Mutual Fund investors will appreciate the fine art of making something complicated appear to be simple, the fund library achieves this goal with its large, diverse site that's still very easy to navigate.
Do you want to know the Worst Mutual Fund sites on the net? Don't worry, you'll find them for yourself without trying. Then, the next time you go looking for them - if you ever try to go back - you'll find that they've suddenly and silently become some of the best. The Web is evolving that fast.
Jim Carroll, co-author of Canadian Money Management Online and a clutch of other Canadian Bestsellers about the Internet, is unflinching about pinpointing blame in companies that aren't using the Internet well. "The big problem is that the guys upstairs don't get it. The senior management just does not get it. They think it's a beauty contest. They need to think more strategically."
Tracey Woods of the Fund Library "wholeheartedly agrees," even though while wearing her hat as Marketing Director of Communicopia Inc., she is responsible for selling that company's website creation services to those same senior managers.
Communicopia, says Woods, can put a company on-line for $10,000, but for that the company gets a static posting, usually based on existing brochures. The next step is some sort of interactivity and tools. A site which goes the full distance would provide integrated solutions with access to existing databases and customized features for registered users. In such an application, rich, risk-happy investors would be directed to different information and funds than budget-conscious working people saving for the education of their children or for their own retirement.
Woods estimates that such fully developed a website would cost a company $500,000 to one million dollars. (Note that the Royal's attitudinal directory calls the Fidelity Investment Site "see what $1 million and a 25 full-time staff will get you.")
And after that? Woods says "Anyone contemplating a website now has to realize that it's got to be in a constant state of change. Whatever we do now - there will be a better option in a year, or 5 years from now."
Jim Carroll's vision of the future of on-line Mutual Funds is that we'll very soon take for granted the ability to track our personal portfolios, to compare different funds instantly and to have direct access to investment tools. "The Internet," says Carroll inventing a word, "is going to lead to dis-intermediation." He envisions a marketplace in which "planners and middlemen will tend to become irrelevant as the consumer becomes more empowered."
"It must be accepted that the Internet is 'it'," says Carroll, "it will be the backbone of the economy of the 21st century." Even if you're one of those senior managers who "just doesn't get it," you'll have to agree that Carroll gets the prize for Best Bullish Attitude on the Internet.