What Do Mutual Fund Chiefs At Gathering See: Doom Or Revival?

This year’s mutual fund industry conference has a lot on its plate as presenters and attendees grapple with an investor rush to lower-cost products and the tectonic shift that’s caused in asset management.

Mutual fund portfolio managers, fund directors, compliance officers, industry operations specialists, lawyers, vendors and service providers from around the world will hash out the issues at the 59th annual General Membership Meeting ( GMM ) of the Investment Company Institute ( ICI ), happening May 3-5 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.

ICI President and CEO Paul Schott Stevens expects this year’s attendance to hit 1,300.

James McNamara, president and CEO of Goldman Sachs Mutual Funds and this year’s GMM chair, will deliver opening remarks.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, co-founder of the McChrystal Group, is scheduled to talk with Stevens about leadership and public policy priorities during a Wednesday session.

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric ( GE ), is slated to talk with Stevens about such issues as transformative technology in today’s economy.

The industry bubbles with competition between active and passive funds, between mutual funds and ETFs , with many fund complexes operating all types of funds. Stevens says the GMM is neutral ground where all approaches are welcome. “We don’t pick and choose winners,” Stevens said in advance of the gathering. “It’s the market and investors who do that. And many public policy issues are the same for both types of funds.”

Shundrawn Thomas, executive vice president and head of the funds and managed accounts group at Northern Trust Management, is due to moderate a panel titled “Facing the Future: Fresh Perspectives.” Panel members will discuss priorities and concerns of the asset management industry. Scheduled panelists are Thomas Jones, head of strategic relations, intermediary distribution at Columbia Threadneedle Investments; Heather Lord, senior vice president, head of strategy and innovation for Capital Group; and Sean Tuffy, senior vice president, investment services at Brown Brothers Harriman.

Before the conference, Thomas told IBD that he expects to ask panelists how fund firms – both mutual funds and ETFs – are dealing with the price compression brought on by the rise of ETFs. “If you are a provider of predominantly actively managed mutual funds, what does that mean?” he asked. “Does it mean you have to expand your business model to offer more passive solutions? Or operate more efficiently and offer what you already do at a lower price?”

Asked whether smaller firms, especially those that offer few, if any, passive mutual funds and ETFs, are in danger of being driven out of the marketplace, Thomas said, “There will continue to be organizations, even if they are boutique-like, that deliver …

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