Funds coming at you through cyberspace

Every mutual fund company and brokerage on the block wants to get into your wallet through the Internet. How to get there from here?

Iang Jeon was born in South Korea, but grew up with a Southern twang in Tennessee. His love of "Star Trek" hooked him on computers back in high school in Knoxville. Now this Mr. Spock wannabe is at the controls, in search of the future of financial services in cyberspace.


At 37, Iang Jeon (pronounced Yon Jon) is one hot property as the big financial services companies jockey for position on the World Wide Web. In the past five years, he has been director of electronic marketing for Fidelity Investments, an analyst for Forrester Research, and vice president for electronic commerce at Liberty Financial Cos. This month Jeon jumped from Liberty Financial, where he helped pioneer the customized Web site, to rival Scudder, Stevens & Clark Inc., where his mission will be to find new ways to personalize the firm's relationship with customers through the Web. Of his four jobs in five years, Jeon says: "There is a saying that time on the Internet is like dog years. Translated into Internet time, I have been spending a long time in various situations."

To be sure, few of the big players in the financial services world are letting the grass grow under their feet in the race to plug into the online revolution. But the winners, says Jeon, will be those that build their systems around the Web, not the commercial online services like America Online or the Microsoft Network. And as more and more of the information and online trading itself becomes a commodity, the winners will be those who provide personalized investment experiences.


For one thing, says Jeon, the fund companies and brokerages are going to have to stop expecting Web investors to put up with things they would never stand for from a financial planner.

Take all those asset allocation work sheets and retirement planners on any number of mutual fund Web sites. You fill out the work sheets, but they aren't connected to anything and you have to start all over the next time you go back to the site, he says. You'd walk out on a planner who couldn't remember your name, age or assets.

"But that is the experience that is on the Web today," says Jeon.

Jeon got high marks for the Web site he built for Boston-based Liberty Financial. The system is built around a so-called digital certificate, a kind of electronic ATM card that provides customers with sophisticated security for their accounts.

"People fixate on the security aspect and they miss the larger value, which is creating personalized, interactive experience on line," Jeon says.

Beyond the security, the Liberty system builds a database that allows customers to get customized financial advice. A 63-year-old single, working customer at Liberty's Stein, Roe & Farnham brokerage house, for instance, might be sent messages to her home page about planning for her retirement. And the Liberty system knows not to bother sending her information about saving for college.

"It was a big step," says Mary J. Cronin, a professor of management at Boston College and author of a new book, "Banking and Finance on the Internet." "Everyone is doing it now but they did it much earlier than most."

Jeon is cautious about talking about what he is working on at Scudder, but says he would like to create "something that is breakthrough" in the next nine to 12 months.


Pub Date: 11/16/97