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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Schott Looks to Innovation and the Future

Reported by Neil Anderson, Managing Editor

Innovation and the future were the featured themes Wednesday as more than 1,200 leaders of the mutual fund industry gathered at the Hilton Washington & Towers in Washington, D.C. for the beginning of the Investment Company Institute annual conference. John Murphy -- chairman, president and CEO of OppenheimerFunds, and chairman of the conference -- and ICI president Paul Schott Stevens opened the event by welcoming and addressing the attendees.

While the official theme of the ICI's 48th general membership meeting is "Creating Shareholder Value", Murphy's and Stevens' remarks made clear that the real focus this year is innovation, a concept the pair mentioned no fewer than 19 times. "Our industry is not typically thought of as the most innovative," Murphy said, "but the reality is that one of the best things about this industry is the dynamic, continuous evolution of our business." Stevens cited the mutual fund industry's long history of innovation, going all the way back to 1774 to the very first mutual fund, a Dutch offering called "Unity Creates Strength". "We take mutual fund investing for granted today," Stevens said. "But the very idea of fund investing itself was a remarkable innovation."

Both Stevens and Murphy stressed the importance of looking forward, while indirectly acknowledging the scandals that have rocked the industry in recent years. "No, the industry is not perfect," Murphy admitted. "If it was, we wouldn't be here discussing ways to serve our clients even better." The speakers even acknowledged the benefits of regulation. "Our industry continues to advocate for informed regulation that is driven by a benefit to investors," Murphy said. Stevens agreed. "Mutual funds should not only expect close scrutiny, but also understand that -- with $9.4 trillion in total assets today -- our size and importance demand it."

Retirement and the 401(k) market were also a hot topic. Stevens applauded the mutual fund industry for "playing a pivotal role in one of the most important innovations powering the growth of U.S. Retirement savings -- the 401(k)." Murphy concurred. "Yes, Congress passed the legislation that allowed for the creation of 401(k)s ... but ... we transformed those ideas into services that empower millions of Americans to save for long-term goals."

Ultimately, the speakers both encouraged their industry colleagues to look to the future. "The only thing certain about the future is that it will be different," Stevens said, "and it is incumbent upon us to embrace and shape that difference in a way that serves fund shareholders." 

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