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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Transfer Agents Face a Challenging Future

Reported by Tommy Fernandez

Global transfer agents face challenging future, filled with greater demands from clients to provide more services at lower prices plus greater scrutiny form fund boards and regulators.

The keys to addressing these challenges include streamlined, efficient operations structures and the embracement of cutting-edge technology.

These insights were provided during a breakout session titled "Fund Transfer Agents: What the Future Holds" at the ICI GMM Conference held at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C.

Moderated by Tracy Shelby, managing director for U.S. mutual fund transfer agency services for Boston Financial Data Services, the panel included Catherine Brady, managing director, Citi Fund Services, Robert Curran, vice president at Dodge & Cox [profile], and Robert Smith, senior vice president at Franklin Templeton Investor Services [profile].

Smith from Franklin Templeton said that his company has always had its own transfer agent, which the firm has expanded and fortified as it expanded its global blueprint.

In Franklin's case, the firm has transfer agency functions in 24 offices in 21 countries. These functions are handled on four platforms: U.S. Registered Funds; Canadian Funds; Domestic Indian Business, and a fourth that handles all of the firm's other international products.

Franklin structures itself so it has low cost regional operating centers in which local customers are treated in their local language, with empathy to their culture, efficiently.

Dodge's Curran said that his firm follows an outsourced model for transfer functions, allowing the firm to focus on asset management and client service. While his firm's global presence is still growing, he said it is vital for a firm to invest in developing knowledge of global issues and global support.

Meanwhile, Brady said that in the U.K. and Europe platform accounts are growing as clients increasingly want lower fees and more services. Transfer agents are looking to moving up the value chain and providing a wider range of distribution services. Technology is key, she said, for expanding the range of services, particularly as more clients press for straight-through-processing.

One thread of the discussion involved board involvement with transfer agency functions. Smith said that the level of involvement will be the same but the questions will be different, with an increased focus on cutting costs. Curran said there will be growing scrutiny of the options and strategies for communicating with shareholders, while Brady said boards, and regulators, will push more for transparency and investor protection. 

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