Apparently some mutual fund companies think they can buy your trust and loyalty. Or at least rent it for a while. Ian McDonald in the Wall Street Journal reports on an unlikely trend. Mutual fund companies (voluntarily) cutting the fees on the funds they manage. While the percentages may seem low, if you measure it relative to the trillions of dollars invested in mutual funds it adds up to a significant reduction.

Apparently the Spitzer investigations woke up many fund boards to their fiduciary responsibilities.

Lipper attributes the sharp rise in fee cuts to efforts by many fund boards to regain trust, following allegations in 2003 by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and other authorities that several fund firms allowed select investors to rapidly trade fund shares, sapping the returns of long-term shareholders. Mr. Spitzer required several firms to agree to fee cuts before settling civil charges.

“The reason for the sharp rise in management-fee cuts is the examination by Eliot Spitzer in 2003,” said Kip Price, head of Lipper’s global fiduciary review unit, which helps fund boards size up returns and costs. “A light was shone on fees, and then there were cuts.”

It will be interesting to see how long these cuts stick. A cynic would expect backsliding once the rush of pressure and publicity wears off. However with the rise of low-cost ETFs and the continued inroads from index funds, it may be difficult for fund companies to ask for raises in the future.

Liz Moyer at take notice of the hybrid mutual fund trend. Lower costs and better liquidity are some reasons why some might prefer a mutual fund structure. However, highly publicized scandals at hedge funds have made some investors open to investing in mutual funds that invest with hedge-fund techniques.

And the real kicker: Mutual funds are more closely monitored than hedge funds, at least for now. That means there’s less likelihood that the manager will take the money and run. “It’s a safer way to go for the average person,” says New York investment adviser Lew Altfest.

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