Publish date:

Dear Dagen: How Can I Uncover More About a Fund Manager's Background?

The fund companies themselves typically provide minimal info. Here's how to dig deeper.

How can I get the best information about fund managers? I've been tracking a few funds but I need some information on the managers before I take the final plunge. -- Wayne Edwards

Wayne,

Have you considered stalking?

You will often hear professionals warn that you need to know the portfolio manager before buying a fund. But then you open the prospectus and find very little.

To get the information you need, you have to dig. Frequently, a fund's prospectus won't offer much in the way of background -- work experience during the last five years and the length of time he or she has been with the fund. The fund's statement of additional information, or SAI, may not contain much more. (See a previous

story for more on the SAI.)

But this is just your starting point.

At the company's toll-free number, phone reps may be able to tell more about the manager's work history, education and credentials -- even though listening to a portfolio manager's resume read to you over the phone is about as exciting as hearing a prerecorded weather report.

Push the phone staffers to see how much they will tell you. Ask if the manager trades for his or her own account -- which could raise conflict-of-interest issues -- or if a manager's personal money is in the fund.

As a test, I called

Strong Funds

Monday to see how much I could find out about

(SGROX)

Strong Growth's manager Ron Ognar. The phone rep mentioned an old article from

Mutual Funds Magazine

that I might try to find.

Also, scour the fund company's Web site. The Strong Funds

site offered almost the same information that I had collected via the phone. Plus, the site includes a video of Ognar talking about his investment philosophy.

The

Janus

site also delivers personal information about some of its managers. For instance, I never knew that

(JANSX)

Janus fund manager Jim Craig liked to play the piano.

OK, OK. This kind of detail is unlikely to propel you to buy a particular fund. Like most fund investors, you are probably more concerned with a manager's investment record. I am afraid this history is harder to uncover.

"You will have a tough time tracing the performance history of any individual. You won't find it all just spelled out somewhere," says Pamela Wilson, an attorney with

Hale and Dorr

in Boston.

TheStreet Recommends

The

Securities and Exchange Commission

permits a fund company prospectus to disclose a manager's performance at a previous employer. But you see this very rarely, says Kathleen Clarke, an attorney with

Seward & Kissel

in Washington.

If a manager has been with one organization for a long time or, better yet, on a single fund, you should be able to piece together the manager's long-term performance record. You will have to find out a manager's dates of service on each fund -- via the phone or the Internet -- then check out the performance of those funds using a source like

Morningstar. But quite often, a manager previously may have been running private portfolios for which there are no public records of performance.

I urge you to use the Internet as much as possible. A simple

Yahoo! keyword search on a manager's name might turn up very little. But the plethora of online finance publications, starting with

TheStreet.com

, can help you track down articles written about a manager.

Your public library may also offer free access to one or more publication databases, like

Dow Jones Interactive

, that let you search for previously published articles on a manager. If you want to dig that deep, the trip might be worth it.

Disciplinarian

Perhaps you are more interested in uncovering a manager's disciplinary record.

To get the dirt on your broker, you have the

Central Registration Depository

, a disciplinary and employment database available from

NASD Regulation, at your disposal.

But there is nothing like the CRD for mutual fund managers. "It doesn't work that way," says Wilson. The law has always been much more concerned with people who are selling something to you, like a broker, than someone who is buying something on your behalf, like a fund manager, she says.

That doesn't mean fund managers are free from regulation or oversight. The Investment Company Act of 1940, which governs the mutual fund industry, includes a section, 9(a), that disqualifies people with certain legal and disciplinary problems from working for an investment adviser. "I can't think of one portfolio manager with a disciplinary record," adds Wilson.

If you want even more, get your hands on a mutual fund firm's Form ADV. This standard regulatory filing required of all advisers may provide some details on a fund manager here and there.

"Almost every mutual fund manager works for a company that has to fill out a Form ADV. And depending on how important your manager is, there might be information about your manager in that form," says Wilson.

Call your fund company and ask for Parts I and II of this form and make sure you get what are called the schedules along with it. Part I will highlight the firm's disciplinary history and any legal or regulatory problems, while the narrative is in the schedules.

You can also get the Form ADV by calling the SEC's Public Reference Room at 202-942-8090. The SEC will charge you a fee for copying the document, so ask how much it is going to cost first. This is one intricate document. After seeing it, you may be satisfied with the details on a fund company's Web site.

Send your questions and comments, along with your full name, to

deardagen@thestreet.com.

Dear Dagen aims to provide general fund information. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell funds or other securities.