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Fidelity plans ahead

Fidelity Investments will issue a private-label version of Intuit's personal finance planning software for 401(k) retirement accounts.

Fidelity Investments will issue a private-label version of Intuit's personal finance planning software for 401(k) retirement accounts.

The deal links the largest mutual fund company, which manages $441 billion in assets, with the dominant player in personal finance software. Fidelity already participates in Intuit's NETworth site, which provides information on 65 mutual fund families.

"Companies are crying out for a way to teach their employees about 401(k) plans," Scott Cook, Intuit's chairman, told conferees Thursday at the Gartner Group's Internet and Electronic Commerce show in San Francisco. He noted that responsibility for retirement planning is being shifted from company pension plans to employees.

"Unfortunately, consumers are ill-prepared to make these kinds of decisions," Cook added, saying employers are wary about giving investment advice because that advice carries liabilities for the company under federal insider-trading laws.

Fidelity, the industry leader in 401(k) accounts, expects that its version of Quicken Financial Planner--to be called Fidelity QFP--will be available in early 1997. In addition to planning functions, it will allow users to download information on their 401(k) accounts. Cook said Intuit (INTU) intends to release a Web version of the financial planning software at about the same time.

More broadly, Cook said, "information and transactions are important, but the key on the Net is better decisions."

Support for that conventional wisdom comes from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, an independent research and education group.

"Our research shows that employees know they need to plan for retirement, but they are not doing so in large numbers, in part because they do not have access to 401(k) retirement planning information in a format that is easy to understand and use," EBRI president Dallas Salisbury said in a statement.

Also at the Gartner show, start-up HydraWeb Technologies unveiled technology to balance loads from heavy usage across several Web servers to boost performance and reliability. It allows Webmasters and system administrators to spread large volumes of HTTP requests across multiple servers.

Kiva Software also demonstrated its Kiva Enterprise Server software, now used on the Travelocity Web site. The software, to be formally introduced this year, is an advanced application server designed to deploy and manage business-critical Web applications.