Almost a decade after the financial crash the financial services market, and by extension the investment management space, is still trying to re-establish trust and to re-build battered brands. Ever increasing regulation and competition mean even more intense pressure on fees and margins. Clients expectations are higher than ever and technology is potentially a game changer. In this context, we explored how investment management organisations are responding from a brand and communication perspective.
We undertook this research to see how effectively and consistently investment management houses are managing their brands in the light of a rapidly changing economic, regulatory, political and social context: Brexit and Trump in the White House to mention just two. The impact of RDR is still being felt as is the erosion of trust that started with financial crash in 2008 which has not lost momentum due to scandals as diverse as LIBOR rigging and PPI mis-selling. In this uncertain world, your brand is more important than ever as it is your brand that will ultimately give clients the confidence to choose you.
We reviewed 50 investment management house brands and rated and ranked their performance across a range of criteria. We describe these criteria in detail below. As far as we are aware, no other brand monitor of this type currently exists.
We defined our measurement criteria as follows:
Messaging – is there a clear articulation of ‘who we are and what we’re for’? Is there more emotive messaging encompassing ‘how we do things and why we exist? Is the organisation’s differentiation apparent? Is it all well written and easy to find?
Visual brand – are there discernible and coherent visual basic elements? Is there sufficient breadth in those defined visual basic elements? Are they appropriate to the stature of the organisation and true to message?
Consistency – is the visual system consistently applied? Does it translate effectively across different applications? If applied consistently does this play out flexibly or relentlessly?
Quality – is the overall brand and communications execution of a high standard and quality?
Saliency – is the overall impression appropriate for the organisation’s key audiences and core purpose?
Each company was scored between 0-20 on their perceived success against these five criteria. The scores were decided upon by a panel encompassing our own strategy and design teams, together with a respected professionals from the investment management sector. To arrive at the scores we reviewed each company’s website, as well as at least one printed document or downloadable PDF. This focus was driven not only by what was available to us, but also took account of the disproportionate importance that websites have today in terms of making the right impact.
Who we included
We chose 50 firms from a list – published annually – of the top global investment managers ranked by the value of their assets under management. We only included those firms that are headquartered in the UK as it increased the likelihood that their marketing and brand teams are also based in the UK. In addition, we excluded major mixed portfolio financial services brands such as Legal & General, Aviva and Standard Life as their investment management arm brands are inextricably linked to the corporate brand.
A dramatically changing landscape
There are different views on whether the industry is being or will be disrupted. What everyone does agree is that pace and level of change in this space is almost unprecedented and the tectonic plates are rapidly shifting. This inevitably means that there will be winners and losers.
We’ve identified what we think are the five biggest trends impacting the future of your industry. We talk about the whys and wherefores to paint a picture of what’s really going on.
Trust in financial services has been shattered
The financial services industry has never properly recovered its reputation post the crash in 2008. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2016, financial services Is still the least trusted industry surveyed. Fat cat salaries, LIBOR rigging and PPI mis-selling scandals have only added fuel to the flames. The result is that financial institutions are under more scrutiny than ever in the form of punishing levels of regulation. As trust needs to be at the heart of any successful client relationship, it is in the interest of the investment management industry to be more open and transparent. The industry needs to do a better job of telling its stories and highlighting the good work it does.
New entrants and technologies are game changers
Bigger players often don’t see threats when they come from smaller and more innovative players outside the traditional set. New entrants by definition have to offer something new, different and better to clients in order to wrestle business from the established players. They raise the bar and can quickly change the dynamic of an industry or even disrupt it completely. Technology often signals the breakthrough of new business models especially when it promises lower costs. The so-called ‘robo-advisors’ are largely being dismissed by the industry as lacking in sophistication and the human touch and therefore not a threat. This may very well be true today but with annual investment in Fintech in the billions of dollars, it may not be true for much longer. Smart investment management houses know that a change to the status quo is inevitable and are already transforming their businesses to succeed in this new world. Others will see the change too late and won’t be able to change brand or business model fast enough to survive.
Client needs have changed and they expect more for less
Investors want more bang for their buck. They still have concerns about what they perceive are high fees, which puts more and more pressure on investment managers to demonstrate added value. In light of the trust issues in the industry, clients are demanding more transparency around how their money is managed, as well as more effective and detailed communication. Transparency is a two-way street. So investment managers need to develop channels for client feedback. Investors also want easy access to their investments and the ability to manage their portfolios on any device. All of these demands stretch budgets at a time when fees, costs and margins have never been under so much pressure. There are also important changes to the client demographic. Wealthy women and successful young tech-savvy entrepreneurs to name but two. Investment managers cannot be all things to all people. You need to decide which client groups you are best placed to serve, and invest in developing solutions and services that meet their needs.
‘Me-too’ generic propositions are no longer enough
New entrants to the industry and more demanding clients mean that investment managers have to work much harder to stand out in an already crowded space. From the investor perspective it is almost impossible to tell the difference between one investment manager and another. This is because they are saying the same things: “We’re committed to meeting client needs”, “We have a culture of transparency and trust”, “Our portfolio managers are highly experienced” and “We have a unique investment philosophy and process”. They say these things so often that they start to believe they are differentiating themselves. They are not. Investment managers need to take a proper look under the hood to see what’s really at the heart of the business. What makes it tick. What enables it to win. This needs to be captured and communicated to make it easy for clients to understand what makes you different. Why they should choose you.
Client acquisition and growth means new business models
Winning new clients is more difficult than ever in a saturated and almost commoditised market. The old business model, already undermined by the 2014 RDR legislation, needs to be revisited and revamped if real growth is to be achieved. Investment managers are exploring a range of approaches, ranging from targeting new markets and acquisitions to accessing new distribution channels; and from entering new product categories to overhauling investment strategies. But which business model is right for your brand? Too often this question is overlooked as many adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. For example, does your brand have the permission and credibility to enter emerging markets? Will clients find a completely new product category compelling or confusing? Time needs to be taken to assess.