Huge passive investing firms currently dominate the asset management industry, attracting significant inflows and driving down the cost of investing. This continued price compression threatens the profitability of active managers and smaller shops. Now, when confronted with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, profit margins are even narrower. In order to compete, smaller firms must demonstrate the value of their products to investors and advisors to justify premium pricing. While an historic record of positive performance is crucial, fund providers must enhance the asset management digital experience to increase awareness of products and stimulate growth.

Currently, asset managers’ digital experiences fail to meet the consumer expectations set by tech-sector innovators like Apple and Netflix. Sites are difficult to navigate, and many offer few innovative features and are rarely updated. Apps—if they exist—employ bare-bones designs and offer limited utility, as many only provide research or single-tool functionalities. The COVID-19 outbreak accelerated the transition to a more digital world, and asset managers could be left behind if they do not improve their digital platforms. Offering digital experiences comparable to well-known tech brands may seem daunting, but firms can achieve it if they dedicate the time and resources to tracking how their competitors—and out-of-industry giants—present and update their sites.

At Corporate Insight (CI), we have been monitoring and analyzing the asset management digital experience for over 20 years. Our research allows asset managers to see updates and improvements that competing firms and industry leaders are making to their digital properties—including recent responses to the COVID-19 pandemic—and our incisive survey data shows what site users actually consider important. We leverage this information to recommend strategies to stay ahead of the curve and provide an online experience that satisfies the wants and needs of clients and prospects.

The asset management industry, like all businesses, is facing an unprecedented period of volatility as the world reacts to COVID-19 and its economic impact. Preventive measures and social distancing have underscored the importance of digital platforms and the way companies interact with customers online. Even after recovery, the pandemic will have pushed business irrevocably toward the remote and virtual. Asset managers can use this upheaval as an opportunity to strengthen and improve their digital offerings not just for the duration of the outbreak but for the evermore digital future. Below, we highlight ways asset managers can enhance the visibility of their products and engage a larger audience through an exceptional digital experience for both investors and advisors.

Employ effective marketing and education strategies to draw in investors

Asset managers face significant barriers in attracting and retaining investors. With many consumers opting for retail brokerage accounts, fund providers must identify ways to build broader product appeal. Additionally, many U.S. consumers lack the basic investment knowledge required to understand what makes a product unique, compelling firms to rethink their approaches to fund promotion. While this story may appear bleak, there is a silver lining. Many investors are willing to pay more for the right products. In our August 2019 Investor Survey, only 11% of mutual fund and ETF owners selected cost as the key driver in fund choice. The clients are out there, and firms can acquire and retain them by:

  1. Utilizing public site and homepage visibility to market new and specialized products
  2. Creating educational product pages that seamlessly lead clients to a purchase

Showcase unique products with strategic, visible promotions

Asset managers create meticulously researched, specialized products—such as model portfolios and ESG suites—that help clients invest more wisely. There is demand for these types of products; for example, model portfolios alone saw their AUM grow to $2.7 trillion in 2019 and have increased an average of 19% annually since 2016. Additionally, ESG products have seen record inflows in 2019, with AUM now six times its level in 2015. These carefully crafted products may draw in investors concerned more with values-based investing than maximizing savings. CI’s August 2019 Investor Survey found that 48% of Millennial mutual fund and ETF owners would even be willing to accept lower investment returns in order to address ESG goals.

Many Millennial mutual fund and ETF owners are more willing to meet ESG standards at the expense of returns

How willing are you to accept potentially lower investment returns in order to address ESG/SRI goals?

However, poor fund visibility on asset management digital platforms is unfortunately common. Several firms in CI’s Asset Management Monitor – Investor coverage set fail to advertise new or featured products on their homepage in any way. The lack of digital promotions obstructs fund visibility and consequently limits investment in funds. To raise prospect and client awareness, firms should showcase products using eye-catching promotions in the form of banners or dedicated sections. The promotions should be findable from multiple points on the site; particularly effective locations include the homepage and fund list pages.

Janus Henderson Homepage Featured Investments Section
Janus Henderson Fund List Featured Products Section

Provide informative online resources that lead consumers to a purchase

Many asset managers’ digital experiences lack the necessary information and visual support to demonstrate fund value. To ensure investor comprehension, fund providers can start by designing informational pages with simplified language and supplementary visuals that emphasize investment benefits. Effective informational pages avoid jargon and employ images, icons and graphs to illustrate value. These pages should include clearly defined calls to action that lead to simple and streamlined account opening processes, allowing prospects to become clients easily. Asset managers often miss the opportunity to convert investor interest into action directly from funds’ informational pages. Clients visiting these educational pages are interested and considering these products closely, and firms should ensure their path to funding is simple and straightforward.

Franklin Templeton’s Emerging Market Funds page provides a best-in-class example of how to educate clients and help them start investing. The page is broken up into digestible sections and offers an image, graph and infographic to supplement its text. Additionally, a dedicated section at the bottom of the page informs investors how to buy these products, either with an advisor or on their own.

Franklin Templeton Emerging Market Funds Page (Truncated

Attract and empower advisors with digital resources

As individual investors abandon fund providers for brokerage supermarkets, asset managers must bolster the services they offer to advisors if they wish to attract more business. In our August 2019 Investor Survey, we found that 39% of mutual fund and ETF investors rely primarily on their advisors to make investment decisions. Firms can capitalize on this by improving the advisor digital experience in the following ways:

  1. Offering a comprehensive yet streamlined online experience that provides advisors with the necessary data to make informed decisions for their clients
  2. Supplying resources and tools that empower advisors to grow their businesses and communicate effectively with clients so they can promote products to a larger audience

If firms can construct advisor sites that accomplish these two objectives, they are more likely to attract a loyal advisor following and thus move their products more efficiently. CI’s Asset Management Monitor – Advisor team can help firms understand how best to accomplish these objectives using services such as our Advisor Website Audit, which is informed by a proprietary 2018 Financial Advisor Survey. We provide in-depth, actionable insight on topics at the forefront of advisors’ minds, so firms know how to make enhancements that target their clients’ needs.

Focus attention on enhancing fund research resources

According to our 2018 Advisor survey, 54% of all advisors viewed or downloaded fund profiles in the past 12 months, making this the most popular website activity by a significant margin. All age groups value detailed fund information, with 84% of Millennials, 73% of Gen Xers and 80% of Boomers+ deeming it “very important” or “extremely important.” Our survey also asked advisors about specific aspects of firms’ fund profiles, and we found that the top four most important fund-related attributes were detailed overviews of performance, risk and composition.

Advisors look for detailed fund information

Following are the advisor website attributes related to fund profile pages. How important is each to you? (Chart shows percentage of advisors that consider each attribute “very important” or “extremely important.”)

A best-in-class example appears on Columbia Threadneedle’s advisor site, which boasts extremely detailed resources that include all attributes covered in our Advisor Website Audit. The firm’s comprehensive fund performance and risk section include:

  • A unique Risk vs. Return section that allows advisors to visualize funds’ responses to volatility
  • A robust overview section that presents useful snapshots, allowing advisors to view a comprehensive summary of each fund from a central location

These features earned the firm’s fund profile resource the top rating on a four-point scale in our October 2019 report on fund profile pages.

Columbia Threadneedle Risk versus Return Graph and Overview Snapshot Section

Additionally, when we asked survey respondents to rate 120 individual website attributes found on most asset management firm websites, our findings solidified the importance of robust research resources. Of the 20 highest rated features, 10 belong to the Research & Insights category and specifically pertain to funds, emphasizing that asset managers looking to refresh their online offerings should focus on this area.

Provide useful, comprehensive business-building resources and tools

Business-building resources and tools also polled high with Millennial advisors. Young professionals value these resources more highly than older generations do, as they have less experience with client conversations, relationship building and portfolio allocation. In terms of specific business-building online capabilities, they highly value discoverability of resources (79%), a wide range of topics (77%) and support documents (77%).

Millennials also stated preferences for relevant tools—such as hypothetical portfolio builders, portfolio analyzers and retirement readiness calculators—that far exceed those of older generations. Specifically, between 75% and 84% of Millennials gave “very important” or “extremely important” ratings to various tools and calculators, compared to 55%-71% of Gen Xers and 32%-62% of Boomers+. This significant gap between age groups signals that the next generation of advisors will rely more on asset managers’ digital tools to build their business practices. Reinforcing these resources can help firms appeal to the growing cohort of Millennial advisors, garnering more online attention and therefore broadening their client bases.

BlackRock stands out as a firm that understands the significance of advisor tools. The firm offers a full suite of useful calculators covering topics from risk evaluation to retirement preparation and featuring interactive and dynamic functionalities and intuitive interfaces. Additionally, many of the tools allow advisors to generate PDF reports instantly, helping them communicate results with clients more easily.

BlackRock iRetire Tool Results Page (Truncated)

React to unexpected events with timely communication, robust thought leadership and comprehensive resource hubs

When crisis hits, as the COVID-19 pandemic has, firms must be able to address client concerns with prompt communication that reassures them and updated resources that prove firm value. For asset managers, this is the time to demonstrate why clients pay a premium for their products and services. The value comes not only from their direct offerings but also through the tailored communication, robust thought leadership and practical resources they provide.

Advisors, their clients, and individual investors can be overwhelmed by unforeseen volatility. As they find their footing, they need assurance that the firms they trust are taking steps to manage uncertainty and help their clients navigate obstacles. Reaching out to clients proactively with assessments of the situation and a summary of firm actions—especially when these communications come from senior leadership—shows that firms care and are prepared. Successful emails inform clients without forcing them to call or search the firm site, while simultaneously connecting advisors and investors to additional crisis materials, such as carefully crafted thought leadership. Capital Group responded quickly to the COVID-19 outbreak with an email containing a letter from the CEO, two related market commentaries and a registration link for an upcoming webinar on 2020 volatility. This email reassured, informed and connected clients to further resources quickly and easily.

Capital Group Capital Ideas Email

Strong thought leadership with actionable advice, straightforward data and a calming tone helps advisors navigate volatile periods. Firms should ensure they publish this content frequently during a crisis in order to keep up with daily changes in volatile markets. A variety of content—addressing what to do, what is happening and what the future may look like—in multiple formats—such as articles, videos and podcasts—gives clients the information they require in the form best suited for their needs. J.P. Morgan stands out for nearly daily updates, including webcasts, videos and audiocasts, that not only address the current situation but also provide volatility basics education and meaningful outlook predictions.

J.P. Morgan Daily Update Page

Many firms have created new pages to house their 2020 volatility thought leadership, including 21 out of the 25 firms covered by Asset Management Monitor. These pages help clients quickly locate the content they need; however, some firms make 2020 volatility centers that go beyond simply listing the latest commentaries. PIMCO’s Market Volatility: Resources for Advisors page offers links to the latest article and video commentaries but also includes a daily recap of market events, client-facing PDFs, featured funds for mitigating volatility and advisor-specific resources for navigating client conversations. These additional, tailored resources go beyond informing advisors and start helping them take action with their clients.

PIMCO Market Volatility: Resources for Advisors Page

Corporate Insight can help inform digital development decisions

Asset managers need to update their investor and advisor digital platforms in order to stay relevant in the current market and technological environment. The five points addressed in the body of this text represent a good jumping-off point for firms wondering where to start enhancing their digital experiences, but our full suite of Asset Management Monitor deliverables and services provides more actionable advice. With questions, contact INTEREST@CorporateInsight.com