The Challenge for Asset Managers: Differentiation to benefit customers.
Tightening competition, shrinking margins and rising client demands. Due to these pressures, a differentiated positioning and the achievement of real customer engagement are of central importance for asset managers. So how do companies tackle these challenges or even use them to their advantage? Christian Haas, from Haas Associates and Mike Hakkens from WATC Consulting AG share their views on how companies and executives can positively approach these challenges with the introduction of complementary client-facing teams.
The client perspective: Invest in me, and I will invest in you.
Clients expect new insights and solutions from suppliers. In addition to know- how, this requires above all a sustained interest in the situation of the client. Whether institutional client, distribution partner or direct investor, the trust in the asset manager determines the commercial success of the relationship significantly. The dynamics of this relationship are changing dramatically though. For example, due to changing client needs and expectations, the ‘hyperadoption’ of advances in digital technology and the continuous stream of regulatory initiatives and the implementation thereof. The classic product-orientated sales push is no longer accepted. A consultative approach, starting from the perspective of the client, needs to be applied to achieve the trusted adviser status, over time. Besides the development of processes and systems, the adaptation to this new reality above all requires innovation in human capital management. To live up to the complexity of this new kind of relationship management, we suggest the introduction of a complementary, heterogenous team composition to successfully face the stated challenges.
The employee perspective: Empower me to engage me.
In our roles as customer management and human capital consultants to the asset management industry, we consistently hear from successful sales and relationship talent, that they look for three requirements to deliver top results: 1) to receive responsibility for the assigned market and to further develop brand awareness; 2) to have the ability to develop custom client solutions; 3) to manage client relations in one’s own individual way. Additionally, employees require a perspective. They need to be able to identify themselves with the company culture and strategic vision within their own beliefs and values set. That these findings are not new, makes the significant potential that we have identified in the analysis of the industry and individual asset management organisations even more remarkable. These positive characteristics, which clients expect and see as added value from suppliers, are often nipped in the bud, as they are deemed not to be aligned with the internal workings of the organisation. A meticulously curated team with complementary skills, from all relevant parts of the organisation, can positively counteract this situation.
The company perspective: There is nothing “safe” about an undifferentiated brand anymore. Companies need to position themselves in a differentiated and profitable manner. They must also establish a valid cultural DNA that carries the company to achieve its objectives and values the uniqueness of individual employees. This is the fine line that leaders need to define and use as the ‘north star’ to guide decision-making and execution. We recommend companies to aim high: rally the organisation around a common, top-level objective and build non-homogenous teams that are made up of different characters and different skills sets.
In working with suppliers, clients want to learn and gain new insights. They want support in answering complex questions and solutions for complex problems. We firmly believe that only complementary teams can provide all this effectively, in today’s world.
Dare to differ: Seizing opportunities with complementary teams.
So how heterogeneous should or must front-line teams in asset management be? In our daily work we continue to see that most people have a desire to develop and change over the lifecycle of their career. For example, a fund analyst that wants to move into institutional Sales. Or an institutional sales manager that wants to switch to wholesale distribution. Will these people, with their heterogeneous skills, enable existing teams to be more successful in serving clients? The answer is yes, of course.
A further question is, why we speak about the need for more ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ but only rarely allow it? The answer is obvious: risk. Going ‘off benchmark’ entails taking more risk, which is also the case in investment management. Isn’t that exactly where the added value for clients is hidden? Very few firms in asset management today allow failure. As a result, very few leaders expose themselves by trying new things because the risk of failure is often inexcusable. The consequences are obvious: innovation is nipped in the bud, inspiration is absent and organisational energy is largely inward-focussed with client needs being a side-show.
We are convinced that, with the heterogeneous nature of their know how, problem-solving approaches and personalities, complementary teams can make a significant difference in the client relationship, over time resulting in higher retention as well as up- and cross-selling rates. The successful practical implementation requires courage. However, not just risk, but also opportunity should be considered to objectively assess new ways of working.
The bottom line: Complementary teams can add value for customers and asset managers.
Real added value for clients is generated ‘off benchmark’. In customer relationship management this means the involvement of different individuals with different skills and mindsets that collectively can fully meet the needs of clients. This generates new, inspiring approaches and solutions that are the basis for true client engagement on their terms. Firms must decide if they want to go this route. A key decision driver will be the value associated with heterogeneity. Change and uncertainty are the only constant in today’s world. Our clients are in many ways facing similar challenges as we do. They are looking for partners that take the initial step and gather experiences that add value in solving them. We feel that this is the time to try new ways to engage clients, starting with building complementary client-facing teams.
About the authors: Christian Haas is the owner of Haas Associates (www.haas-associates.com), an executive search firm specialised in asset management. Mike Hakkens leads the financial services and customer experience practices at WATC Consulting AG (www.whataboutthecustomer.com), the leading European strategy consultancy specialised in customer management.