INTERVIEW: Inside Columbia Threadneedle’s merger with BMO

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Columbia Threadneedle Investments is looking to use data to further deepen client engagement after bringing BMO under its brand, says its Head of EMEA Marketing Ross Duncton.

The acquisition of BMO Global Asset Management’s EMEA business was completed in November 2021, bringing £525 billion of AUM under the same brand.

“[This was] two very sizeable businesses coming together in the same region, targeting many of the same audiences,” says Ross, who is also Head of Direct to Consumer and Co-Head Digital Distribution.

The primary aim in the rebrand was very much to put clients at the heart of it.


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“It was very much around how do we make it as straightforward for customers as possible,” says Ross.

This meant that the scope of the rebrand had to go far beyond the obvious brand assets and encompass back-end systems such as integration of websites, CRM and marketing automation, where fortuitously there was a lot of overlap in terms of vendors.

The firm also chose not to approach it in a piecemeal way, but all in one push, allowing clear, simple and consistent messaging, and making sure to cover all the key touchpoints with clients.

The job was made easier by the fact the two brands were complementary: Columbia Threadneedle had traditionally led on the strength of its research capability while BMO had led with its responsible investment capabilities.

“Both had core capabilities that were consistent throughout, but one was stronger here and the other here.”

These were brought together in the purpose statement: “Investing smarter for the world you want”, taking the strongest elements from both businesses.

“Once we had that clarity about what we wanted to articulate, a lot of the other elements  came through as well, and it was a question of how we took people on that journey. It was about taking the essence of the two and making sure we reiterated one plus one equals more than two.”

The work may have looked “simple” from the outside, Ross explains, but simple is not “easy”, and actually this meant a huge amount of work behind the scenes, especially to get it all live over a single weekend.

Internally, the new marketing team structure was brought together within a few months of the deal completing, with Ross noting that again there were similarities across the businesses, as there tends to be with marketing team structures across the industry. However, elements such as locations, certain technology and policies for example, took longer to come together as they were part of the wider integration of the businesses.

So as a marketer who has been through a significant consolidation, what do marketers need to know about the challenges? Ross encourages marketers to be “versatile, adaptable and embrace change”.

“Marketing is really well-placed for that because typically when you go through these sorts of acquisitions or mergers, marketing is at the front end of the change that typically needs to happen.”

The marketing function, he says, is often one of the first to have to deliver, whether in terms of a brand or some sort of proposition change.

Being “versed in change” and embracing it is going to be increasingly necessary for marketers.

Despite there being some “really good” visual identities in some brands, Ross argues that the gamechanger is the idea of brand truly extending to every single touchpoint with clients, a conception that will become more important as the industry continues to change amidst consolidation.

“It’s becoming increasingly important to have real clarity of what your proposition and distinctiveness as a brand is, and what makes you relevant.”

So what’s next for the merged business? Ross says the focus of the business from a marketing point of view now is continue to enhance its use of data to become even more client-centric and relevant.

“What’s working and what’s not working – and most importantly, what are our clients looking for from us?”

He says that the company is becoming more digital-first, but this doesn’t mean “digital-only”.

“Face to face relationships and interaction with our clients is still fundamentally important. I don’t see that massively changing any time soon, but how we generate that interest and how we drive people to face to face engagement when appropriate is changing.

“Ultimately, marketing is about deepening our overall engagement with clients and prospects right throughout the customer lifecycle.”

“We have a really strong proposition under the Columbia Threadneedle brand now, stronger than it has ever been and stronger than it was under either of the previous businesses.”

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