INTERVIEW: Vontobel CMO on building a brand story and marketing’s seat at the top table

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Vontobel’s Global CMO has been focusing on developing a story around its brand as the firm looks to push deeper into markets outside of Switzerland, like the US and the UK, he tells the Financial Services Forum.

Henry Detering, who took the marketing reins at Vontobel in April 2021 and is also Head of Global Marketing & Analytics, has spent the last 18 months organising the marketing team to fit the firm’s new structure and starting to implement a refreshed brand strategy.

Vontobel had historically been a holding company structure with an asset management division, a wealth management division and an investment bank. The firm has now evolved into a more holistic “investment firm”. Three years ago Vontobel decided to give up Investment Banking and focus solely on the buy-side businesses.

Henry’s job one was operationally bringing together four different marketing teams (a corporate team and one for each business).

In addition, the brand story needed to be strengthened and unite all the businesses of the firm. Vontobel had been traditionally good at product marketing within the individual business lines, with good branding in terms of the corporate entity, history and values.

Henry notes that he had a platform to begin with – his predecessor conducted a rebranding several years ago, in terms of purpose, values, fonts, logos and colours.

“I’ve refreshed a couple of things, as it’s been five years, to give ourselves some more flexibility. But no drastic changes.”

Vontobel badges itself as a “globally operating investment manager with Swiss roots”. There have been plenty of elements to draw on in telling this story, says Henry, including the family history and sustainability, which has been a key part of the firm’s corporate identity for some time.

As this story is deepened and developed, Vontobel will be taking it stronger into its markets. The company has very high awareness in Switzerland but much less in Germany or Italy for example, not to mention the US or the UK.

While one of Vontobel’s independent investment boutiques has been operating in the US for 40 years, the other boutiques are now offering their services there. Vontobel has also purchased UBS SFA, who work with US clients in Switzerland, pushing it to the market leader in that space “by multiples”.


A seat at the table

A key appeal of this role was the prominence given to marketing within Vontobel, with Henry having a seat on the global executive board: the voice of marketing is brought into strategy from the beginning.

“[The approach is] I want you at the table when we’re deciding what to do, because you can tell us how that will be perceived,” says Henry.

“I’m very excited and happy to be part of the leadership team; I’m not just the CMO, I’m one of the ten people involved in driving the firm. I have a seat at the table to really talk in terms of our distribution goals and efforts, not just a marketing plan.”

This was a welcome offer in an industry where, Henry notes, “marketing people are used to being told: a decision’s been made and now tell us how to sell this.”

While Vontobel is forward-thinking in its focus on brand, Henry says there has “definitely” been a shift in terms of how brand is perceived while he has worked in the industry.

“There used to be a strong focus on the concept of B2B brands and B2C brands. I have long argued that this is a false distinction because we’re all humans, whether we work for institutions or not.”

With the job title also comprising Head of Analytics, Henry’s seat at the table allows him to be the objective voice of the consumer alongside the qualitative data provided by salespeople and their conversations.

“I like to say that they can bring the anecdotes and we can bring the numbers.”

The goal is to have data in one place in order to not only understand customer needs but feed that into optimising distribution.

“So it’s the voice of the client and then it’s also what’s working – not just which emails are getting what open rates, but all the way through to what is driving business. How do we optimise online and offline? How do we optimise the actions of marketing and sales that lead to us meeting our client’s needs?”

“It’s early, we’re not there. It’s the ambition.”


Active investing

Henry says that recent market turmoil has not changed the firm’s overall strategy.

“We have long said that investing is the new saving. That was true when interest rates were negative. You could not leave your money in the bank.

“Even though interest rates are now nominally positive, they are still negative in real terms. And so you still can’t just leave it in the bank. So that hasn’t changed our message.”

He notes that there are now more options beyond equities, with fixed income now becoming a more viable option after a decade of low rates.

Henry notes that while there is room for passive in a portfolio – “it’s a tool in the toolkit” – Vontobel believes it can make the case for adding value through its active investing.

He says that while during the current bear market, active managers’ performance has suffered alongside passive, this may change.

Vontobel has just launched a campaign focusing on the uncertainty of today, but the opportunities inherent within that.

“I do think in a much more differentiated world where there are going to be winners and losers. Intuitively, not having to buy the whole market might be an advantage.”

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