Is expertise the new brand battleground for asset managers?

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

While the marketing world in general is shifting budgets towards bottom of funnel marketing, this year has seen the launch of several big ticket brand campaigns from major asset managers, with M&G Investments, T. Rowe Price and Royal London Asset Management amongst the names that have launched major campaigns so far this year.

What is notable about these new campaigns is a common thread underpinning all of them – a focus on foregrounding the expertise embedded in the organisation.

As recently as a few years ago, a common approach in asset management was to link brands to ESG. Many campaigns focused on how investments could achieve not just positive financial returns but positive results for society.

M&G Investments’ “Let’s Create Campaign’ in 2021 is a typical example. Loaded with sustainability imagery, it talks about navigating future trends and “creating the future we want”.

Other examples from a similar period include Ninety One’s ‘World of Change’ rebrand campaign, Amundi’s ‘Two Worlds’ and abrdn’s ‘The Power of Investment’.

The central selling point was a brand well positioned to navigate and tap into the trends of the future, while also the idea that as an investor your money would be going towards helping people and the planet.

However, in 2024, talking about ESG is less and less of a costless exercise. Firms which talk about ESG investing have faced accusations on the one hand of prioritising sustainability goals over returns, and on the other hand of exaggerating their sustainability credentials through misleading or opaque metrics.

At the same time, as more and more firms have talked about ESG, it has become viewed as increasingly commoditised, meaning that the brand advantages of talking about it are diluted.

Unsurprisingly, then, the battleground seems to have shifted elsewhere. The first few months of 2024 saw a slew of new brand campaigns launch from the likes of T. Rowe Price, M&G Investments and Royal London Asset Management.

M&G Investments’ new approach was its ‘Intelligence Connected’ platform, which aims to highlight the power of the firm’s global reach.

T. Rowe Price launched ‘The Power of Curiosity’, (pictured above) focusing on how the smart questions posed by professionals open up the investment opportunities of tomorrow. It aims to showcase the over 85 years of culture and experience at T. Rowe Price reflect the firm’s independent thinking.

Royal London Asset Management launched its “Performance powered by people” platform, which focuses on “delivering asset management excellence with a longer-term perspective”.

In the broader investment management space, there was also St James Place’s ‘Invaluable Advice’ campaign, which draws parallels between life advice and financial advice from a qualified advisor.

Making a determined pitch about the power of expertise makes some sense considering the increasingly inhospitable world that active managers face.

During the easy times of low interest rates and quantitative easing, the numbers could do some of the heavy lifting – the year-on-year growth figure displayed next to a particular fund on an investment platform could often speak for itself.

While equities have been buoyed by the AI boom, active managers have faced considerable outflows to ETFs and cash. For example, according to the FT, Jupiter saw net customer outflows of £1.6 billion in Q1, up 80% from the previous year. Abrdn saw net outflows of £2.3 billion in the same period, while hedge fund Man Group saw $1.6 billion.

There do seem to be a few challenges with the approach. For one thing, it’s unclear where the potential for differentiation from competitors lies. How do you prove to investors that the expertise of your firm outclasses the expertise of another similarly branded asset manager?

It’s also harder to talk about the power of expertise when the results don’t necessarily seem to be superior to passive strategies – Vanguard can talk convincingly about Value because the performance of its trackers doesn’t show any obvious signs of being worse than active strategies.

What these campaigns do show, however, is that asset managers are still seeing the value of brand even in a time of restricted budgets.

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