JM Finn is focusing on the “age-old” technique of word of mouth as it seeks to grow while maintaining its reputation for quality, says the firm’s Head of Marketing.
Oliver Tregoning, who joined the firm in 2013, explains how its marketing strategy is based around engaging and impressing existing clients.
He points to one of the highest net promoter scores in the industry; he cites in particular an exercise last year where JM Finn came top against nine industry peers on questions such as trust, transparency and sensitivity.
“The whole crux of the marketing strategy is about how can we leverage that: can we talk to our existing clients who like what we do and ask them for a referral? Word of mouth marketing is the age-old way of growing businesses like ours, but we see no reason that should stop.”
Oliver sees his role as helping investment managers to build their relationships with clients so that they feel comfortable and confident asking for a referral.
A key part of this is JM Finn’s association with major events, an environment where it will be easier for managers to interact with clients in this way, while also leading to positive media coverage.
One is the sponsorship of the Surrey County Cricket Club, where JM Finn has bought naming rights of the Vauxhall End stand at the Oval. This relationship, in its incipient stages when Oliver joined the business, has expanded considerably from a corporate box that partners could enjoy to full-on naming rights.
“It fills me with enormous pride that at every match there are 17 and a half thousand ticket holders sitting in the JM Finn stand,” he says.
Another important partnership is with the Royal Academy of Arts, as well as being the lead partner of the Affordable Art Fair, which opens the firm to a younger audience. The goals of the latter are split 50/50 between client engagement and brand alignment, with the fair also adding exposure from its own advertising around London.
“Branding is essential,” Oliver says. “If I’m going to have my money managed by someone, I want to feel comfortable that they are trustworthy, they have integrity.”
Oliver distinguishes between brand as “making sure everybody who has got investible assets in the country knows about me” and the context of focus on referrals and word of mouth.
For JM Finn, the goal is primarily associating the brand with quality. This includes not only the alignment benefits of the above events, but also achieving recognition for the firm, such as through a recent win of the Client Service Quality award.
Change and challenge
Some of these marketing activities required some persuasion. When he started at the company, industry awards were viewed with some scepticism, but Oliver says that the business now recognises their value.
“Clients love having a third party endorsement of what you do and someone else reaffirming their decision.”
The business was also against being on social media because of the risks.
“Now there’s not a wealth management business out there [that’s not on social media].”
He comments that: “You don’t have to disrupt, but you have to make a difference.”
As a reflection of the importance placed on marketing in the business, Oliver joined its management committee in January of this year.
Having a pathway to being on the committee was an important part of the appeal of the job, he says. Originally JM Finn was searching for a marketing manager, but he argued that what was needed was somebody who could get involved in strategy and challenge conventional thinking.
When Oliver joined, he says, many investment managers in the business liked the current position of being an undiscovered gem: small but perfect.
“We’re still perfect but we don’t need to be small. We need to grow. We want to carry on doing what we love to do.”
Through the right amount of change and challenge, Oliver says, marketing has earned the respect of the business, with the position on the management committee illustrating this.
Marketing now directly contributes to strategy, alongside a range of key stakeholders.
This doesn’t mean that Oliver doesn’t have to do stakeholder management and convince people to support campaigns. It does however mean that the first conversation about an initiative is with the top table.
“If management is buying into it, it’s much easier for us to filter down.”
Oliver says winning management buy-in requires marketers to be brave, but also to make small, incremental changes while bringing people along on the journey.
Many people in the industry view marketing as a “sidekick to business development”, Oliver argues, but it also has a key role to play in client servicing.
Marketing can’t control what investment managers say to clients, but it can contribute indirectly by influencing touchpoints such as the office, client portal , client reports as well as the whole suite of marketing collateral, explains Oliver.
“The reason I love marketing is it encompasses everything, but we’ve got to make sure that we do interact with the other parts of the business – we can’t just sit in the corner.”
He argues that teams can often end up in siloes based around channels, which he strives to avoid. As a small team which outsources areas such as design work to agencies, marketing can retain a “bird’s eye view of what’s going on.”
“We’re trying to drive clients to digital as it increases touchpoints, it’s cheaper and more secure. If the portal’s UX is terrible or it looks rubbish, or it has old content on it, then you’re completely undermining everything else you’re doing.”
Part of marketing encompassing the whole business is bringing together data from across the business.
This has been helped by customer feedback improving and becoming more focused. Previously, Oliver says, feedback might be given by one or two clients and the whole business might pivot on this.
Now JM Finn regularly runs a comprehensive survey of clients, with plans to do more smaller and more targeted surveys.
Bringing the data together is also a major technology project, alongside a “long overdue” upgrade of the client portal.
There are also efforts to build towards a single client view.
“For me it’s exciting: it’s about organising our client data so we’ll be able to interrogate it and understand so much more where our new business is coming from and what challenges our existing client base are likely to face.”
The “nirvana”, Oliver says, would be the CRM and client portal being able to talk to each other. This would mean for example that when a client calls an investment manager will be able to see exactly when and what they have viewed on the portal, and enable relevant content to be surfaced in order to help clients.
The firm conducts an annual suitability check aimed at understanding a client’s circumstances, such as their wealth situation and health or what Oliver calls the “soft facts”.
The challenge is that the soft facts can’t easily be interrogated. If the hard and soft facts can be brought together with information about the client’s portfolio, Oliver says he “can be a much smarter marketer and support the business better than [he’s] ever done.”