How marketers in the asset management space can support innovation was the theme of the latest FSF webinar.
Chaired by Scott Stevens, Commercial Director for Establishments at St James’s Place, the event also brought in Kerry Nelson, CEO at Nexus Independent Financial Advisers Limited, Emily Askham, Global Head of Retail & Wholesale Marketing Global at AXA Investment Managers and Ian Henderson, CEO at AML.
The pressure to innovate
Ian highlighted how the pandemic had offered a “massive” opportunity to innovate, with 10 years of innovation happening in a year.
This is due to what he described as a “convergence” of different influences, including generational shifts, an acceleration of technology adoption, increased focus on ESG.
He also highlighted an increased appetite for direct investment, citing the examples of platform providers such as Vanguard which have built awareness over the last year and broadened the investor base amongst investors.
Noting that most business flows through advisors, Scott asked Emily to weigh in on how distribution through advisors was changing.
She highlighted the importance of knowing the end-customer even if not selling directly to them, and how companies need to think about the full customer journey and catering to multiple audiences.
That feeds into the conversation of the respective roles of sales and marketing. Marketing, she said, has the “data and insights to have a strategic seat at the table” and support other teams, but has to be able to demonstrate the ability to win customers or sales will resist their involvement. While the saying used to be “content is king”, this has changed to data being king, she argued.
Ian says the key word here is convergence, not just between sales and marketing but also between different customer experiences. Bringing people together in this converging marketplace is a “great way to trigger innovation” and “creates possibilities that weren’t there before”.
Convergence is not just about job functions. Scott asked Kerry about her experience founding Nexus after working in the industry in firms including Bates Investment Services. She said that the customer, and delivering great service, had been at the heart of the firm’s evolution since the beginning.
She said that a mix of different ages and experiences was crucial for the business to stay “on its toes and not rest on [its] laurels”.
For example, alongside her experience from the industry, Nexus employs two graduates.
“That is where I see the future of how we will evolve as an industry because they will help us through that generational switch as well.”
Innovating for a changing investor
Looking outside financial services organisations themselves to their customers, Ian described how data is offering a picture of new investors and how the priorities of existing investors are changing.
Across both of the above, there is a “huge surge” in responsible investing. New investors also tend to be informed, questioning, likely to seek advice from peers.
“If we are not responding to [these changes], we risk being left behind.”
He highlighted the importance of this type of data in innovating – “you can’t start disrupting without knowing what you’re doing.
Data offers a “springboard for ideas”, said Ian, arguing that innovation is “not just eureka moments, it’s absolutely defining who you are talking to, what the problem and opportunity are, and rationalising that to the point. The sharper the point, the more effective you are.”
From there the communications team can create something that will resonate and “make people go online and search with a positive mindset.”
The panellists also flagged up the changing parameters within which consumers are interacting with them.
“The benchmark is no longer other asset managers, other IFAs, it’s Amazon,” said Ian. “That’s the level of service, information and transparency that consumers will expect. The industry needs to acknowledge that and become digitally focused.”
Fintechs and behaviour
Emily said that financial services can be behind consumer behaviour and expectations, and highlights that there is an innovative role for fintechs in the space.
“We don’t necessarily need to build it ourselves,” Emily added.
She also alluded to transparency as a key requirement; customers will need to be able to see information about their investments in real time, including valuations and KPIs in terms of responsible investing.
Scott highlighted innovations around behavioural science which have been deployed in the Australian market, asking Emily how relevant these techniques are.
She said great results can be achieved through “nudging” people to make better financial decisions by making their savings goals more tangible. One fintech, Dreams, asks people to define what they want to save for and then explains how much they need to save in their day-to-day lives to achieve this.
“Those behavioural innovations are going to be huge,” Ian added, highlighting their importance in helping inexperienced investors from avoiding risks they don’t understand in fields such as cryptocurrency.
Kerry added that these kinds of approaches to customer behaviour will complement advisors such as her. Tools can be designed to help customers see the impact of changes in the market on their portfolio or understand how long it will take them to accumulate a certain amount of money.
Scott asked the panellists for key takeaways on the process of innovation.
Ian said that innovation is hard to do remotely, and often comes down to putting people in a room with a whiteboard and “the right question”.
“You can’t automate that process,” he added, saying that while machines are good at following patterns, “innovation is about breaking patterns”.
“It’s about stepping back from the noise, looking at the objectives that work for you and your business, then taking the strategic leap that gets you there with the idea that nobody else has got, or you’re just doing it better than other people.”
Emily reiterated her point that “data is king”.
“If you can really start to integrate the data, and being able to customise the experience for clients, that’s where you are going to get cut-through.”
Kerry concluded by saying that firms should “know [their] client and keep that at the centre of everything you do.”
“We can get carried away with what we think we should be doing.
“Keep it simple – what does the consumer want and who am I developing this for – it’s not for us as businesses.”