There are few things in the investment world more important than crisp, timely writing. When the going’s rough, the arrival of insightful and dispassionately written commentary (with all the apostrophes and hyphens precisely where they should be) can provide just the tonic an edgy investor needs to reassure her. Conversely, when times are good, tight, clear prose can deliver the positive news with just the right amount of assured authority.
For all this, many in the asset-management world cling to a rather disorderly, ad hoc model of having “someone” from the desk do it themselves. This is not to say that many asset managers and analysts aren’t good writers – some of them unquestionably are. It is to say, however, that in a fiercely competitive market with relentless demands on everyone’s time, a strong, well-coordinated investment-writing function can be the difference between two error-strewn paragraphs and a formatted, fact-checked and sharply written commentary on your fund.
And well-drilled investment writing can actually deliver much more than that…
1. Lack of Scalability
Often, not having a formal investment-writing function in place can cause issues as your business grows. While your firm may have won new business, as it grows and as the number of fund offerings and client reports increases, servicing clients may not be easily scalable. Added to which, the fund-reporting cycle is cyclical in its demands – so while there may be times that are quieter, the workload can massively increase at busy month and quarter ends.
2. Inefficient Use of Time and Effort
Fund managers are there to manage your clients’ money – their primary purpose is not to write market commentary or fund reviews. They may enjoy writing thought pieces or blogging reactions to a specific market events, but drafting performance summaries for 11 different segregated global equity funds probably isn’t top of their list. So these reports often get left to the last minute and might even go out of the door late. This is a real problem for a lot of firms.
Arguably, writing these reports isn’t a great use of a fund manager’s time in the first place – given their salaries relative to those of a humble investment writer – and there is serious “key man” risk to take into consideration, too (if, for whatever reason, your fund manager is unavailable, who’s going to deal with fund commentaries?).
Moreover, in our experience, a lack of process tends to lead to too much duplication of effort. There might not be a sufficient handle on what content can be reused by the business, and so this can lead to frustration. Blending three monthly performance commentaries to craft a coherent quarterly review may seem obvious to an experienced investment writer, but not to a busy fund manager!
A lack of a defined process can also spell disaster for your deadlines, as they become a hostage to last-minute changes.
3. Differences in Style, Tone and Content
A lack of a defined function can also mean that there is no fixed template in place. The risk of having the front office write your fund commentaries is that there is often no consistency in the content of the different fund reports, meaning that the length, tone and content differ from asset class to asset class.
This can prove problematic when the reports are looked at side by side. If a client invests in more than one of your funds and receives a 1,000-word report on one fund, but only a 250-word report on another, it will raise awkward questions and doesn’t look very professional.
Despite the headache in getting these commentaries out of the door, most clients we speak to can get them done most of the time and, by and large, they report that the feedback they receive is good. But because of the cumbersome nature of the process, these often take too long to get signed off and shipped out.
As an example, you might have one client whose quarterly report is scheduled to be received by business day 25. But this comes quite late on compared with your client’s other providers, so where do you think these reports will end up in the “to read” pile? Getting the reports out earlier, say business day 15 or 18, can help you get in front of your clients early on.
Moreover, it might be that your commentary-writing process doesn’t start until at least business day one or two; in reality it can be much later for some desks.
But there is no real reason why you can’t start pulling together figures and market comments a few days before the end of the month, allowing you to get the final version signed off much earlier.
If your front office is so hindered by reporting deadlines, you might (justifiably) worry that you aren’t using your fund managers as effectively as your competitors.
How much relevant and engaging copy are you producing outside of the standard client reports? If the answer is not enough then it’s possibly because your desks don’t have the time – and that can mean that you pale into the ether when it comes to your competitors.
So let’s assume I’ve convinced you, and now you’re thinking about developing an official investment-writing function. What are the benefits?
1. Make Better Use of Your Content
I’m sure that the collective brains at your firm are producing a lot of good content – but perhaps you feel that it isn’t being used efficiently. For starters, the monthly commentary that gets written should also be used as a basis for the quarterly reports, but at present you might find that these are all being rewritten from scratch. The monthly calls/weekly meetings that the front office have can be used as a source for multiple pieces of work: not just quarterlies and interims/annuals but also as a basis for thought pieces.
Does your front office get besieged with ad hoc requests both external and internal? These might be reactions to specific market events. If so, they will probably be of interest to other areas of the business, such as the sales or client teams. There might be scope to use these again, or use them in a different way – either as an article, a blog or an email to clients.
Can you make use of your existing reports? Can extracts or case studies mentioned in the fund commentaries be used to market the fund and the fund managers? Maybe as a tweet, a blog, an email campaign or as a standalone piece? The possibilities are immense – and largely untapped.
2. Save Valuable Fund Manager Time
Removing the responsibility for these reports should free up your fund manager’s time and allow them to concentrate on managing their portfolios. It could also allow time for your managers to engage in more valuable marketing activity, such as face-to-face meetings.
Implementing a dedicated investment-writing function should also make more efficient use of front-office time. There’s no reason why the regular monthly interview with the desk could not feed into the quarterly and interim reports, for example. The nuggets gleaned from these meetings can also serve as inspiration for more creative pieces such as features and blogs.
3. Save Money
In our experience, fund managers struggle to grasp the economics of client reporting in relation to the cost of their time: i.e., how much effort each report costs in relation to what each client pays in fees.
Using an investment-writing team enables you to keep an eye on cost more effectively. Once you know how long a report takes to prepare, you can attribute a cost of effort to each client report. This will enable you to see at a glance how much a new client will cost.
4. Improve Brand Awareness
Growing your business is probably at the forefront of your mind. But in today’s competitive market, you need to win new business all the time just to stand still. You are probably looking for new ways to drive people to your website and your products.
In our experience, streamlining this process has a knock-on effect of boosting brand awareness because you will be able to spend more time on value-added content.
Given wildly varying requirements and cyclical demand, the size of a writing team doesn’t necessarily matter – but being efficient does. Streamlining your approach to investment writing and getting help from experts should help you make better use of your resources, sharply improve your marketing and content, and free up your fund managers to do what they do best. All of which translates into happier, more informed and more satisfied clients!
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