London sunset

Last month, Copylab attended the Summit for Asset Management (TSAM) in London. We felt the event provided a great snapshot to an industry facing a multitude of new challenges, and wanted to share some of the highlights.


A surprising – and timely – keynote panel


Under moderator Siobhan Clarke, COO of investment operations at M&G Investments, the keynote panel focused on gender equality. With companies now releasing their gender pay gap data, the panel’s timing couldn’t have been better.

When polled on how well they thought their employer fared on diversity, 78% of audience members felt their company was either good or very good – a finding at odds with Morningstar data showing just one in nine fund managers is a woman. This imbalance persists despite clear evidence that men and women deliver equally competitive fund performance, and that mixed-gender teams end up attracting more inflows.

Nuala Walsh, CMO for Aberdeen Standard Investments had a clear message: “We’re all aware of the business case, and we’re all aware of the moral case; it’s the behavioural angle we still don’t understand. Even though the industry is full of smart, well-educated people, we’re seeing a resistance to change.”

Chris Newland, editor of Financial News agreed. Though the publication has been covering gender issues for over five years, Newland said that in his experience, interviewees are often keen to avoid the topic.

Allison Jefferies, head of corporate affairs at Columbia Threadneedle, said that all too often diversity is thought of as “a women’s issue”, rather than as a critical business issue. To that end, she emphasised, men have a huge role to play in pushing for change. “It marginalises the issue if men aren’t involved. Without it, women get told: it’s your problem – you solve it”.

Quotas or laws are what ultimately deliver change, said Walsh (who also serves as a board member with UN Women), citing attitudes towards gay marriage in Ireland as an example. But Peter de Norville, a former director at the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion warned that “true inclusion has to be more than a box-ticking exercise, or else the whole investment case falls apart.”

Pay gap disclosures are also driving progress, added Deborah Gilshan, governance and stewardship director for Aberdeen Standard, but said data points are not enough. Current legislation doesn’t require companies to report their plans for closing the pay gap, but developing such thinking is important, because change doesn’t happen overnight.

graph of gender pay gaps in asset management firms, as discussed at the Summit for Asset Management

Source: 2017 UK Gender pay pap service


Jeffries agrees that it’s crucial for companies to sort out their internal policies, particularly around maternity leave. “Women are coming into the industry at roughly equal numbers to men; it’s at mid-level where numbers fall. The reality of having children is that women – and men – need to be supported through this period.”


Machines rising


Cityscape of London illustrating how technology can be used for greater connectionDiscussions of automation were rife throughout the event. One presentation attracting substantial interest came from Ralph Rujiters, head of client reporting at NN investment Partners, who spoke about smart automation in the context of delivering client services.

When a middle-road solution is adopted to automate client reporting tasks, it invariably results in many exceptions, explained Rujiters. The field is plagued by dull, repetitive work. A smarter path for automating client services, he said, should benefit the entire organisation.

Under a smarter solution, clients gain a smoother customer experience, while marketers can fit automated processes into a broader digital strategy, especially as it relates to customising emails sent out to clients along with reporting. At the same time, as Rujiters put it, employees are freed from “crappy processes with Excel”.

NN decided to use a low-code environment, stitching together services from multiple suppliers to develop user interface paths that automate most of the tedious work. As a result, delivery times improved by 2–4 working days, and data quality increased.

Rujiters acknowledged not everyone’s a winner: automation allows the company to cut team sizes. It also changes your recruitment choices, prioritising people who are digitally literate and willing to commit to new working practices.

Relationships with vendors also change. For one, understanding their product roadmaps is crucial, to ensure the features you rely on are still there in the next update release. But also, your licensing requirements will likely fall – where ten licences were needed before, now two may suffice.

Bots need to be managed too, added Rujiters. In practice, NN set bots as “virtual employees” in its HR systems, to clarify data protection issues and help with access to internal systems.

Expanding on the theme, Quark discussed how its content automation system can be deployed for fund marketing. Marketing relies on spreadsheets and text documents to generate collateral, noted Nick Howard, a senior director with the firm. But a file-based approach doesn’t scale, so content is repeatedly created, duplicated and ultimately lost, buried in personal folders.

The alternative, as Quark sees it, is viewing content (be it a fund strategy description or a research note) as a component, centrally located and repeatedly used. But, as Howard acknowledged, asset managers are still faced with two key questions: who should be writing, and what content should they write?

Two remaining panels addressed both these questions.


Assembling a team: mission impossible?


Building client loyalty to an intangible service remains a challenge. And with the rise of digital marketing and analytics, choosing who to recruit becomes all the more important.

For Courtney Waterman, head of marketing EMEA at Schroders, it boils down to knowing your company culture. “You can train on expertise,” she said, “but not on cultural fit.” Though marketing is a discipline, she added, when the cultural fit is right, you can recruit candidates with the right skills and potential from elsewhere in the company.

Gwen Gautier, deputy head of product development and marketing at Lyxor AM, agreed, adding that she sees great value in looking for people from other industries, as they can often bring new ideas and thinking, which can be adapted to the asset management context.

But for Tony Burke, head of investor relations and marketing at Helford Capital Partners, responsibility falls on the team manager to engage and extract the best from the team. Thus, building a team very much depends on selections that would allow the manager to deliver on that responsibility.

As asset managers expand their global operations, managing marketing teams internationally becomes a challenge in its own right. Waterman commented that it’s important to avoid the perception of head office vs branch office, so that people feel that, regardless of where they are based, their work can be noticed and shared.

Burke highlighted that what’s often lacking is a structured process and procedure when performance doesn’t deliver on client expectations. “If we disappear at that point, it’s us we’re hurting”, he said. A structured process for responding to poor performance is key, as is telling the client: “This is what happened, this is why, and that’s what we’re doing about it.”


Investment writing


Assad Kedem's Investment Writing HandbookAs for the content itself, the last panel of the day set about to discuss what types of content work best, and the style of writing best suited to promote investment products. Providing testament to the perceived importance of this topic, the room was packed.

Assaf Kedem, content strategist for Oppenheimer Funds and adjunct professor at New York University, spoke of the idiosyncratic nature of investment writing: part strategic communications and part marketing, investment writing evokes financial journalism, but requires the writer to modulate the conversation to target different investors. All the while, of course, it must remain legally compliant.

As Kedem sees it, the challenge most asset managers face in deciding what content to craft is a lack of a systematic framework, one which points to a hierarchy of content types. In his newly released book, The Investment Writing Handbook, he defines content architecture as a structured set of content options beyond product-pushing brochures. Such options, which he dubs intellectual capital, include whitepapers, educational primers, topical commentary and surveys. (Full disclosure: Kedem interviewed me as part of the book’s research).

Kedem explains how establishing a content architecture can benefit marketing by providing a rapid-response protocol to market developments. It also offers consistency: by setting expectations, clients come to expect regular types of content, and grow to rely on them. This, in turn, helps drive sales.

In her presentation, Hannah Lewis, director at BeHave London, stressed that beyond the content itself, the psychology of communicating the content is pivotal.

Financial product marketing, she said, is written in either promotional or “prevention” tones. Whereas promotional language focuses on gains, highlights success and emphasises change and taking a chance, prevention copy advocates caution and advises in terms of potential loss.

Analysing over 1.7 million words, a BeHave study revealed most pension messages tend to be framed in preventive language: negative tones, steeped in fear of losses. However, testing messages with focus groups showed – across age groups – an overwhelmingly strong preference for promotional language.

Echoing the opening panel, Lewis warned the audience of biases. Marketers commonly perceive women as being more risk averse, therefore more likely to respond to prevention-focused messaging. In practice, when presented with different marketing messages, both genders responded similarly, preferring positively framed texts.

It was an apt ending for a day during which our biases were constantly being challenged – whether about automation, diversity or engagement with clients. The event offered a stirring reminder of the need to think anew about the huge challenges and opportunities facing our industry.

Vered Zimmerman