Dec 2017-Jan 2018

DIGITAL: Fund management on the go

Mobile_investingAsset management is having a difficult time adjusting to mobile delivery and must hurry, finds Fiona Rintoul.

“Digital technologies: do or die” is a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) headline message in an October report on embracing change in the asset and wealth management industry. Never a truer word, etc. And as a new generation emerges of people welded to their smartphones, asset management companies may rest assured that a big part of the digital technology they must embrace to survive is mobile.

“As the millennial generation is already mobile-first and accumulating wealth, it’s crucial for asset managers to keep pace,” says Monique van Wensem, head of retail marketing and sales at Robeco.

Indeed. The range of functions that people expect to be able to perform on their phones is expanding, making a good mobile interface imperative for asset managers.

“More and more people are utilising their mobiles for investment and every segment within asset management,” says Andy Hampshire, chief technology officer at alternative investment manager Gresham House.

But is the industry keeping pace, as van Wensem says it must? Err, no.

“Across the board, asset management is lagging in its adoption of client-focused digital experiences, not just in mobile,” says Will Bailey, executive vice president of Europe and innovation at InvestCloud, a global fintech firm based in California. “It seems the sector is still waiting for the bellwether provider of multi-channel digital experiences.”

In mobile technology, the problem may be that asset managers are looking in the wrong place for the bellwether – in other words, looking at other asset managers when they should be looking somewhere else.

“Investors are increasingly tech-savvy and have expectations that are set outside the industry,” says Hampshire. “The challenge is not so much what are other asset managers doing as what are other tech firms doing.”

According to Hampshire, the standard for mobile interfaces is set by tech companies, such as Apple, Facebook and LinkedIn. Users expect to encounter that same seamless interface everywhere and if they don’t, they disengage very quickly.

“A mobile is a personal device,” says Hampshire. “It’s not about competing for business; it’s about competing for attention. You’re competing for attention with other news sites.”

For anyone who thinks that this applies only to B2C businesses, Willis Towers Watson’s new Asset Management Exchange, known as AMX, is a shot across the bows. AMX is a global institutional asset management marketplace powered by InvestCloud using smart technology. The digital platform that InvestCloud has created will be available on all devices, including smartphones and tablets.

According to InvestCloud’s Bailey, the time has come for asset managers to reimagine the engagement between investors and managers through digital. The key to unlocking this is multi-channel. Investors – even institutional investors – need to be able to access their portfolio at any time, in any place and – crucially – through any device.

“Mobile needs to be a core part of this offer to truly resonate with the modern investor,” Bailey says.

Perhaps AMX, which offers a centralised back-office and standardised fund infrastructure, signals the direction of travel in the institutional market. According to its global head, Oliver Jaegemann, global AMX means the digital revolution has come to institutional asset management.

Perhaps he would say that, but things are certainly evolving in a digital direction in the institutional market.

“B2B mobile communication is lagging behind, but it’s very important to look for opportunities to expand in this area, as B2B clients are increasingly changing their demands,” says van Wensem.

The question then is: how can asset managers make mobile technology work for them? With user expectations set rather high, thinking carefully about the very different parameters of a mobile device is key.

“The important thing for asset management websites made available via mobile devices is to ensure that information is provided in a user-friendly and simplified manner,” says Denise Voss, conducting officer at Franklin Templeton in Luxembourg and chairman of the Luxembourg fund association, Alfi. “This is also important for websites in general but even more important with mobile access.”

The best way to achieve this, in Hampshire”s view, is to have an entirely separate mobile website.

“People used to design something and make it work on mobile,” he says. “Now you need a completely different design for mobile. You have to think about the user experience.”

Content on mobile websites needs to be sharper and more to the point, Hampshire believes. Information should be divided up into smaller chunks, allowing users “to drill down and drill down”.

Plain speaking
The language used on mobile websites also needs to be sharp to keep users engaged. Use of plain language is very important, says Voss, and also very challenging for asset managers, given all the terminology and jargon that is used in the industry. “This is probably one of the biggest challenges for asset managers going digital,” she says.

Long legal texts, requiring too many clicks to access information or having to type text to access information are also a turn-off in the mobile environment. Short videos that deliver market commentaries and product information work better and drive customer satisfaction, Voss believes.

Basically, all the rules about clarity and brevity that apply to digital communication in general apply to mobile communication too – only more so. Statistically, people are far less likely to open attachments or follow links on a mobile device than on a website, notes Hampshire, which means you must get your key message into the first few lines of any communication. The mantra for success on mobile platforms is little and often.

“It’s very different from even a few years ago,” says Hampshire. “You have to break information up into smaller chunks because that’s what people are used to. You have to react to the expectations set previously by LinkedIn and Facebook that drip-feed information.”

Mobile communication is also an area that never stands still. Therefore, it’s important to be up-to-date and to make the most of the mobile platform.

“Audiences and clients expect regular improvements or releases, and so continuous development is very important, particularly in order to provide easy and secure access that makes use of the typical features of a smartphone, such as biometrical access, and integration with chat and social channels,” says van Wensem.

Personal touch
And, as if that weren’t enough of challenge, mobile communication needs to be personal too.

“A successful digital experience needs to be three things: intuitive, involved and individual, says Bailey. “Asset management companies must embrace the different personas that exist within their client base. Just as they would for the offline experience, it is imperative that asset management companies can cater to specific requirements on an individual basis and give them the experience they deserve.”

Giving people the experience they deserve in the mobile environment is a lot about choosing the right partners to work with. Again, Hampshire recommends looking outside the finance industry, as Gresham House did when working on a new mobile portal.

“We looked for partners that worked in the B2C consumer space and were very focused on user-centric design,” he says. “That’s had a huge benefit.”

Design has not traditionally been a big focus for asset management firms, but that may have to change. Snapping at their heels are tech-savvy companies such as the online investment manager Nutmeg and Freetrade, the first app-only stockbroker. “What distinguishes both these companies is that they have built in heavy automation so the end user is able to have a truly individual and design-centric experience,” says Bailey. “Design is perhaps something underrated by asset managers, but when it comes to the user, a brilliantly designed platform will go much further.”

This is particularly the case because content is becoming ever-more important for asset managers.

“One of the main issues facing asset managers is that they can often be perceived as commodities by investors – one amongst a list of others, judged solely on alpha,” says Bailey.

“Content is the answer. It ensures investors feel more informed about their investments – why they are being made, how to interpret moves in the market and so on.”

That content must be delivered in ways that appeal to the modern investor – and that basically means on their smartphone and tablet.

“The ability to build content and information into a digital experience that is tailored to both investments and personas will create new levels of brand loyalty,” says Bailey.

It’s a shifting target, but asset managers must hit it nonetheless. A cool, brilliantly designed mobile site is becoming indispensable – and pretty soon it will be firm’s main link to their investors too.

“The next stage that asset managers are working on is interaction with the investor,” says Voss.

“When contacting the asset manager with questions, it is not enough only to have a form to fill in. You need to provide clients with multiple options to reach the asset manager.”

This provides a positive user experience that decreases leakage – clients leaving the site without getting the relevant information. And that is what it’s all about.

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