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Magazine Issues » October 2020

Inside view: The post-Covid refocus on the client

Online_meetingThe lockdown has forced asset managers to rethink clent engagement. They have much to learn from tech and e-commerce firms that deliver top-class service from a distance, writes Aviva Investors’ Michelle Calcutt.

As the coronavirus pandemic disrupted markets and economies, some companies fared better than others. Technology and e-commerce firms benefited from surging demand for their services under lockdown, partly because they are able to deliver a seamless user experience at the touch of a button.

Other industries have lagged, including asset management. Many asset managers are still reliant on legacy technology and struggle to satisfy the needs of clients who have come to expect personalisation, convenience and round-the-clock responsiveness.

In the current circumstances, when face-to-face contact has become more difficult, the industry is finally waking up to the need to modernise its approach. The crisis has confirmed something asset managers should have known for a long time: they won’t be able to offer a best-in-class client experience (CX) without digital tools.

So, how can asset management do better? 

By looking at best practice across tech and e-commerce, we can identify four key principles for good CX in a digital age. The first is fundamental: know your customer. Tech leaders such as Amazon and Tesla pride themselves on learning about their customers’ every need.

Silicon Valley’s approach to CX cannot be precisely replicated without access to granular data on individual customers, however, and this is difficult to come by in a business-to-business industry. To solve this problem, asset managers can use ‘personas’ to inform their engagement with client types – a method that has been used to good effect in online retail.

Typically, asset managers have categorised clients by the organisation they represent – pension fund, insurance company, financial advisory firm – even though the individuals in those organisations will have vastly different roles and responsibilities (an analyst will have different needs from a lay trustee, for example). By using personas to classify clients according to their particular requirements, asset managers can provide them with better, more tailored services.

Second, asset managers should consider using ‘client journey maps’, which pick out key moments, or touchpoints, from the client’s initial awareness of the company until their final contact. When combined with personas, journey maps can be used to monitor how different clients interact with the company and measure their levels of satisfaction against industry norms, guiding CX improvement efforts.

Journey maps can be enriched using psychological insights. Behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman observed that an individual’s perception of an experience is based chiefly on how memorable it is. He also found negative experiences tend to linger in the mind for longer than positive ones. This helps explain the disproportionate effect of a poor service experience at a single touchpoint, such as delays in onboarding assets, on perceptions of an asset manager’s CX. The best-performing asset managers will be quick to identify and fix the touchpoints where they are lagging their peers. 

Third, asset managers should leverage the power of data. Finance has traditionally struggled to keep pace with tech and e-commerce in offering customer-centric digital solutions, and the transition to digital communication will only accelerate in the wake of Covid-19. Using personas and journey maps as a guide, asset managers can start to build innovative platforms that fit the needs of different customers. 

A corporate pension fund trustee may be looking for a quick update on whether her scheme’s investment is delivering as expected – and the reasons why – in a way she can clearly articulate to stakeholders. A digital fund report that provides the relevant figures, embedded with a video clip in which a portfolio manager fills in the market context, would suit these requirements. Analysts or investment consultants, on the other hand, typically need more detail: they will benefit from a fully interactive digital portal that enables them to assess portfolios from different angles. But for every client type, a fit-for-purpose digital offering is essential.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, asset managers need to build a client-centric culture to ensure clients are treated with understanding and empathy at every point on the journey. This is even more vital during times of challenge and stress, as the current crisis has illustrated.

One simple way to improve awareness of client needs across the organisation is to ensure a cross-functional group of employees participates in each of the steps outlined above – from learning about the client to mapping their journey to developing digital platforms. This should encourage buy-in from across the organisation and ensure everyone feels accountable for CX. 

Asset managers that attain this client focus may find, as the tech giants have already demonstrated, that doing better by their customers is the key to their own long-term fortunes in a world transformed by Covid-19. Those that don’t will be left behind.

Michelle Calcutt is head of client experience at Aviva Investors

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