Relationship management – The sum of the parts

28 November 2018
By Tiziano Giannotti

By Fiona Maciver

Fund Buyer Focus’s annual review of asset managers’ sales and account management rankings reveals a few changes in the order of the cross-border rankings and distributors’ perceived strengths of the top groups. We also drill down into the attributes of the top-ranked asset managers and where firms should be targeting improvements to their sales processes.

Cross-border medal rankings

As in previous years, the sales crown continued to change hands with JP Morgan ousting Fidelity from number one spot over the latest 12 months. The heavyweights (including BlackRock) remained well ahead of the chasing pack regarding the total medal points that contribute to the rankings. Before delving into the detail behind the success of the leading groups’ sales functions, it’s worth briefly recapping just what is measured when interviewing third party selectors on the topic of sales. Interviewees are initially asked: ‘Which three third-party fund managers deserve gold, silver and bronze medals for sales and account management?’ – essentially discerning the three groups they feel have the best sales processes. They are also asked to identify the particular strengths of the companies to which they awarded medals.

Winning formulas From the latest 12-month data set to 31/08/18, the aggregated top-three strengths of leading groups for sales and account management were found to be:

1.Sales staff expertise

2.Responsiveness/accessibility

3.Information provision

While the top strengths remain the same as last year’s, the order has changed, with ‘sales staff expertise’ receiving more mentions than ‘responsiveness/accessibility’. The sales leader, JP Morgan, received the most accolades for ‘sales staff expertise’, nudging it ahead of its closest rivals in the rankings. ‘Sales staff expertise’ is a term that covers both individuals and teams, spanning skills from technical product and market knowledge, and listening, to demonstrating behaviors such as understanding client needs, proactivity and responsiveness. The top-three managers’ aptitude in this area is reflected in a selection of fund selector comments displayed overleaf. Further down the cross-border rankings, Robeco continued its forward momentum, rising a further two places. Selectors commented on the company’s overall level of support, which included its strong delivery on information provision, a subject explored in more detail further on.

Top improvement requests

‘When thinking of all your providers, what suggestions would you make to them to improve sales and account management?’ To this question, the top-three responses were again similar to last year with a change to the running order, ‘information provision’ rising to the top.

  1. Information provision
  2. Frequency of contact
  3. Understanding business needs

Like ‘sales staff expertise’, ‘information provision’ covers a wide range of needs from buyers, and one size doesn’t fit all. Regulation has, of course, boosted demand for product information and in the case of Priips has had some unintended consequences, increasing confusion instead of transparency! With the impending ex-post cost-disclosure reports adding to information requirements and potentially causing a major shock for some retail investors, asset managers need to ensure that all the information they provide is up to scratch and relevant. Feedback from fund selectors suggests some common themes that distributors would like all asset managers to address:

▪ Quality and clarity.

▪ Quantity and frequency – be consistent and reflect distributors’ preferences.

▪ Relevance – product information to reflect the market environment and clients’ needs.

▪ Access – available across different media and devices.

Information needs to be provided at the right time and this naturally overlaps with the second area for improvement: ‘frequency of contact’. This covers all aspects of communications, from emails and telephone calls to the number of sales visits per year. On the latter, fund-buyer data indicate that their top-three fund suppliers visit on average four times a year. Groups demonstrating a higher frequency of visits have the luxury of larger sales resources, and it is no surprise that Amundi and BlackRock are at the top end of the number of visits, averaging six per year with the fund selectors interviewed. But some selectors highlight too much contact or inappropriate contact from asset managers as issues, meaning that sales teams need to establish what works for each relationship and focus on quality rather than quantity. Unsurprisingly, distributors and investors are looking for tailored sales support and servicing across all touch points, and they don’t want to be bombarded with irrelevant material. A selection of fund selector comments reflecting some of their frustrations with asset managers is presented on the left.