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Compared to other industries, asset managers are far more concerned with their rivals when it comes to digital transformation, according to a Fortune Knowledge Group survey (see table below).

With competition for assets only getting stronger, asset managers are exploring ways to separate themselves through digital capabilities. However, when asset managers focus their budget on the infrastructure to build products, they miss out on a key competitive advantage.

For example, consider The Vanguard Group. Vanguard earned 54 percent of flows into mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in 2016, according to Morningstar data reported by the Wall Street Journal. That’s not because they are necessarily the best performing funds or the most innovative on the market. What they do have, is one of the most unique value propositions and brands out there as a recognized leader in low-cost investing.

Optimizing the infrastructure to build products is more of a means to an end to free up funds to compete. Understanding the customer’s needs at each stage of engagement, from initial outreach to investment selection and beyond, can help firms earn asset flows. That requires asset management marketing teams to become more accountable for creating a unique value proposition, driving client engagement and generating a measurable return on investment (ROI).

Marketing to Drive Value

For many asset managers, there is an interesting tension that has developed within the organization between investing in competitive capabilities versus investing in operational cost savings. This tension is felt acutely within asset management marketing teams.

Some asset management marketing teams don’t run campaigns but rather perform routine sales support or enablement (i.e., producing a fact sheet or performing quality assurance). Further, marketing teams often aren’t allocated enough budget to expand their output beyond ordinary, manual production efforts.

The challenge is twofold. For one, marketing isn’t being held accountable for ROI. For another, the opportunity to achieve ROI is limited if marketers remain in simply a sales support role.Without breaking this self-fulling cycle, marketers are unable to help drive the firm’s unique value proposition in the market, such as tailoring messaging to specific clients or leveraging digital technology to create more unique and relevant content.

Stakeholder Buy-In

In this first wave of digital transformation, many asset managers have undergone capability-oriented transformation where new services are IT driven. However, as firms are more aware of digital capabilities,cost implications and competitive challenges in the market, digital transformation is becoming business driven. Firms are placing attention on their strategic direction and looking at their businesses programmatically. They are creating change management initiatives with their chief data officer (CDO) or digital product managers.

As firms re-evaluate their transformation strategies, it’s important they ensure internal resources are aligned and create actionable metrics to see where their digital investments generate the most value and opportunities.

Another essential consideration is talent. Digital transformation is not simply about having the right skills for individual projects and capabilities. The skill sets that are especially important are those tied to transformation and change. The ability to look at the impact on business processes and outcomes and align technology, capabilities and policies around them.

There are newer technologies emerging in the market. With those come required expertise and new ways of thinking to integrate them within existing infrastructure and legacy systems. It is a shift in mindset from worrying about the infrastructure behind the scenes to a focus on how those pieces are maintained and integrated. Change management and transformation expertise are some of the primary challenges when it comes to activating digital transformation programs.However, these skills are essential to solidify a value proposition and to create cost efficiencies.

For instance, many asset managers don’t have the required in-house digital marketing or digital product experience. That’s led some banks to acquire this talent. Capital One acquired Monsoon, a design and development firm, in 2015 and Adaptive Path, a design agency, in 2014.

Increasingly, asset managers will consider opportunities to acquire and hire this talent (e.g., a design agency, data scientists or predictive analytics) or partner with digital agencies.

Winning Digital Transformation

Winning asset management firms embrace customer centricity. However, most firms start their digital transformation with infrastructure rather than customer experience.

To differentiate products and services, asset managers can focus on how their offering specifically addresses the needs of their customers and define a value proposition that is authentic to their organization.Automating sales collateral and outsourcing non-differentiated marketing tasks can enable asset managers to create cost savings through efficiency gains. That frees up budget for digital solutions, talent or acquisitions,giving marketing teams the ability to optimize the engagement sales cycle in ways that are extremely relevant to the customer.

Jarlath Forde is a Vice President at Sapient Global Markets. He is focused on fusing design principles with technology to optimize business processes and transform the client experience. He has spent the last 16+ years shaping interactive initiatives for companies around the world, designing high-performance complex user interfaces and creating compelling information designs and visualizations.

David Poole leads Sapient Razorfish’s Financial Services Center of Excellence, which supports a global network of asset managers, insurance and banking clients in thought leadership, innovation, and customer insight. A change agent with over twenty years’ experience,David shares his passion for making it fun to be financially healthy.

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