Disruptive digital opportunities shift the focus from product quality to the wealth management customer experience.
“The single most important thing is to make people happy. If you are making people happy, as a side effect, they will be happy to open up their wallets and pay you.” – Derek Sivers, Founder – CD Baby
Fund managers and planners traditionally focus on investment product quality and internal industry metrics. However it is the customer experience that drives investor behavioural change, which in turn will determine the success of funds management businesses.
The direct retail investor approaches investing from the perspective of “how can my life be made easier?” Product quality is a hygiene factor, albeit a very impotent one.
Fund managers who wish to succeed in a dis-intermediated digital future should re-align their business strategy from a product focus to a client focus in order to capitalise on five macro-trends that will shape the future of the industry:
1) Shared beliefs and values drive trust in wealth managers
In a more connected world investors enjoy much greater visibility of the underlying beliefs and values of wealth managers.
Younger demographics in particular, i.e. Millennials and Generation Y’s, have a strong consumer preference towards those brands that display openness and communicate their vision.
This extends beyond ‘hygiene level’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expectations in terms of refraining from investing in firms that pollute or employ child labour and treating their own stakeholders decently.
Moreover it requires wealth managers to develop a culture of transparency. This is in terms of both investors’ portfolio visibility and also customer engagement through the sharing of insight that delivers an understanding of the manager’s behavioural approach.
2) Wealth management customer experience not products drives success
Research by Cerulli,1 the Boston-based research firm highlighted the importance of the wealth management customer experience in manager selection. A review in benefitspro2 highlights this: “Out of 11 different attributes, the most important factor is strong client service, says Pamela DeBolt, a senior analyst at Cerulli, followed by a recognisable brand and a good website.”
Traditionally wealth managers have focussed their marketing message on product quality with reference to industry benchmarks. However it is increasingly clear that identifying solutions to their own pain points drives investor behaviour.
Consumer experience is replacing product as the key driver of brand resonance amongst investors. Success will accrue to managers that deliver help, simplicity and assurance at moments of truth in their engagement across multiple touch points. Product quality is not to be dismissed, but for most direct retail investors its role is as a hygiene factor.
3) The customer journey becomes dynamic
The traditional sales funnel is reflecting customer behaviour less and less across most sectors of the economy, not least amongst direct funds investors.
Brian Solis, marketing blogger and author3 argues: “The customer journey decentralises, becoming a series of non-linear mobile-centric micro-moments, mimicking everyday consumer activity and communication.”
He highlights that Google learned that 90% of smartphone users are unsure of the brand they wish to buy when searching online. Interestingly 65% look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing it.
This creates an opportunity for investment managers that adapt to the digital environment to deliver compelling, relevant and targeted information. The traditional product-focussed approach to funnel selling will not deliver a wealth management customer experience with which the direct investor feels compelled to engage.
4) Engagement determines the wealth management customer experience
In the digital future asset managers should seek to engage clients by creating continuous incremental value rather than through a product-led ‘build it and they will come’ approach.
The experience cycle suggests that the ideal customer experience has the following features, which may be adapted to the wealth management customer experience:
- Compelling (investors alter their investment behaviour)
- Orienting (the customer experience delivers an insight that makes them feel confident about navigating the investment world towards their investment goals)
- Embedded (it becomes their ‘candid friend’ that is their go-to resource for managing their wealth and is frequently referenced)
- Generative (as the satisfied investor’s income/wealth grows it is the natural home of their new funds – and management fees)
- Reverberating (the investor whose expectations are exceeded is willing to become an unremunerated brand advocate both on and off-line
5) Personalisation at scale
Delivering a compelling wealth management customer experience to investors requires new strategic thinking but must also address consumer preferences in the digital age.
Direct investors expect to receive an information set that is tailored to their unique circumstances. However personalisation at scale is different from unique personalisation – they reject individualised solutions that incur costs which materially detract from their investment returns, such as the traditional bricks and mortar advice model.
The future of advice is likely to lie in technology solutions sufficiently agile to facilitate personalised engagement. However according to EY5: “Less than a third of wealth management firms report that their client-related technology is effective…..the results are even worse for CRM and enterprise data management.”
Personalisation is traditionally expensive but this can now be delivered at scale using well-designed data systems. This has implications for the investment managers who must meet customer expectations in terms of:
- Mobile first – it is becoming increasingly inexpensive to develop tools that deliver insight and data that dynamically respond to reflect the screen shape, investor’s engagement stage, investment intention and physical location
- Client management – automation software now delivers tailored auto-responding content that adjusts with investors online behaviour
- Portfolio status dashboard, in depth fund analysis and market updates are viewed as hygiene factors
- Live streaming and video of relevant content will become an increasingly common medium for promoting brand and delivering time-sensitive content
- Consistent messaging, appropriate to the engagement stage, across platforms, e.g. a long standing investor receiving an invitation on social media to view an introductory video after years of engaging via website and e-mails detracts from their experience
- Interactive Investing – direct investors will find help in different places as the advice value chain disaggregates; traditional advice will retreat to aging and high value niches but some wealth managers will move to embrace tools such as live chat and even chatbots; marketing blogger Chris Messina6 argues that: “conversational commerce is growing, and concierge-style services may become the primary way in which people transact on their mobile devices;”
These developments represent both an opportunity to delight investors through real-time engagement and also a threat to legacy businesses unable to adapt to changing expectations.
Digital disruption should be approached not simply from a technological perspective. Instead wealth managers should think more strategically about how their business will be impacted by these consumer trends that prioritise shared beliefs, the customer experience over product, dynamic customer journeys, engagement and personalisation at scale.
Wealth managers that take advantage of digital tools to enhance their customer experience can engage more closely with investors and build deeper relationships.
Those that do not are likely to find their business disrupted and restricted to legacy channels that represent a declining share of the wealth management market.
However by thinking strategically and utilising simple tools wealth managers can commence a cost effective journey to position themselves as the go-to investment resource in their chosen niche.
How do you think the wealth management customer experience can be upgraded to better engage with direct investors?
We have created a concise twenty-step guide to how an investment manager can establish a profitable and sustainable direct retail funds business through an engaged customer strategy; please click here to download.
‘Customer Service on Smartphone Showing Online Support’ image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
‘Smiling female holding ipod’ image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
1 Cerulli Associates, “The Cerulli Edge”, January 2013, https://external.cerulli.com/file.sv?F0002BU
2 Stonehouse, A, “Service, website important as advisors choose asset managers”, benefitspro, January 2013, http://www.benefitspro.com/2013/01/07/service-website-important-as-advisors-choose-asset
3 Solis, B, “26 Disruptive Tech Trends for the Rest of the Decade”, Linked In, January 216, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/25-disruptive-technology-trends-2016-2019-brian-solis
4Dubberly, H and Evenson, S, “The Experience Cycle”, Dubberly Design Office, 2008 (written for Interactions magazine), http://www.dubberly.com/articles/interactions-the-experience-cycle.html
5 EY, “Americas wealth management study”, 2012,
6 Messina, C, Conversational Commerce”, January 2015,