[Podcast] Asset Management Marketing Trends with Andrew Corn

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Andrew Corn

Listen to our guest, Andrew Corn, discuss the top trends in asset management marketing

Andrew Corn, CEO of E5A Integrated Marketing, sat down with myself and Synthesis CEO, John Toepfer, to discuss emerging marketing trends in 2017. The discussion revolves around how automation continues to play an important role, making it easier for marketers and salespeople to be customer-centric in their approach. In this episode, we discuss data analysis as a differentiator, the role of ETFs in the retail and institutional space, the challenges with using Microsoft-based products like Excel and PowerPoint for automating content, and the adoption of content usage analytics. This episode brings important insights to investment marketers, salespeople, and executive management.

Andrew Corn is CEO of E5A Integrated Marketing in New York. Before starting E5A, Andrew was the CIO of Beacon Trust and Clear Asset Management. He has led the development of a multi-factor model to manage long only equities, designed ETFs, and managed two hedge funds. At E5A he helps companies leverage digital media and technology to grow revenue through systematic and programmatic marketing, and advertising, of course while adhering to industry regulations.

Thanks for listening, and enjoy!

 The following is a transcription of this podcast:


Andy, you and I have talked a lot about the trends in asset management, sales and marketing over the past year or so. A theme that keeps coming up is the data. You had mentioned that you believed that this year in 2017, that transparency and immediacy of data is really the price of entry, but that data analysis will be the differentiator. Could you talk more about that?


Sure. Data as a strategy, data as a strategic advantage, is something that is coming of age within asset management. Now everyone will jump on that and say, “No, no, no. Data’s been the strategic advantage in asset management for north of 10 years.” Of course I agree with that on the investment side, but where it’s really coming of age now is on the marketing side. The two things about data are how it’s used, the accuracy of it, timing of it. The second part of that is then how much it’s shared, or what the transparency is.

Let’s get to the first part because you can’t really have transparency until you have a lot of very current, super accurate data. From a performance measurement standpoint, and also from an analysis and attribution standpoint, data is becoming more robust, and also much larger. The more an asset manager is willing to put his analytics out there, be you know, “Here are the stone, cold facts. Here’s the attribution of what we’re doing. Here’s the way we’re doing it.” The benefits to that is greater understanding of investment process, better analysis of what’s going on within a portfolio, and from that could be, “Gee, how does this fit my investment process?”

Each part of that is of different importance to different audiences. Institutions of course want maximum transparency. The more they get, the better because they know what to do with it. They’ve got great tools in which to analyze it either on the analyst side with their consultants, or in-house. When you move over to the financial advisor world, there you’re going to get a lot of different levels of sophistication. At the bigger firms you’ve got analysts and a lot of the same tools at the institutions, but they’re using it differently. They’re doing a lot with the data, but not quite to the same level of sophistication in the institutions. Once you get to the independent channel, they’re using it in a big variety of ways. Some of them just want to know correlation like, “If I have this strategy, how is this going to work in my portfolio?” Is this going to really help me get performance and get away from correlating let’s say with the equity markets like the S&P 500?

I know I’m kind of all over the place, but the common themes here really are data, how much, how fast, how accurate, and then what are people able to do with it either in-house, or when it’s sent over to financial advisors, investment consultants, and institutions? What are they doing with it?

The last piece of this puzzle will be retail investors. There are a lot more “do-it-yourselfers” out there than there were 10 years ago, despite the fact that we still have quite a few, all the financial advisors out there. Kind of the blurring of the lines between insurance financial advisors and traditional, and then the whole idea of adding the robo-advisors for people who just don’t have time or the expertise to do it yourself. Data for each of these audiences is still very important. Packaging is just as important as well.


To play off on that Andy, what we’re finally starting to see with our clients, and maybe plural is overstating it, but at least one of our clients is doing the following, and others are thinking about it. Which is in communicating to their clients, presenting marketing literature that provides much more of an advisory service than we’ve seen in the past. In other words, modeling a portfolio or basket of funds and products and strategies, and being willing to put themselves out there, showing a hypothetical return for the big picture portfolio, versus a very conservative, single security view of what the historical returns have been just for that one item.

The biggest challenge in doing this inside the company, is the biggest controversy is of course the compliance aspects of it. Firms are heavily discouraged from predicting the future, or being too specific about what exactly the expected results are going to be from an investment being advised. That’s exactly what the information that the client base wants to see. Of course people want surety. There is no surety in an investment market, but if the market literature and the sales presentation present a bigger picture or an amalgamation of investment options and vehicles, then the investor feels much more prone to taking action on the material. We see several firms trying to work through their internal and their compliance concerns when presenting that level of information, that level of analytics.


Yeah, we are actually working with an ETF issuer and one of the things they’re offering institutional clients is running up hypotheticals, adding their specific strategies into current portfolios. A lot of institutions have that ability, but some of them go out to their investment consultants. They can just get it done faster, and of course their presenting it with their specific funds, and of course in a highly branded way. They are doing something that is pure data, but then really flipping that around not only as a sales material, but also a marketing and brand material as well because of the way it’s packaged, and then passed around that institution.

We’re definitely seeing some of those same trends. When putting data together and having it in one place with the ability to run analytics, of course the last part of that is packaging. How does that look? How can it be put together? Can it be indexed? Can we start it at a specific date, and then show how something trends? Let’s say against the benchmark as being zero. How does that look, and how is that branded is really important for salespeople in the field, for people doing it themselves let’s say online, and of course it all starts with how good is that data? What type of software do you have? Usually on a custom basis to be able to present that in a manner that’s really useful, but also in a branded environment.


Do you feel that this trend leads the industry towards more strategy-type products, or more basket of ’40 Act funded-type products? The advantage of course with the strategy product is it is a named entity. It doesn’t change. There doesn’t have to be a re-compliance to analyze every time it goes out the door, but then it’s not quite as personalized to each client.


I think we’re seeing a combination of things. The giant growth of the ETF industry, I think is certainly, “Oh it’s low fees, they’re very easy to understand,” and I think that’s kind of more of a retail message. I think on the institutional side what we’re seeing is that there is two or three click implementation of a specific strategy. If I think that the Greek banks are going to be bailed out and come back, that’s something I can invest in three clicks, and then my analyst can figure out which ones we believe are the winners or losers. That might take two days. In the interim I’ve got that instant exposure through the ETF. We’re seeing combinations in that the tools are being used by analysts and trader’s portfolio managers in ways that suit them best. Not always the way that they were intended when originally constructed, but I think the issuers of these products are figuring out what works and what doesn’t work, and are being taught by their clients, which is only a positive thing.

Again, it’s like, “Oh, what’s the underlying index in the ETF? How closely does the ETF adhere to that? Is it basically the index performance, minus fees? Is there tracking error?” All of these things are important to figure out. They actually need to be figured out before implementation. The issuer can either make that easy, or they can be less transparent and not make that easy, which is going to make their product a little less on the top of the list of which one will be implemented. We see that across all different kinds of ’40 Act structures, and other structures like separate accounts. Things that can be done actually very rapidly.


Andy, we’ve been asking ourselves recently about the ETF phenomenon. Let me back up. Historically, the big money, the market moves on the institutional investor. The retail investor invests small and moves their money around too frequently. It doesn’t move the market. The institutional investor, whether it be insurance funds or retirements funds, that’s where the real money is. We’re doing a little bit of research trying to figure out the impact of ETFs on those pieces of the investment market, and kind of finding that ETFs aren’t the big player in the retirement fund space. Are you seeing ETFs as being big players in other types of institutional investing spaces, or are those not sophisticated enough ETF goals for your big insurance funds, or hedge funds, or other investors of that scale?


I have to answer this in two ways, which is separating the DB and the DC market. The DC market is really the 401k market. There seems to be a technological stall where ’40 Act funds in the format of mutual funds are still dominating that.


Technological stall. The advisors we spoke with felt it was a strategic stall that they weren’t providing a significant advantage over low-cost share processes that are available in the DC investor market.


Yeah. I would take the other side of that and say ginormous providers of 401k’s like Vanguard and Fidelity, and others, are making a lot more money having their mutual funds being selected than they would be slightly lower cost ETFs. I’m a little bit more cynical on that. When it comes to sophistication, it has a lot to do also with target date funds on what goes in them. On the flip-side in the defined benefit market, we’re seeing ETFs being used short-term, mid-term, and longer term for overlays, for tactical asset allocation, and sometimes for broad exposure as well. Certainly one can get a passive manager, or go to an investment bank, and mirror an index that long-term will be less expensive than an ETF. For things that are not going to be there for years, the ETFs are really simple to implement, get in and out of, and of course now there are so many both strategy and simple index-based ETFs to choose from.

We see that coming in more and more, and also being used in conjunction. We want to achieve a specific effect, and we can combine these three ETFs to get that desired result. That can be implemented again. We’ve transitioned out of this manager. We can put these three ETFs in, and then we can take six months to a year, or replace that manager because we’re get the exposure we want in a low-cost manner, and don’t need to collect the money with a transition manager to achieve that. We’re definitely seeing that more. Some of the very big investment banks and counter parties are getting involved in getting people in and out of those very large trades without moving the market. That is something else we’re seeing. I think it’s a really big opportunity for the ETF insurers to look at that on an institutional basis and see where they stand.

We got some controversy going here.


If a asset management company is seeking to provide sales and marketing material to support these portfolio trends, how is it really going to impact what they’re preparing, and the challenges and risk of their literature plan?


This is where automation really comes into play. One could make a choice. They can have an army of graphic artists, and have the ability to work really deeply in Excel to translate that into PowerPoint, get that into a branded environment, get that through compliance, get the right language on it, get it approved for the date of first use on it, and then get it out to the field. Assuming it’s still timely after that process, they’re going to achieve their desired result.

The other way of doing it is having a workflow and having software that will handle these large data sets. We all know what happens with Excel and PowerPoint with large data sets, and certainly there are very large data sets when talking about historical performance. One can have custom software that will instantly put together the comparisons, the analytics, and put it into a branded environment with the right compliance language pulled from library, get that approved date of first use, and–it’s out. We see that as being an enormous advantage in both the institutional world, and also in the direct sales to financial advisors. Whether it be the Waterhouse channel, or the independent channel.


We’re finding it challenging to break our clients’ dependencies on these home-grown spreadsheet models that usually somebody very smart has done their Vanguard work to plan out how they’re going to collect digested presentation data, and Excel’s the tool of choice for that analyst. As they try and scale that operation, it becomes extremely risky to do so starting at Excel, and yet we find clients who are very reluctant to move to a professional caliber data warehousing and calculation model such as Synthesis offers, and requires to jump through huge hoops to match the Excel, and prove where the Excel was maybe not quite as accurate as they thought it was. When something’s working, they don’t want to change it. They think it’s working, but it’s interesting to get them to admit that they need something better along these lines.

That, and the compliance concerns of anything being in a system. They demand rigorous testing to make sure it’s correct and reliable, and well they should, but everything about it after the testing is a much better way to run a business than anything in Excel and PowerPoint.


I couldn’t agree with you more. Some of this is a generational issue. Of course, I am on the older side of people in marketing right now, yet I see the benefit of automation software perhaps because I’ve never been locked into anything. Once something’s working better, then one would want to implement it. Once again, we see this on the investment side with an early embrace. Of course they want everything done as quickly as possible. The market is only open from 9:30 to four, and people need things done immediately. Frankly, if they’re looking at customer experience and putting themselves in the shoes of their prospects and their clients, then they have the same immediacy. They want to make decisions intelligently, swiftly, accurately, and the only way to do that is with the right data presented the right way, with the right analytics. Fumbling through spreadsheets every time that spreadsheet is open, every time PowerPoint is touched, every time a new person touches that file, the odds of something going wrong and for there to be an actual compliance problem is increased.

A lot of people will say, “Oh I can get this done. My analyst is quick. We’re doing enormous amounts of custom work.” I strongly suggest they look at the last 50, 60 things they’d put out and find a commonality among them, and wake up to the, “Hey, we do these different types of things consistently. There’s no reason not to automate them.” Automation not only is more accurate, but it’s better branded, and also will be more compliance-friendly. I don’t see compliance-friendly going away anytime soon.


If we’d had this conversation six months or a year ago, and as a topic that was covered in some detail at the industry round table that Synthesis hosted last year, compliance and compliance-driven business decisions were the number one thing in 2016 that made firms spend money. In fact we saw firms for the first time putting compliance teams at the forefront of their purchase decisions on technology, and technology therefore driving their marketing and sales activity. Compliance really came to the forefront in that period of time.

What’s interesting though is that, that almost runs in conflict with the other major trend we’re seeing, which is the desire to create huge amounts of sales enablement. In other words, making the sales people able to think and act on the fly, and be able to touch and present information to clients that is highly tuned to their needs. Unless you’re doing that within very structured environments, and that sometimes sounds like the opposite of flexibility, then you’re creating huge compliance risks. When we talk to clients these days we find them speaking to us in a really bifurcated mode of one groups says, “This has got to be really, really compliant. Compliance scrutiny is greater than it has ever been, and we will spend money to make sure that we are avoiding lawsuits.” On the other end of the table, the sales team going, “Hey I want stock in an environment where I can touch it and change, and be market-responsive, and speaks directly to my clients.” It’s interesting client-by-client, which of those camps is carrying the day in terms of how they are spending their money and how they are structuring their information campaigns.


I am hopeful that sales and sales enablement will always win, and that being compliant is just part of the culture, and is an, “Of course.” Everything should be around, “What are we doing to increase our revenue, which means increasing our assets under management?” All that goes to immediacy, to transparency, to flexibility, and none of those go with Excel and PowerPoint. All those again point to what can be done with automated software from something that has been data checked and verified in the central database.


I couldn’t agree with you any more. The odd thing is that there is a trend for people to use a PowerPoint-based tool, which basically by definition is unlocked content, to create the sales enablement environment, which really scares me in terms of they think they’re achieving something that’s compliant, but they’re leaving monstrous gaps in the security control of their information.


I agree with that, and I think that logically step-by-step, people who are brought through the process of what it takes to get that piece of paper in front of, or that PDF on an iPad, whatever it is, in front of a client for them to be able to make an informed, fact-based decision. That automation will be faster, more accurate, more compliant than any other methodology.




That firms of not every size, but starting from not even mid-size, the larger small managers and above should be looking at, “What can we do to take the human element out?” Humans design great processes. Humans make sure the input is correct. Humans make sure that everything is there and are part of the checks and balances, but something machine-driven is going to give a better result faster, more accurately, every single time. Thinking that removing the human element is a bad thing, all you have to do is look at AI. All you have to look is the use of automation in every single industry. I literally started my career as computers came of age, and just thinking about accounting and performance measurement, which was done by hand. I remember when fact sheets took three to six weeks at the end of the quarter, rather than two to three days at the end of the quarter. There are, believe it or not, asset managers that are taking those three to six weeks right now. They are at an enormous strategic disadvantage of not having the automation to be able to get that information out accurately and super fast.


One of the big drivers that we’re seeing in a lot of investigation technology in the industry is a lot of firms were producing a lot of sales and marketing literature, but they have very little feedback in terms of how it’s being used, how frequently it’s being used, and certainly not the impact of it. What is actually driving changes in investment behavior, or cash inflows to support what you’re trying observe. What we’re seeing is a lot of talk in the industry about means to track and measure material, and see who’s reading it, and correlate that with investor actions. I think this is a very early topic, and some of the clients that have actually put some measurable methods in place, principally from the other website, are collecting large amounts of data, but they’re really not sure how to use it. The availability of data analysts who can look at something and spot what it means and program a strategic solution to what they’re saying seems to be a big gap. Data without a user, or data without an analysis is being gathered.

There’s also the huge problem that large amounts of content are being distributed in untracked formats. Loose PDFs flying around the web, or believe it or not, paper still exists in this industry, but you’d never tell who’s reading paper. There are vendors and tools out there that try to use tracked links and micro-sites so that people read their literature online and within a controlled environment. That’s generating a fair amount of excitement. It’s got a lot of theoretical promise. What I don’t think we have is any data to tell us whether it’s actually effective. Does the consumer like to read their fund information or a fact sheet, in a micro-service site, or an application where they know that they’re being tracked, or that they want it loose-leaf and in their control, and passed through their email without it being a special login in a controlled environment? I don’t think we have that information yet. What are you seeing in this area, Andy?


You’ve opened a couple of very broad topics. One is tracking. That’s something that my firm pays a lot of attention to. We’ve got a very large tech staff devoted to doing that. We believe that tracking behavior and interest is super important to knowing where to put marketing dollars, and also where to direct wholesalers and salespeople. We view what people do, versus what people say as being super important, and way more important than what they say. That type of tracking is something that we spend a lot of time analyzing, and then making sure that sales and marketing are in sync on, so as that we can see where trends are, based on usage. Is that usage also controlled by how much outreach is going on? If we’re doing outreach on very specific funds and strategies, of course that’s going to drive usage as well. We’re looking for causation, correlation, and then putting that against outreach, and then the usage data.

That gets extremely sophisticated and really drive asset inflows and outflows quite a bit. That’s something we think is getting far more sophisticated, but we’re really in the first inning. That is being adopted swiftly by some smaller and mid-size firms, but  I don’t feel like they have their ear to the ground quite as much.

On the amount of content, the other thing that you touched on and how it’s being used, that’s where we see again, data as a strategic asset. Where very customized materials are being used to make specific sales. What I mean by that is, is that most of these products are still sold, but not bought. Whether it’s an institution, an advisor, an analyst. If they made an asset allocation decision, they decided they want a specific strategy or exposure, they’ve got an awful large field to choose from of who’s going to fulfill that. What product, what structure, what firm? To compete in that world, one needs to be immediate. They need to be responsive. They need to be accurate. They need to be branded so that they are always being thought of.

Again, automation and data, and this immediacy in transparency are what really can make the difference in these types of sales situations.  Some of them are enormous, especially in the institutional world. Where this type of nimbleness can really be what changes the opinion of the buyer of, “Gee, I didn’t realize they were that advanced. It definitely has the implications that they’re gonna be easiest to do business with, and are perhaps more advanced on the investment side as well.”


What do you think the role is going to be moving forward in terms of interactive content, self-service sales messaging? Do we think consumers in any of the sectors that’s being sold to by this market want to be more self-service in their research in finding of strategic information, or do they want to be sold to? Do they want the advisor relationship to have a person come in and present literature information to them? The reason I ask that in this context is that turning point makes a huge difference in the nature of the materials that’s created, and the trackability of the users’ behaviors with the materials. In other words, you can’t track the discussion between an advisor and a client like you could a client’s clicks around an interactive website or iPad app.


Right. We are seeing this convergence, and it’s funny. There is a tiny robo-advisor that gets an awful lot of play in the media, and is getting it here with us. Betterment. They announced that they are going to have actual advisors, not just the robo-advisors. I think a lot of that is around that different people have different needs, and different levels of service. What we’re seeing now is a once in a generation shift. People, the baby-boomers are retiring. They have DB plans, they’ve got 401k’s. A lot of this money is coming to them, or they’re moving it to an IRA in a different environment. They’re going to stick with that firm. How do we keep those assets? Do they move into what types of products? Are they moving more from equities to fixed income? Does fixed income make sense in this interest rate environment? How do I inform them of what’s really best for them?

All of these things are going on, on a retail level in both the retirement industry, and then on a retail level, at the asset managers, but then also at online brokers and traditional brokers with advisors, and now also with the robos as well. Of course the two huge robos are not surprisingly Schwab and Vanguard, that either of them dwarf all the other robos combined. They always have had the ability to combine these different types of services, and they’re at looking at what works for self-service, and looking at, “What should we be providing and why?” I believe they have a profit motive, but I also believe that doing well by the customer ends up being good business as well, and they want to get very good quality information to people on a self-service score on an advisory-assisted basis.


I see that as a real turning point in the maturity of the robo-advisor business. It’s very specifically, the adding of human advisors, is very specifically addressing the abandoned shopping cart phenomenon that you have in any self-service, retail-style site. Even I’ve been on Betterment.com and played around, and built a portfolio, and then just walked away from it, abandoned it. Their usage metrics have got to see thousands of those actions every day, and trying to figure out why someone’s walked away from the cart they’ve built, and what it takes them to actually make a decision and plant their money, and think of it as a wise decision versus something that they’re just dabbling with, that’s the conversion from it being an interesting phenomenon that gets a lot of press to it being a real market movement phenomenon. It also makes those firms start to look like the more old school investing companies with advisory service arms that create personal relationships with their clients.


Yeah. I think if the non-giant robos, meaning not Vanguard and not Schwab, were to put a lot more effort on the investment side, just like they do on the interface and marketing side, they were to add a lot more effort there, I think they’d find an awful lot less abandoned shopping carts. I think they have over-simplified the process and a lot of people are not happy with the one size fits all, or five sizes fits every single scenario methodology. Target date funds have been around for a lot of years, and I just don’t see a lot of differentiation between that and what the robos are doing.


I agree entirely.


Again, this goes to transparency. What happens if there’s a big move in the market up or down? What happens if interesting rates go up? What happens actually if there’s another QE? We’re going to have another recession. I can’t tell you when, but we all know that it’s coming. How will my portfolio perform? How many years, and what kind of income do I need off of this? Should I be adding real estate? A lot of these things on the retail level need to be looked at, and some of the providers need to say, “Gee, I may not have every solution here. How do I go open with this and offer the right products to really be full-service, if that’s what I want to capture?” Which is all of their wallet. There’s an awful lot that’s going to be done with data over the next few years, and this is still a greatly evolved.

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Emilie is Chief Marketing Officer at Synthesis. She brings over 15 years of integrated sales and marketing experience working with financial services, SaaS, and health and wellness companies. Her passion is architecting holistic marketing strategies that align with each business function to achieve client experience, employee advocacy, and revenue goals. When she isn't marketing, you can find her rehabbing her home in the Chicago suburbs, practicing yoga, or spending time with her family.


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