Commonfund’s unique digital offering balances public & privileged investor content

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As part of our continuing Kurtosys Insights series – we caught up with Tony Ialeggio, the CMO at Commonfund. As a private, nonprofit organization, part of Commonfund’s core mission is to enhance the financial resources of their clients and to help them improve investment management practices. Their new digital offering created by Kurtosys, allows them to manage and qualify investors and institutions who are seeking privileged resources through a secure login, but also keep a balance of public content to drive organic traffic through their website.
Here’s what Tony had to say.

How would you describe Commonfund and its range of products and your competitive differentiator?

We are unique in the asset management industry in that we are a non-profit asset manager who focuses primarily on serving non-profit investors, and we have since 1971.
I think it’s safe to say there are no other non-profit asset managers in the US that have 45 years of focus on that audience of investors. And that means a lot to the clients and it means a lot to us because our interests are completely aligned. Also, our understanding of their needs is very deep through all of those 45 years of experience and which allows us to help them in really tangible ways.
Our entire approach to investing is based on their needs, not individual investors, not corporations, not sovereign wealth funds. We’ve designed everything around the needs of endowments and foundations. So, the learning there and the ability to apply that experience to everything from asset allocation to product design to user experience to the advice that we give and the service, is all designed around them.

Talk about your marketing approach, marketing private funds requires you to gate access to content via a log-in to allow for investor qualification, how do you see the landscape of marketing in the space changing and in general using access to “privileged” content as a strategy to market other traditional products?

It is true, all of the investment programs that we are offer are private, and thus the investors must be qualified institutions. Which can be a challenge because we are very limited in what we can say and do publicly with regard to those programs. Never the less, we want to share our capabilities with the clients who are qualified to be able to see those things, understand them and interact with them.
There are a few things that are important that we do there – one is certainly the outreach – this is an audience with lots and lots of money, very big accounts, who are very deliberate in how they choose investment managers. And so a lot of our process revolves around the human touch, which is critical.
We have relationship officers that reach out to these institutions across the US and engage with them on a regular basis. But there are lots of them and only a certain number of us here, so the digital comes in in a lot of different ways. One is, these are sophisticated investors and they are always looking for cutting edge research and information that will help them be better at what they do and we are known for that, and have been, since the founding of the firm in 1971.

“Delivering all of that expertise and content digitally, is really important. It allows us to have scale so that we can touch lots more people individually than we can one-on-one.”

It also allows us to encourage people to not only come to the website in large numbers, but to login. And in order to login, they have to register. And once they register we know who they are. We can qualify them and not only share the research and the content, but also, as appropriate, share information about the investment programs. So those things go hand-in-hand and I think it’s a big advantage for us that we have such a huge body of research to draw people in.

You have recently launched a new website and seen a significant increase in traffic, what would you say are the largest contributors to that?

Commonfund website

There are three things contributing to that.

  1. We’ve created a huge body of research over the years. All of that content historically had been designed for what I would call “analogue media”. We were creating white papers, writing articles and publishing a magazine on a regular basis. And all of that was really designed for delivery in a physical format. And even though it was on the old website, it was being delivered primarily in attachments – PDFs, and other formats. So it was not being effectively indexed by search engines such as Google and as we all know, those are huge sources of traffic – that’s where people find the information and we just weren’t able to connect. That was a big piece of this puzzle and a huge piece of what we did with Kurtosys and our internal resources — transforming all of that content that was paper based into HTML. That has been a huge source of increased traffic.
  2. The site itself (the user experience, the design), we hear all the time from clients and from our own people, that it is such a huge improvement. I think it encourages people to come back much more frequently. I know that our sales and service people are much more likely to recommend to investors in the first conversation that they go to the website. I think word of mouth among people in our segment is really good as well.
  3. Finally, we’re seeing more and more referral links, because the site is so good now, better than it was. More sites across the industry are linking to us.

So those three things combined, have been really powerful.

“Our website traffic has tripled, which I never would’ve anticipated going into this, I thought maybe 10% or even 20%, but it tripled in just a few months which has really been an amazing result.”

How do you see “digital” impacting the industry?

I think that digital is the core of everybody’s, not just communication, but the core of the entire engagement with the client going forward. And that’s a good thing in that it’s a cost effective way to do it, but even more importantly, I think it’s a change that’s going to continue to be driven by the client. People’s lives and behaviors have changed really significantly on this front.
The expectation from almost everybody, and certainly in the generation that’s coming up now, is that you’re able to do a lot of things in life electronically now. Whether that’s looking for compelling content or interesting information, or researching a product, understanding all the features and benefits of something that you may or may not want to buy. And certainly on the service front, having access to client reports, being able to interact with someone virtually and getting all the information you need.
All of those things are expected. They are the base case that you have to be able to deliver on. And I think that everybody in our industry, if they’re not embracing that now, they will be quickly because clients are expecting it every day. 

What are your views on traditional fund factsheets – crying out for disruption or still an essential tool for investors?

Can I say both? Is that fair? I think the idea of a simple one or two page, front and back summary of an investment product has been an essential tool forever. It certainly is within the retail investing space. Financial advisors have used those things every day because it’s a simple way to explain a product to an individual investor. So I think people rely on them and they still serve a purpose.
At the same time, they are absolutely crying out for some disruption.

“I think the old approach to cramming a whole bunch of charts and numbers into two pages and hoping that someone can make sense of that and actually draw a story from it, is a little outdated.”

I think there is a lot of opportunity to tell the story of what an investment is and how it can work for you that would be much more interactive. And much more of a compelling story. The numbers are important, but expecting the end user to look at a bunch of numbers and charts and get a story from that, I think is a tall order. So, there’s a big opportunity there.

Where do you see the asset management industry in 5 years? Is it changing much? How so?

I think we are at a huge inflection point in asset management globally. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a very different place in five years.

“There are a few really big trends that matter here. The first is certainly digital, and the rise of asset management solutions that don’t involve lots of human beings.”

In the US you have new firms like WealthFront and Financial Engines…there’s a whole robo-advisor group sprouting up left and right. And they serve a place, they may not be the most sophisticated solution, but as I said earlier, the new generation of investors are very comfortable dealing online almost exclusively and not dealing with a human being.
They are also low cost providers, and that’s the other big thing that’s happening in addition to robo-advisors being low cost, there are huge cost pressures across this entire industry which, frankly, for the last 50 years has been able to make a lot of money through high fees. And investors now are much more informed and cost-conscious. There are really high expectations from investors that if you are going to charge the fees that for example, active managers, hedge fund managers, private capital managers charge, you better deliver great results, because there are lots of other choices.
ETFs, index funds, robo-advisors, all charging much lower fees and delivering pretty good results. That in itself is going to provide a huge impetus for a shake-out in our business because the only way that you can compete is to deliver great results consistently to earn your fees, or you have to compete on price. And in order to compete on price, you need huge scale.
So if you’re historically a middling provider whose performance is up and down, and you’re not a huge firm, you’re in trouble. It’s really hard to exist that way going forward. And there are lots of those. There are 3,000 hedge funds in the US. There are many thousands of mutual funds. That model is absolutely under pressure and it’s going to be either the big scale players that make it or if you’re small, you’re going to have to deliver great results consistently. Everybody in the middle is going to be under a lot of pressure.

Take a look at the new Commonfund website here.

Tony Ialeggio Chief Marketing Officer, Commonfund

Tony IaleggioAnthony (Tony) Ialeggio, Managing Director, Chief Marketing Officer, is responsible for the development and execution of firm-wide marketing strategies and branding. Prior to joining Commonfund in 2014, Mr. Ialeggio was Executive Vice President, Director of Global Marketing at Cohen & Steers where he had overall responsibility for branding, communications, marketing strategy and product management. Prior to Cohen & Steers, Tony spent ten years at AllianceBernstein, where he was a Managing Director and held a number of marketing, planning and product management positions. Mr. Ialeggio has twenty two years of professional experiences and has a B.A. in Political Science from Tulane University.

If you work for an asset manager and would be open to an interview with Kurtosys, please contact us or tweet us @kurtosys.

courtney mcquade

courtney mcquade