Miton has been through several years of evolution including the disposal of a sister firm, the acquisition of Darwin to bolster its multi-asset offering, seven fund launches in as many years, while coping with several senior fund manager moves. Yet for head of marketing Mark Harper and digital strategist Rob Tyler, the dust has well and truly settled and the duo are excited for what the future holds for the £4.8bn business.
Miton has been through a lot in recent years. How are you all feeling as we come to the end of 2018?
Mark Harper: We have been through some really exciting times and have truly developed as a business. We’re now a firm of about 50, all based under one roof in the City of London, together focused on broadening our reach, building our brand and building depth of relationships with our clients and as we grow the business, the aim is that in turn we will grow our assets.
We’ve had a strong year in terms of sales, we’ve been ranked in the top 10 for net retail sales in the UK for the last three quarters by the Pridham Report, which for a business of our size, validates the types of product we have brought to market. While we appreciate the pull-back recently has been tough for everyone, overall, it has been a really good year for us and we’re looking forward to building on that momentum.
Technology is increasingly critical for all facets of the asset management industry, from the way we communicate to the way we do our day-to-day roles, to the types of products on offer. How is it influencing your business and how do you see things evolving?
MH: One of the key things over the past few years has been the pace of change and the sheer amount and availability of different technologies.
From a distribution perspective, the key thing for us has been in CRM. We are currently making the switch from Microsoft Dynamics over to Salesforce, partially because as we develop and scale up, it is important to have the relevant systems and technologies to help support our ongoing growth more effectively.
We – like many of our peers – have many different touchpoints: email; webinars; video; social media; and our own website. We also still support our sales team going out and seeing people face to face. That all helps gather data but it’s what you’re able to do with that data today. Previously, much of it would end up in different places, whereas now, technology allows you to join all those dots together.
One of our key ambitions is around using that data more effectively. It has always been a challenge, how to make sense of it all, so now we are looking at scoring templates, for example. If someone has looked at one of the fund pages on our website, or they’re watching a webinar, that would add to their ‘score’ and see if it meets a particular threshold or trigger. If a client appears interested in something, has a member of the sales team been out to see this person?
Rob Tyler: That could be a manual trigger to make a note for the sales team to give that person a call, or it could be something automated, prompting some further communication, an email for example, sent out on that threshold being reached.
Are advisers receptive to that more ‘automated’ intel, or does it make them nervous?
MH: It matters how you do it so it doesn’t come across all ‘Big Brother’. What we are trying to do is deliver relevant information to the right people at the appropriate time.
RT: If it is being done with streamlining their business at the heart of it, then the idea is not so ‘Big Brother’, as opposed to the flip side. We’ve all seen examples of targeted ads on Facebook following random conversations about a given brand. There is a big difference between those two types of automation.
MH: New technologies and analytics are getting better all the time at capturing information, CRM systems allowing users to make voice notes rather than having to type things in, for instance. The challenge is trying to prioritise the most effective with the most helpful.
Where do you see the role of content marketing within that – it’s become something of a buzzword, not just in asset management but in all sectors?
MH: We have also seen a huge rise in the use of content marketing and we are constantly debating how we develop that. We consider closely the purpose of a piece of content. Does it teach you anything? We might decide against doing something, or adapting something that already exists. Now, these much deeper insights can help us make those decisions, we can undertake a lot of ‘test and learn’; understanding what interactions it receives, how effective it is compared to something else. It’s not static, you’ve got to adapt and keep revisiting, it is not a tick-box exercise.
RT: I’ve experienced working with huge budgets at larger organisations and often been surprised at the lack of accountability of that spend. What I prefer about working on a leaner budget, coupled with the increase in data these analytics platforms can provide, is being able to make smart decisions based on when things are effective and upweighting here and there if it’s working or simply pulling the plug if it’s not.
Do you think playing smaller and more focused is easier or harder than being a big, global player?
MH: We think that’s one of our beauties; that we are quite a simple business. We’ve always effectively been a UK asset manager selling to the UK market. It’s always been our focus, so our challenge is retaining that focus.
There are always things we can look at but you can risk spreading yourselves quite thinly. Often things may look interesting, and being quite nimble, we are able to do a bit of testing around ideas before we make big commitments. We want to gain confidence that it’s the right thing for us to do, and we always think it is easier to build up from a smaller base than try and carve away from something that’s already there if it’s not working.
Are those traditional industry touchpoints you mentioned earlier still fit for purpose, or is it a case of bringing together the old with the new?
MH: The two are not diametrically opposed to each other. Clearly talking to clients face to face is an important aspect and will continue to be so. Often you want to talk to clients in person about the product, help them understand it, and – in line with the regulatory calls for clarity, transparency and insight – aim to really add value to that relationship.
Technology allows you to expand that reach as there is only a finite number of people a sales person could see physically, so technology allows you to take some of that insight to a broader audience.
It also makes it more democratic, in allowing smaller players like us to be able to compete with some of the bigger groups. There’s nothing stopping us from sending out an email communication with a link to a video for more information, allowing for further information without having to physically visit them, which is important if you have limited resources.
So, I don’t think the traditional methods are necessarily going away, rather I think technology is allowing us to repackage them in different ways and place emphasis in different areas.
It also helps when we can gather the input of the sales guys, their qualitative, immediate feedback, and consider that on top of the more quant intelligence we capture.
The style and purpose of the fund factsheet can often divide opinion. How do you see things evolving?
MH: Back in the day, if you wanted to know how a fund was doing, you’d go to the fund manager and they would send you a fact sheet, which would tell you how the fund was performing. Today, there are myriad places and platforms that you can look at to see how a fund is doing; you don’t need that manager to tell you the performance of their fund.
What you might want them to tell you, is why has it performed in such a way, what’s been driving that, what has held it back, which sectors or companies are contributing and what they are doing in response.
There is more and more information on a manager’s website that at one time was only found on the factsheet. But these are becoming almost hygiene factors.
Today it is more about explaining your insights, talk about the product, get a feel for the manager and their view of the world. In generating more content, we are trying to arm our advisers with as much information who, in turn, will want to be able to share those insights with their clients.
What about other types of content, getting the clients closer to the fund managers in a more cost-effective way?
RT: The format in which the content is delivered is often as important as the content itself. I’d certainly like to see more video and audio-based communications and expect that is the way the world will move.
We have produced some video already and the engagement has been good. Having said that, we don’t produce huge volumes so maybe we have decent engagement because we are not saturating our clients. I think we will see a move away from these highly polished, very expensively produced videos, towards more ‘elevator pitch’ style, one or two-minute updates, shot very simply with very raw editing to go out very quickly to market. I would certainly advocate those and we intend to look to possibly do more of these next year.
MH: I also think these shorter, sharper, more focused nuggets of ‘beginner’ content, for example, can help. They may not be new, but infographics and presenting information more visually as is seen in a lot of other industries, I think we will see more of that. YouTube is now becoming the one of the biggest search engines out there, and I believe we will continue to see a move towards more visual, pithier, more focused communication making things simpler and more transparent.
What do you see as your hardest challenge, day to day?
MH: We are in an incredibly crowded, competitive, congested market from a communication point of view, with so many messages out there. One of our challenges is how to achieve cut-through. It’s not just about producing volume, but about quality, about looking at the format and understanding the market better to get the right content to the right people at the right time.
We are certainly not there yet by any means, but one of the developments as we evolve as a business, is investing in CRM so that we can get those insights to hit the right people at the right time. It’s not just about producing lots and hoping something sticks. It’s more about trying to fully understand the different markets, knowing which different products are appropriate for them and looking at that as a continual task.
When gathering all this data and these insights about your client base how much is factored into product development, in terms of gauging appetite for new ideas?
MH: We are never going to be a ‘waterfront’ business with product in every particular area, but we do look at trends or ideas that get us thinking about where sales are happening, which sectors, asset classes by listening to what clients are saying.
For example, we are cognisant that the area of sustainable investments is very hot right now, so that is interesting. But while there are signs of what is happening in the wider market, you aren’t necessarily going to act on it because you have to look at other factors before you can bring a product to market, particularly for a business such as ours.
If we decided to offer a sustainable investment product, for instance, who would run it? You would then need to have conversations about teams and capacity, expertise and the like.
It might not necessarily be relevant to what is interesting at the moment but indicate what might become interesting in the future. It will get us thinking about what we can offer that is different or how we can add value that others aren’t able to.
Such as when you launched the multi-cap fund for Gervais, back in 2011?
MH: With the UK Multi Cap Income fund, when you looked at the IA Equity Income sector at that particular time, it was very much about large-cap focused investments. A lot of it was held in FTSE 100 and the higher end of the FTSE 250. We were one of the first to act on the broader universe available and go into some of those mid-cap stocks lower down the market cap spectrum and even into the small-cap space. I think we have been able to demonstrate over a number of years the effectiveness of that strategy.
Similarly, we launched our European Opportunities fund almost three years ago. That also has quite a mid-cap bias and is quite different from a number of other funds in the European space, which we have been able to prove.
What we like about entering from a different position is that you can talk about the funds as being complementary to others that are already out there, it’s not a case of replacing other funds, but sitting alongside them to provide diversification, building stories with advisers that become more meaningful.