CMO Interview: Honing a global asset management brand

CMO Interview: Honing a global asset management brand 1Kurtosys recently spoke with BNY Mellon Investment Management’s (BNY Mellon IM) Anne-Marie McConnon, Chief Marketing Officer, about her recent efforts to hone the group’s multi-faceted brand, the industry’s collective need to be more consumer-focused and the rising importance of data and the digital journey.

How important is brand for an asset manager? We’re particularly interested in this from your perspective as a multi-boutique – and therefore multi-brand – business?

I believe it’s important for any brand to be able to tell their story but it’s particularly important when you have multiple brands, like we do.

I think people often confuse brand with a campaign, or the ‘look and feel’ when actually, it is about understanding what your business is, what it stands for and what makes you special.
Brand is becoming increasingly important in asset management. Strong brands within our industry automatically self-filter onto shortlists, consistently wins pitches in equal head-to-heads against lesser brands. They can maintain premium pricing, are trusted to innovate as well as recover through challenging times.

I think there are very few truly distinctive brands in asset management. The brand purists of old who focused on the size of a logo or the advertisement campaign running in the trade press now seems outdated in the digital age. Today, the conversation around brands is much more participatory. Brands need to create real value in order to be meaningful and distinct. That means we have to think less about what our brand says and more about how a brand can be useful and helpful.

And how are the various brand messages consolidated internally, given the overarching group and the underlying boutiques?

One message that is becoming clearer with the brand strategy work we have undertaken recently is that we aim to be an endorser brand for our investment boutiques. What you get with the multi-boutique model is a model that is truly built around the investor. The model offers best of both worlds; world-class specialist investment capabilities from the boutiques combined with a world-class operational infrastructure, scale and quality of distribution from the BNY Mellon centre.

Each of our brands, whether it is Newton Investment Management, Insight to Alcentra or Walter Scott has its own unique identity. We need to make sure the relationship between the boutiques and BNY Mellon IM is described in a consistent way. Traditionally, this has not been executed well in the past, but you’re going to see a change in the way we present ourselves to our staff, clients, prospects and suppliers.

I’d compare us to a Unilever model for asset management; we are committed to an endorser brand strategy. We allow each of our boutiques to be who they are because they all look at the world differently.

That’s not to say there isn’t a very clear story for BNY Mellon IM and our investment boutiques as a collective investment group. Our role is to enable the specialist firms to be the best they can be – while striving to provide world-class distribution and a strong commitment to financial stewardship.

What are some of the pros and cons of your model, specifically having a bank parent?

Being attached to the bank gives us a proven history, as BNY Mellon is one of the most trusted banks in the world, so having that financial stewardship, as an investment brand, is really helpful. If you look at today’s world where things already feel quite volatile – not just from an industry or regulatory perspective but also politically, because people need that reassurance, and lastly financially – I think it’s a real positive.

I think one of the challenges that BNY Mellon IM has, being attached to the bank, is that sometimes we’re known more for custody than we are for investment.  But that is a perception we are changing already and are committed to building out further and investing in over time.

Is there anything in the industry that you think needs a complete overhaul?

We need to be more consumer-orientated in our communications. In our very instantaneous digital world where communications need to fly across the internet and properly engage people, we need to find a way of using less jargon, which is something we all struggle with.

Invariably, compliance and regulation do not help; obviously there is a reason for the risk warnings but it can also make it quite challenging to create communications that are consumer-friendly. Ultimately, we’re all human beings and whether you’re a professional or a consumer, you wish to be spoken in a way that is easy to understand, and interesting to read.

Many reports from the big consultancy groups often describe how behind asset management is versus other sectors, in terms of user experience. Why do you think that is?

I really believe it’s changing but perhaps we have been a little too steeped in tradition at times. As being so sales-driven in the past, marketing and communications functions are often forced onto a ‘hamster wheel’ of demand from their sales teams.

It can be quite difficult to take a helicopter view and challenge some of those models. So we can still produce the sales presentations but now with digital, data and the rising importance of brand experience, how can we improve on those?

Marketing and communications can not only support distribution by really honing the messaging across a range of audiences and optimise the client experience journey, but we’ve also got access to information through digital channels that can help client-facing teams on the ground.

Do you therefore see data and technology as taking more prominent roles, in terms of how the industry is set to progress?

With GDPR just around the corner in May 2018, while it has presented a challenge to some degree it really is an opportunity to fix some of these issues we face as an industry, because for the first time everyone will have to prioritise data. Data has always been important, but it IS crucial that the data is managed effectively.

Sales growth comes from customers. And if customers don’t know about the business — there’s no growth. So we advertise to attract customers. In truth that generates prospects. Today, it is important to ensure we have to have the right systems in place to turn prospects into customers. This is where data and technology plays a pivotal role.

Roughly 70% of internet traffic comes with some pre-existing knowledge of the brand in question, so 70% of most sales journeys have already begun before sales even get involved, which shows the importance of brand, digital and data.

GDPR will help put further discipline around what we hold and how we hold it, how we are targeting those clients and why. It will become the predominant global standard rather than just being applied across Europe.

What do you see as a pressing threat to the business?

There has been a lot going on: charges and fees remain a challenge; consolidation taking place across the industry looks set to continue, which is far less of a worry for a company such as ours with our global footprint and the multi-boutique model. Although, as a business we have been consolidating, by bringing together three of our US-based boutiques, which has been about sharpening our focus, creating scale and the bringing together of best-in-class capabilities.

Diversity has been at the top of everyone’s agenda; it has been at the forefront of our agenda for some time but we still have got a long way to go as an industry, as proven by the gender pay gap figures that have been published in recent weeks.

One of our biggest threats is the workplace environment. How do we attract and retain talent in this industry? It’s not just about bringing in more women, but actually bringing people through the organisation and retaining them over the longer term. With the huge amounts of change going on, you need to adopt a more flexible workplace, supporting parents, not just mothers, as more men are playing the bigger role in the family nowadays.

And finally, where is the biggest opportunity for your business and how do you intend to maximise that?

A lot of what I’ve mentioned: articulating our proposition more effectively, defining what makes us special, how the multi-boutique model works and what we think its benefit is for investors today and in the future. We certainly have not capitalised on that so building out our story as an investment management brand, will be one of the biggest things we’re focusing on.

And from a marketing perspective, we want to continue to innovate our content publishing, infographics and blogs for instance, that challenge consensus. We are entering a really exciting phase for BNY Mellon which will in turn be good for our staff, our investors and our clients.