Personalization in Investment Management: What it is and what it is not

When speaking to Heads of Digital, we are often asked to provide insights into the topic of “Personalization” and how our digital platform can support the need to personalize the web experience for their clients. Of late, this topic has become hotly debated as more and more asset managers are looking to broadening their audience by extending their reach directly into the retail wallet.

Rightly so, many digital teams draw parallels from other retail and consumer-oriented sectors to build their business case for personalization tools. We can add to this with an overlay of practical steps that aids in underwriting success in the implementation of any personalization strategy in the investment space. We see two key factors worth considering when refining the approach to implementation in this industry. Firstly, most investment managers are focusing on quality of user activity as opposed to quantity. Consequently, many investment managers have a relatively low volume of site visitors, certainly compared to other retail propositions such as the travel sector. This means that some of the statistical engines used to drive personalization features simple do not work. Secondly, compliance. It is okay to steer a site visitor to a holiday bargain based on previous success rates of doing so within similar cohorts but leading a retail investor towards a specific fund or an article that recommends a specific fund, could lead you into difficult waters.

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We subscribe to Personalization strategies here at Kurtosys and, hopefully, below provide some practical approaches to how you might think about implementing it as part of your digital strategy.

What it isn’t (probably)

Personalization in other web spheres has taken many forms, but the most common method is to understand what people want and give them more of it using a clever algorithm. The most prominent and successful example at the present moment is Tiktok. If you have had the misfortune (or fortune) to fall into its web, you will find that it is devilishly good at presenting you with an endless stream of videos that speak to even your most obscure interests, deriving this from what you’ve spent time on, liked, or commented about. YouTube and Instagram have tried to imitate its level of personalization and have failed. It requires an exceptional algorithm and a volume of data to learn from that most organizations will never have access to, running across cohorts and individuals, and establishing correlations that humans would not necessarily ever draw intuitively.

If you are running a web estate for an investment manager, you may be tempted to think “we should do that but for our insights” and conclude that that is the end of your personalization journey. There are systems out there that will do it for you, and you can plug them in with relative ease. The danger here is that an implementation like this might make you miss the true meaning of personalization.

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The general idea is as follows: An advisor visits your site and looks at a blog post on rising rates, or the impact of Russian oil embargoes, or something else. So now you have one data point about one person, who may sit in a cohort of several thousand that visit your site on a weekly or monthly basis. While this might sound like a lot, in the grand scheme of statistical inference (the process used by many of these programs to work out what to show and commonly referred to as AI) it is really not a lot at all, and certainly not enough to draw statistically meaningful conclusions. If you compare this to the above example of something like Tiktok, they are deriving millions of impressions per hour across similar individuals, and potentially hundreds per session per individual. This creates a statistically significant data set from which to draw the conclusion of what to serve them next.

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So, the first problem is the amount of data you have to use in personalization, and most investment management sites just don’t generate enough. The second issue is what to serve them. In our experience, most managers prune their content quite aggressively to avoid compliance issues. A commonly used feature of our platform is content expiry, and our clients use it because they want to avoid a blog post from two years ago being read by an investor who might assume that the views within it are current. You probably do a similar thing in your business. The challenge with personalization of the form mentioned above is therefore what to serve them, because you quickly run out of content which defeats the purpose of the automation.

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What It Might Be

Personalization doesn’t have to mean guessing what piece of content they might want to read next. Content marketing has been an important facet of enabling and educating the investor base and in turn growing assets, but it is not the be all and end all. Instead, we suggest the process of personalization is to understand what each of your key audiences need and then  then to customize the journey accordingly.

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Investor Specific Microsites

For many firms, the advisor cohort is their primary and most important channel. Drilling further still, certain broker dealers or wealth management firms comprise a significant portion of their flow and future potential. If you have key relationships like this, why not create a dedicated microsite for them? You may find the idea of building a site for a single client crazy given the perceived effort, but it is certainly possible with the right technology in place. With our platform we start with creating a new site clone, which can share many of the pages from the main site as and where required with zero extra effort to maintain, including the fund center and product pages. From there, content can be curated, starting with eligible products, meaning that only share classes available to that distributor are shown and the effort to find products is reduced. Featured products can be given pride of place on the home page, alongside dedicated messaging for the target investor. All of this can be made private if required too, with an email address based gate that checks against an allowed list in your CRM. The net result is a site that simplifies the process for the target investor when searching for product information and discovering insights. Distribution teams can publicize this dedicated microsite with fund selectors and advisors and promote how it can simplify their lives. Furthermore, providing this level of personalization can differentiate in the minds of your clients.

Preferences, Watchlists, and Subscriptions

By volume, most site journeys will focus on the fund specific pages of your site, and a significant proportion of those will result in the download of material, either factsheets, holdings, or less often regulatory content. In many instances these are regular, repeat journeys conducted by your investors time and again. Allowing them to simplify this process can be a major boon to productivity for them and reflect positively upon you in the process.

The first and most simplistic idea is to implement a watchlist feature for your fund center, allowing the visitor to flag funds that they often use and showing them by default when they return. While a good idea in a perfect world, our analysis shows that this is only used by around 2% of all site visitors and, given that, the impact it can have on all your visitors is potentially limited. Despite this, 2% is still significant, so we always suggest adding it as a feature.

The evolution of this idea is to track the funds that investors view and to then show them as a ‘recently viewed’ list, either at the top of your fund center, or as a dedicated component within your homepage. If you pursue this, adding the ability for the visitor to remove false positives from the list is key, so make sure to include a ‘Don’t show this again’ button to the results. To take it further, you may also want to include links to the factsheet and key materials within your recently viewed items. When the investor returns to your site, there are then zero clicks for them to find their most commonly sought-after materials.

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The apogee of this arc of thinking is to include the ability to subscribe to new material updates via a preference center or even directly via the fund center itself. The idea is quite straightforward:

  1. Promote the ability for the investor to personalize via a button in the nav or around your fund center. Royce do a particularly good job of this.
  2. Once the user has signed up, allow them to choose which documents they would like emailed to them, straight from your fund center or document library.
  3. Once per month, automatically collate the relevant materials into a magic link and email the materials to them directly.

If you subscribe to the idea that improving the investors experience is the ultimate goal then this should seem sensible. On the other hand, you may be worried that you are losing time on site with them, and with that the ability to cross sell product or promote your thought leadership. The first idea to combat this is to make sure that your download link brings them to a dedicated page on your site, and that you appropriately merchandise that page with your latest content, featured funds, and anything else that you want to promote. You can also apply this idea to the email you send, including recent posts and featured fund information.

The hidden benefit to you is of course that you are collecting information about the investor, something that can prove quite challenging. We have found that the promise of a more efficient experience can be effective at convincing advisors and institutional investors to tell you who they are, which you can of course tie to analytical insights about their browsing behavior and lead to further personalization.

Conclusion

The luxury afforded us in investment management is that we actually don’t need statistical models to tell us what our clients want. Investment managers know who their clients are and typically have a good understanding of their needs. Our distribution teams are great conduits of feedback, so personalizing should start with listening. The challenge beyond that is implementing and more giving them what we know they want. At first, the ideas above might seem difficult to implement, but with the correct approach and a feature-rich technology platform like Kurtosys, evolving your digital experience can be greatly simplified. If you are interested in pursuing any of the ideas we discuss here, please feel free to reach out to us or request a demo.

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