Which fund groups offer advisers the best digital experience?

Franklin Templeton and Fidelity marketing heads offer advice on boosting your online engagement strategy

Financial advisers have ranked Fidelity Investments and Franklin Templeton Investments as the top asset managers in terms of their digital engagement, with Putnam Investments, Pimco and Hartford Funds making up the top five.

The research of nearly 600 advisers, conducted by SS&C, assessed the online behaviors, expectations and needs of financial advisers across all age ranges, from millennials to boomers and everyone in between.

Fifty-four asset managers were ranked on the experiences they deliver on both desktop and smart phones across their adviser websites, LinkedIn, Twitter and email.

“A growing number of today’s advisers are digital natives, and they are raising the bar for online digital experiences,” said Lee Kowarski, SS&C vice president and head of data science & distribution solutions. “The next generation of financial advisers and investors have high expectations for the convenience, mobility, transparency, and relevance of customer experiences. And they will switch their business over to companies that better meet them.”

Kowarski added that high digital standards are being demanded across generations, and not just among younger advisers.

The research found that only 30% of asset managers demonstrated transparency by listing loads and breaking out fees on product profiles.

SS&C also noted that while virtually all younger advisers are reading emails on their smart phones daily, only 5% of firms provide emails that do not require resizing to read on a smartphone.

Around 40% of millennial advisers say recommending relevant content based on their need and interests would make them more likely to allocate to a firm. However, SS&C research also found that only 11% of asset managers use personalization to deliver more relevant content at the top of the website home page.

The findings come as half of asset managers are bulking up their marketing departments to boost web, eMarketing and social media functions over the next year, according to an October report by the Fuse Research Network.

“Asset management as an industry is way behind other industries in general in using digital,” said Amanda Tepper, CEOof Chestnut Advisory Group. “Within asset management, retail is well ahead of institutional in this effort. To me, it shows that … they’re doing a good job of retail marketing in general, and digital is just a part of that.”

Personalization now expected by advisers

Jon Davies, Fidelity’s senior vice president of digital marketing, said advisers are increasingly expecting personalized services.

“They’re expecting businesses to remember them and understand them across all channels of engagement, which is why we’re so focused on delivering seamless and consistent client experiences,” he said. “For example, on our website, we strive to provide a frictionless experience through a responsive design fueled by relevant content strategies. We spend a lot of time thinking about our clients’ needs.”

David McSpadden, Franklin Templeton’s head of global marketing, said that the firm has made a concerted effort over the past seven years as part of a strategy to improve its digital experience and overall engagement with clients to keep pace with constantly evolving platforms.

“You have a younger group of clients — whether they are advisers themselves or people who are in home offices engaging with various asset management firms — all of whom are used to very facile, dynamic digital experiences from other platforms. So there is an expectation they should have a similar experience with asset management providers,” he said. “The bar is set by the large retail platforms that everybody gets comfortable using.”

The most obvious shift in recent years, he said, was the switch to mobile. Globally, Franklin Templeton’s websites were all developed and upgraded in a “responsive” code over the past few years, he explained, which enhances SEO, improves search results and allows the interface to seamlessly adjust across all device types, including smart phones and other mobile devices.

“We have wanted to make sure that our content shows up in a very intuitive and facile form when you’re on a desktop, iPad or phone,” he said. “We upgraded our code to make sure that our experience would work in all of those environments, and the content would adjust depending on which environment you’re on. I think that’s paid significant dividends for us.”

Improving client app journeys

The firm also has launched two apps, one for its Indian direct-to-consumer business, and the other, Franklin Templeton Academy, for its online professional education services.

“In our experience with apps, and our research with advisers, we have found that apps are best suited and the best value for transactional capabilities that provide an engaged, easy experience,” he said.

Matt Fronczke, SS&C’s head of research, analytics and consulting, agreed that clients are demanding better mobile capabilities.

“When you think mobile, what you are thinking about is personal — it’s transparent, it’s real time, it’s relevant,” he said. “It’s engaging, bingeworthy content and something I can understand quickly, which is around that transparency. I don’t have to be an expert within asset allocation, or manager selection or capital markets to understand what’s being told to me.”

Fronczke added that engagement needs to focus on “customized, personal connections,” rather than superficial campaigns. “You’re actually developing a relationship, and that’s what this mobile and digital engagement is all about,” he added.

McSpadden said Franklin has also been improving and integrating multimedia as part of its overall digital strategy over the past five years through blogs, podcasts, short videos and other content across its social media platforms, as well as graphics, in-depth white papers and other content.

“It becomes a conduit for people to discover our perspectives and be able to access it in whatever form is most beneficial for them,” he said. “One of the things that we recently have made available is some voice technology so people who want to listen to our perspectives can tap in via Alexa. Rather than having to pull down a PDF and read it themselves, they can have it read for them as a podcast.”

The retirement space is another big digital engagement opportunity, McSpadden said, particularly providing help and support around a specific need or solution.

“It could be calculators around retirement or tools that help project out what you can anticipate from social security, and how do you integrate that into your income stream. Millennials may define the expectations of the [digital] experience, but the reality is everybody is becoming a digital native and it’s going to be as relevant to someone in the baby boomer generation as it is a millennial.”

Fronczke added that the personality of senior individuals at asset management firms need to stick out as part of a successful digital engagement strategy.

“It’s not about being a stiff organization with no personality,” he said. “Let your personality come out, that’s where that authenticity aspect comes to play. When you develop an emotional connection to a brand, it’s very hard to break.”