image above:From left to right: Georg Skare Lund of Storebrand, Mattias Hagen of SEB, Alan Moller of Danske bank and Jean-Marie Mercadal of OFI Asset Management and  Baldwin Berges of BD-Insider

Sometimes panels work out just right when speakers are engaged and have practical ideas and useful insights to share!

That is exactly what happened at the latest FundForum International 2014, when I had the opportunity to moderate a panel with 4 major fund selectors.

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Fund selectors play an important role in value chain of the asset management industry because they allocate enormous amounts of private wealth to carefully chosen investment managers. When it comes to marketing your funds, their opinions really matter.

The theme of our discussion was "How NOT to sell your fund" and it turned out to be a practical discussion about all the things fund managers get wrong and should improve when marketing their funds. If you are on the selling side of the asset management industry, you may find the following summary of much interest.

And even though this is advice for fund managers, I believe it is also applicable to anyone who is in the B2B space working with professional buyers.

The importance of preparing onsite visits

We started off with a few anecdotes. Interestingly, the stories that came up were all about the on-site visits fund selectors do when selecting or reviewing managers. One of the first major takeaways from the discussion is that the impression managers make when they get visited really matters.

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When fund selectors visit managers, they appreciate the opportunity to meet more people than just the members of the investment team. It is always a good idea for fund managers to make sure that people form the operations and executive management team are available during the visit so fund selectors get a more holistic view of the manager’s organisation.

Set the agenda beforehand.

Make sure the fund buyer obtains all the information they came to acquire. It is regarded as a positive to contact the fund selector a few days before the meeting so you can really understand what's on their agenda. Then, make sure everyone involved gets properly briefed and prepared for the visit.

We heard an anecdote about how an investment analyst, who clearly hadn’t been informed about the visit, refused to share his thoughts simply because he was worried about contradicting what the lead fund manager had told the fund buyer earlier on. No matter how well you meeting went, this kind of experience can torpedo everything!

Manage the first impression

Preparing also means getting things right from the moment the visitor walks into your premises. One of our panellists told us a story about how he struggled to through the security of a mid-town Manhattan office building. If your visiting address is in that kind of a location, it is rather clumsy not to inform the reception desk about the visit. What kind of a first impression does that leave?

I guess a really simple way to ensure a warm welcome is to have the relationship manager waiting at the reception desk when the visitor arrives.

Make sure everyone is present

This may sound obvious but we got to hear a story about how, despite multiple confirmations, a fund manager failed to show up for the meeting. Apart from the manager forgetting about the appointment, what made the worst impression was the fact that the organisation struggled to find out where the fund manager actually was.

It turned out he had decided to attend a conference instead. To top it off, they offered to call a fund manager from a different team to host the meeting. This may seem like a polite gesture, but the fund buyer had carefully selected a short list of managers that they wanted to meet. They came to town for that meeting and were let down. This is not the kind of damage that can easily be patched up.  It can obviously happen that things don't go as planned and that is why you should always make a plan B which is always better than improvising!

Preparing well for on-site meetings is very important because that experience will leave a lasting impression in the mind of the professional fund buyer. No matter how much time you invest in lengthy selection processes, if you drop the ball during the on-site visit, it will all just be a wasted effort.

Visiting fund selectors

Most encounters with fund selectors take place on the fund selector’s premises. During the panel we spoke about fund managers not making any efforts to try to understand what the client actually aims to cover during the meeting.

Because Fund selectors are busy and highly solicited by a large number of managers, they will carefully assess before accepting a meeting if it is really worth their time. In order to do so, they will probably do their research. And because they are in the business of monitoring a large number of managers, it is fair to assume that they already know quite a bit about your business. Therefore, when they accept a meeting it is probably because they have a number of specific questions they want to ask.

We heard stories about sales representatives walking into meetings and then just going off on a rant about the company without even asking what the host wanted to discuss. I for one knows this often happens, simply because I have been guilty of this more times that I wish to remember. Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask what fund selectors specially want to cover in advance of the meeting.

When we actually got into the discussion about what fund managers really should stop doing when marketing funds some specific suggestions came up:

Beware of fashions, fads and buzzwords

Be careful of over using the latest buzz words and themes that are in vogue. Fund selectors hear about these things all day long so you may think that echoing what is in fashion will help you qualify, but all it does is drive the message home that you are as mainstream as any other manager. You may remember some of the examples that came up during the discussion: Value at Risk (VAR) and Style (Value, Growth, Core, etc).

Let the fund selector run the meeting

As mentioned before, ranting about your company is not useful and eats away from attention span. If manager selectors need to know more about your organisation, or its world view, they will let you know.

Fund selectors prefer to run the meetings because they are essentially fact finding exercises. Again, they are trying to make the best use of their time so if you try to take control of the meeting’s sequence, it essentially tells a fund selector that it might be difficult to work with you going forward.

Never forget that fund selectors are looking to outsource portfolio management so apart from the fact that you can generate returns, they also need to understand that collaborating with you will fit into their 'modus operandi'.

Boring pitch books!

The discussion revealed that most managers lack the courage to be different and/or creative with their pitch books. A recommendation that came up is that managers should learn to emphasise on expressing what makes them different from their peers rather that doing their best to comply with the norm.

We also learned that most managers just adhere to the standardised stock selection process where a wider investment universe gets reduced to a handful of portfolio holdings. A fund selector mentioned that since all the managers depict a similar process in their presentations, it entirely loses relevance. Fund Selectors prefer to see where a fund manger explains a bit more creatively how their investment process actually works rather that defaulting to generic diagrams and flow charts.

Another point that was raised is that pitch books are generally too long because managers love to include slides that express their market views. This is generally seen as irrelevant to manager selectors because their job is to find talent, understand an investment process and become more acquainted with the people who manage the fund, regardless of marco economic outlooks and market trends.

Furthermore, all speakers seemed to agree that the attention span for a slide-by-slide presentation doesn’t go much beyond 10 minutes. That is why it is important to understand a fund selector’s agenda in advance so you can have a resourceful conversation around the relevant topics. All panellists agreed that the best meetings with fund managers are conversational without much use of pitch books.

This doesn’t mean you don’t need great presentations because they are increasingly sent in advance or after the meeting as a reference document. Therefore, a great presentation needs to flow well so it conveys your story fluently.

It’s personal

I was impressed with the amount of attention that fund selectors want focus on the human dimension of an investment organisation. From the discussion we learned that most managers systematically fail to ‘open the kimono’ as if they are trying to neutralise the human element of what makes them tick as a business.

What seems to be missing in most presentations is more in-depth information about the people in the investment team. They weren’t referring to organigrams and titles, but fund selectors are genuinely interested in learning more about who the people that make up the investment team really are.

When funds managers remain vague about the background of the individuals in the investment team it only raises suspicion. Fund selectors are essentially assessing if managers are transparent and confident enough to be honest about the true human dimension of their investment team. Fund selectors are in the business of understanding investment talent, which is always about people. It is essential for manager selectors to have an relationship of trust with the members of the investment team.

The travelling fund manager dilemma

The fund buyers obviously want to see the actual fund managers as often as possible but they are also quite open to meet with product specialists because they understand that fund managers should prioritise the work of managing the fund.

From the discussion it became quite clear that in practice, the ‘specialists’ are usually nothing more than more technically oriented sales people who are not really a member of the investment team. A professional product specialist who can provide the fund selector with ongoing insights into what the investment team is up to is always very welcome. However, the entire discussion panel agreed that great product specialists are rare and that becoming one is probably a smart career choice!

What technologies could managers use better to add value to fund selectors?

We discussed video conferencing. One of the panellists mentioned that he was surprised that so few managers use webcasts to update their investors on a quarterly basis. It is seen an efficient use of time because the medium forces the manager to get straight to the point as there is no room for small talk.

We also briefly discussed the benefits of recorded webcasts. The main benefit is that they provide the fund buyer with more flexibility when it comes to watching a recording. It was also mentioned that recordings have the additional advantage that they can be shared with other members of the fund selector’s organisation.

Technology could also be better used to provide fund selectors with deeper insights into the portfolio dynamics and performance attribution. It seemed that dedicated login pages on a manager’s website would be very welcome.

Email, telephone and updates

Fund selectors would like fund managers to send emails that are more useful. Emails with too many attachments are simply not practical as they wouldn’t know where to begin nor would they been keen to make time to figure out what file is relevant. There is a clear demand for more comprehensive emails that get to the point and make better use of the recipients time and attention span.

All panellists agreed that email is still the most useful communication tool, especially when they get to the point and are useful. The email inbox is still seems to be the preferred resource when it comes to retrieving information so it is important that managers regularly send out updates. Cold calls, voicemail and unsolicited approaches are still somewhat necessary but they must be handled professionally and respectfully.

Conclusion

I came away with is that the best brand you can build as a fund manager is primarily to help manager selectors do their job so they can make better decisions when it comes to choosing the right investment partner.

Fund management is not only about investment returns because those they are cyclical in nature but more about the ability to provide an ongoing level of service as an outsourcing beneficiary. It sounds obvious in theory but it often remains elusive in practice!