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September 2023

How wealth manager brands can survive uncertainty

The wealth and asset management sector ecosystem is at an inflexion point. Faltering global growth, high inflation rates, declining fees, lower margins, increased regulatory costs and DIY investments are creating the perfect storm. Consolidation is on the rise as firms seek to tap into new clients and maintain their margins. With fewer firms fighting to stand out, what does this mean for brands and how they communicate? Do firms focus on reputation and relationships alone? Do they invest in articulating a clear point of difference? Or does the answer lie somewhere between the two?

Be compelling and clear

The wealth and asset management sector is starting to look different. Over the past 12 months, Rathbones has bought Investec Wealth, Royal Bank of Canada acquired Brewin Dolphin and in asset management, Franklin Templeton has agreed to buy rival Putnam Investments. High profile brands are constantly being touted as prime for future buy-out. Consolidation is happening and the sector will end up with fewer, bigger players controlling more of the funds, whilst smaller firms try to work out how to survive. Earlier this year, PwC’s Global Asset & Wealth Management survey suggests that one in six firms in the sector “will be swallowed up or fall by the wayside in the next five years.” Their warning is stark – “adapt to the new context or fail”. Whilst survival will invariably focus on transforming business and operating models and thinking about how best to service clients, adapting to the new context will also mean focusing on brand and communication. Why? Because firms that articulate their point of difference and communicate this clearly will cut through the noise and reach their audiences, opening the door for their sales people and making their roles easier.

Face outwards with your own style

Communication in this sector has not always been clear or client-facing. Messages have tended to focus more on the qualities of the firm, often containing cliches. Asset managers talk about their size and scale or the volume of assets under management. Wealth managers use phrases like ‘a trusted partner’, ‘putting clients first’ or ‘a personal approach’. Whilst undoubtedly true, the value of the firms approach for clients gets lost.

Visually, firms fall into similar traps, relying on shades of blue, grey, black and white. Imagery often uses generic photography of people, cityscapes and cliched metaphors of global finance. The result is that many blend into one.

In the new environment, clients will want to see themselves in brands more than ever. Firms should reflect the value and benefit of their approach more than others. Brands need to move beyond competitor tropes by finding their own authentic style, voice and expression.

Join everything together

Brands need to broaden their appeal, with multiple audiences wanting to know what the firm means to them. Focusing on clients alone will no longer be sufficient. Current and future talent wants to know what it’s like to work at the firm and understand the approach to DE&I. Society and investors are becoming increasingly interested in how firms are making their money. Whilst this isn’t new news, employer brand and corporate responsibility messaging have often been compartmentalised and disjointed from the core brand message. Brands that survive in the new environment will have one coherent thought that flexes in different directions depending on the needs of the audience.

Some asset managers have started to do this, tying their sense of responsibilities closer to their core proposition. Whilst this may land with society and investors, their message hasn’t been translated clearly enough to their employer brand to be believed as authentic.

Difference needs to be authentic and woven through everything, for everyone. Messaging that has been separated into client, employee and ESG compartments should be joined together into one compelling, coherent and distinctive whole.

Reflect your personality

With so many firms doing a similar thing, offering a similar service, and communicating in a similar way, how do you find one coherent message and make it distinctive? We believe that all good brands have something compelling to say. It might not be unique, but there is always something that binds an organisation together. The key is uncovering what that idea is and articulating it well and doing so with personality.

That idea and personality need to inform your visual identity too. And given your different audiences, your brand needs visual flexibility and stretch to adapt accordingly, but all anchored around the same thought. You only have a small window to stand out and catch people’s attention – reflecting your personality will help.

Feed your reputation and relationships with the right messages

Reputation and personal relationships will always be important. But with a changing market, consolidation, and a greater expectation of clarity, ensuring everyone can tell the same story will become vital for survival. Brand communication isn’t the sole responsibility of the marketing department. It’s something that sales teams and marketing both need to be responsible for. Developing a clear set of messages that support your core proposition and equipping your sales teams with the tools and language to tell a coherent and consistent story is key.

Conclusion: A perfect storm is a good time to fish

How the future of the wealth and asset manager market will look is unknown. Firms and their respective brands will be fewer and they may look different. Management teams will need to take a good hard look at what their organisations offer and how they operate. They also need to think about how this offer lands for their audiences too. Communication needs greater clarity and confidence and given the need for broader appeal, brands need greater coherence. And for a sector where personal relationships are key, brand communication must help sales people and support relationships. Fortune will favour the bold.
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