Meet your customer – IFA firms

The latest in our expert speaker series for FMN saw Ben Yearsley speak to a group of our members about the IFA segment in the UK, how they work, what is important to them, and how fund marketers can make a difference in this sector.

Ben, now Director at Shore Financial Planning, spent over 10 years as Investment Manager at Hargreaves Lansdown, before heading up the investment research department at Charles Stanley Direct.

It was certainly an interesting discussion and Ben actually gave us food for thought around some of the marketing tactics that, as fund marketers, we think are right for that channel – but are they?

On brand:

Like taking a knife to our fund marketing hearts, Ben claimed that Brand is not important. He did concede that it helped to raise awareness with end clients, and that groups that don’t spend money on marketing will struggle in the direct market. However, the quality of the fund and the manager, he stressed, are key to decision making, and brand doesn’t play a role.

On content:

When asked how marketing can help the sales person in the room, again Ben told us that the performance of the fund and the managers are what counts and that marketing can’t really influence decisions. The most important thing is for the FM to articulate how they manage the fund and the performance well. Access to fund managers and preparing them to tell a good story with a short, snappy presentation is how marketing can add the most value.

Ben had a clear view on the role of fund groups delivering end user material; he saw this as a waste of time. Advisers are the experts and it is their job to explain the fund to the client, not the fund group. The fund group should concentrate on delivering the adviser the information that they need to explain this to the end client, thereby making the adviser look clever.

Ben talked about a monthly round up of activity being a good way to communicate in this channel. It would be enough to keep abreast of what has happened in the fund and the group as well as any other interesting information. This would help to keep the adviser updated and keep the group front of mind, without bombarding them.

On events:

The consensus was that the majority of events were London-centric. This is good for about 80% of the market, but for the rest, it is worth considering starting later to let them get to the event. Ben also talked about the importance of short snappy presentations – max. 20 minutes – to keep delegates interested, and also the pull of a good debate. It is not interesting to see a panel of four people that are all in agreement, some disagreement and debate keeps the conversations interesting.

When asked which events he chose, brand is not important. A good manager or a good story will play the biggest part in the decision as to what event to attend. That said, larger groups do tend to have more breadth of managers to draw upon, typically making their events more appealing for advisers.

On social:

On the topic of social media, Ben saw it as more transactional in nature rather than as a tool to build relationships. In his view, the main benefit of social is for journalists, but not so much for fund buyers. Twitter would be his platform of choice and he reviewed this regularly if not religiously, thereby missing a lot of tweets. He sees Linkedin as a job site and would never go there for information.

On press:

We had a good discussion around PR and Ben saw this as an important marketing tactic. If an end client has read about a group or fund in the national press, and the IFA has more information about the fund in the B2B financial press, this can help with their discussion with that client. Therefore, a good PR strategy is important, as we know.

On websites:

Ben would never visit a fund group’s website directly, unless linking through from an email. Instead he would get fund information from the likes of FE analytics, or indeed speak to his sales contact to send him some information.

On communications:

Ben talked about enjoying the Friday email, in particular if it’s an interesting (or random) summary of what had happened that week. This is a good tool to keep a manager top of mind, even if you don’t have a fund to promote at that time. Ben also talked about how he liked the more personal and natural qualities of video content. In some cases, a short fund manager update on video could actually be a good substitute for a meeting. We also talked about the lost art of direct mail, and the fact that it is so rare now, that it is worth considering as most people would read it. Podcasts, on the other hand, were not so popular.

In summary, we had a good discussion with Ben and we thank him for taking the time to come and share his insights with us. There are some things we do that perhaps we need to do more of in this channel, and other things that might need a rethink and a refocus of effort. Definitely lots to consider

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