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“Digital marketing is a big opportunity for managers of all sizes”

If the business world is united in one consequence of COVID-19, it is the conviction that digital transformation across all sectors and functions has been accelerated by the pandemic. This is especially true for the distribution teams of asset and wealth-managers, say Patrick Ide and Dorit Erzmoneit, Senior Partners for Nurture. They are counting some of the largest brands in the fund industry as well as several niche investment boutiques among their clients.

“Digital marketing’s job is to deliver leads for sales – an incredible opportunity for all sizes of asset managers!”, as the experts for digital engagement explain in an Interview with Gerle Financial Communications.. The importance of the increasing digital presence for investment companies has only recently been demonstrated once more by Universal-Investment’s acquisition of the digital sales and marketing platform CapInside.

Patrick and Dorit are convinced: The ongoing trend to more tailored and deeper digital engagement marketing will eventually rip up the classic sales approach of contacting and meeting clients, only to tell them something they already know. Read more about it in this interview on LinkedIn.

Survey: The biggest hurdles for foreign asset managers in Germany

Specific customer requirements, fund-related regulation and access to distribution partners are the biggest challenges for foreign investment companies in the German market – or at least they were until the Coronavirus lockdown began. The highest personal hurdle for employees and service providers of investment companies was, until recently, the fact that Germany is highly decentralised and has many different financial centres. These are the key findings of the survey “Which hurdles do foreign fund managers have to overcome in the German market?“, which was initiated by the specialised communications consultancy Gerle Financial Communications (GFC).

Between January and March, representatives of 18 companies working for or providing services to foreign fund houses, mainly in sales, took part in the online survey. The participating investment companies come from Europe (nine companies), North and South America (eight) and Asia (one company) and represent a total of approximately EUR 4.3 trillion in assets under management worldwide (as of December 2019).

Please find the complete results of the survey in this press release (PDF file).

“GFC (not the ‘Global Financial Crisis’) Podcast” Episode 1 now live

One of the few positive effects of the coronavirus crisis and lockdown during recent months was that I had more time to take up new things – like creating an editorial podcast (and you wouldn’t believe how much work goes into such a project – even if, like me, you worked in radio a long time ago)! My podcast, which will be published once a month, is mainly about the success and efforts of foreign financial service companies on the German market. The first episode of “GFC (not the ‘Global Financial Crisis’) Podcast” is now finished and can be listened to on Deezer and Spotify as well as on this website (it’s mainly in German, though).

Survey: The hurdles foreign fund companies have to overcome on the German market

The German fund market is and remains interesting for foreign fund managers, and their number is increasing. But what difficulties do investment companies and their employees from neighbouring European countries or overseas face when entering the market? A new survey by Gerle Financial Communications (GFC) is intended to shed some light on this.

Germany remains attractive as a market for foreign investment companies: more and more asset managers are moving to Frankfurt, Munich or the Rhine-Ruhr region. While the number of non-German investment companies in Germany was 28 at the end of 2002, according to the financial supervisory authority BaFin and the BVI industry association there are now more than 700 foreign asset managers operating between Flensburg and Passau.

But the road to “good old Germany” is not easy, and the difficulties before doing business in Germany are manifold (as probably everyone in the fund industry who has ever worked for a US, French or British company will confirm). They range from the complex German tax system to special knowledge of sales and distribution channels and getting used to the (from some non-German point of view) very direct manners. New challenges and trends such as ESG/SRI and the digitalisation of the industry do not make life any easier …

In order to find out more precisely which hurdles foreign investment managers have had to (and still have to) overcome to be successful in the German market, Gerle Financial Communications (GFC), a specialist communications consultancy for financial service providers, has initiated a short survey. This involves both legal and administrative issues (e.g. the question of branch or a subsidiary) as well as sales in Germany and personal challenges such as finding a job for the partner.

The questionnaire consists of only 12 questions and a critical review of the own market entry; the answers should therefore not take longer than 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of the survey – which is open from 21 January to 29 February 2020 – participants can request the anonymised results from GFC in order to provide a benchmark in access to the German fund market.

Portrait of Hagen Gerle in FSB’s member magazin “first voice”

The”Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)” has published a portrait of Hagen Gerle in the “My Business” section of its current issue (January to March 2020) of its member magazine “first voice”. The magazine is published five times a year with a circulation of around 27,500 copies (well, of course this is massive PR is in its own right, but the article also deals with the importance of coffee, running and the benefits of the EU).

universal spotlight: a new magazine for the company anniversary

universal spotlight is a new customer magazine from Universal-Investment which is aiming at institutional clients as well as fund initiators, with whom the now third-largest investment company on the German market cooperates. The first edition was also an anniversary edition, as “UI” has only turned 50. Gerle Financial Communications was jointly responsible for the concept, editing and text of this universal spotlight.

What will financial advice in Germany look like in 2025?

Regulation, commission caps, digitalisation – the topics discussed by seven top-class representatives from politics, consumer protection and financial associations at the Federal Press Conference in Berlin at the invitation of Standard Life Deutschland were pretty tough. The 130 or so guests, mainly independent brokers and intermediaries, also made some very emotional contributions. Gerle Financial Communications supported Standard Life’s corporate communications with interviews and a summary of the event  which was also published in the German financial magazine “Mein Geld” (article in German only as a PDF file).

The Woodford case: When nervous investors sit on illiquid investments

The impending collapse of the Woodford Equity Income Fund (WEIF) in the UK may not only cost (ex-)star fund manager Neil Woodford his company. The crisis also casts a shadow over the increasingly popular illiquid investments, especially among institutional investors, and their supervision.

The case of Neil Woodford, who is currently holding British investors, the media and financial regulators in suspense, can be told from three perspectives: as a drama of the rise and fall of a former star fund manager, as evidence of the carelessness of supervisors, or as a harbinger of the difficulties of active asset managers when they juggle illiquid investments. Above all, however, it is a warning of how reluctantly the key players in the affair communicate.

So, what happened?

Neil Woodford, who after 26 years at Invesco became self-employed in2014 with his company Woodford Investment Management, was popular with investors. Both the large institutional investors such as St. James’s Place and Kent County Council pension fund, but also with many small investors who were busy investing in his flagship fund, the Woodford Equity Income Fund (WEIF), through the leading UK retail fund platform Hargreaves Lansdown.

“His approach, based on bespoke research, gut feeling and a taste for going against the grain, divided opinion,” writes The Economist about Woodford. But the investors in the United Kingdom trusted him: within a short time, Woodford managed to raise the WEIF to a volume of around GBP 10 billion. Around 1.6 billion of these were parked directly or indirectly with Hargreaves Lansdown clients at the end of March – and brought the fund platform a substantial profit margin.

Woodford’s style of investing in large, dividend paying corporations (Blue Chips) changed over time. The manager increasingly relied on the supposed winners of tomorrow: small, partly not even listed and illiquid companies with a focus on the British domestic market. But his risky bets didn’t work, his performance was mixed, and investors withdrew a lot of money from the WEIF.

At the beginning of June, the fund was down to GBP 3.7 billion and when Kent County Council was to withdraw its GBP 263 million mandate on 3 June, the WEIF was blocked from repayments. This freeze remains in place. Comments from Woodford’s firm suggest that it will be maintained for months until the fund has released enough cash to pay out impatient investors.

Market expectations are that investors will flee the WEIF in droves as soon as they are able to do so again. From Woodford’s second fund, the Woodford Income Focus Fund (WIFF), investors withdrew GBP 116 million within ten days by mid-June. Market observers are now publicly questioning whether Woodford’s firm will survive the loss of assets and confidence.

However, what was the downfall of Woodford’s, with his often-down-to-earth appearance, was not his poor performance, Financial Times columnist Merryn Somerset Webb says. Rather, it was a whole series of cardinal mistakes: “Mr. Woodford took too much money too fast. He believed his own hype, forgetting that the team around him at Invesco and particularly its risk management and compliance controls might have been helping him out. But, worst of all, he mixed and changed styles.”

Financial supervision embarrassed

Woodford’s crisis has now spread, embarrassing both Hargreaves Lansdown and the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The Chief Executive  of the fund platform, Chris Hill, first had to publicly apologise for why Hargreaves had not earlier removed the WEIF – despite the persistently poor performance and doubts arising from its liquidity –  from his “Wealth 50” recommendation list. Two days later, Hargreaves waived the platform fees for the fund.

Another day later, Nicky Morgan, Chair of the UK Parliament’s Treasury Committee, said that investors should not pay any management fees at all for the WEIF, as long as it is blocked. And while Neil Woodford has so far refused to comply, Hargreaves Lansdown CEO Hill has taken personal action and said he would be waiving his GBP 2.1 million bonus.

„The actors in Woodford’s investment drama haven’t made any effort to quickly clarify and communicate.“

Morgan and Members of Parliament (for a change not immersed in trench warfare over Brexit) ask FCA the unpleasant question: “Did the supervision sleep at the wheel when the fund manager went into the crisis?” Meanwhile, Morgan has announced a parliamentary inquiry into fees and transparency of the entire fund industry. For FCA boss Andrew Bailey, the Woodford case could turn into a career snap: His candidacy to succeed Mark Carney as the Head of the Bank of England will be given little chance.

Whether Woodford, Hill or Bailey – the key players in this investment drama haven’t made any effort to quickly inform and communicate with investors.

Head of Bank of England warns against illiquid funds

It was Carney, by the way, who only recently again pointed out the dangers of illiquid funds: At a meeting in Tokyo, the Governor of the Bank of England warned against investment funds that promise their customers daily liquidity, but invest some of their capital in illiquid investments – around USD 30 trillion have already been invested in such funds, Carney said.

The Woodford case thus also casts a shadow over the liquidity of investments such as private debt or real assets, which are particularly popular among institutional investors in times of low interest rates.

Stable, predictable returns from long-term investments – who would say no to that? However, it becomes problematic if investors unexpectedly want to withdraw from these investments, but pay-outs are blocked … Just remember the crisis of open-ended real estate funds in Germany in 2008 and in Great Britain shortly after the Brexit vote in 2016.

In October last year, the FCA published a 79-page advisory paper on the risk of illiquid investments, which was updated in April. Michael Busack, editor of the German institutional magazine Absolute report, put it in a nutshell in the foreword to the current issue: “Nothing is more dangerous than an illiquid investment that has to be sold under pressure and possibly with the knowledge of other market participants”.

The quiet before the Brexit storm

Unease within the British investment industry is increasing: Facing the threat of a „No Deal“-scenario there are continuous speculations about the extent of (anticipated) asset outflows due to Brexit, which companies are going to leave and how many employees they will take with them. Since the referendum the media, investment managers and national trade associations have their finger on the industry’s pulse. They predict: Small investment boutiques without any European representation will be hit particularly hard (article as PDF file).

Albeit a looming „No Deal“-Brexit, the German fund sector ‎demonstrates composure. According to a survey by the German asset management body (BVI), three quarters of German asset managers feel only slightly or not at all affected by an unorderly Brexit without a transition period. After all, portfolio manager from the United Kingdom only stand for 7 per cent of the assets in institutional funds and 3 per cent of the assets in German mutual funds.

Only days before the (so far‎) still official exit on 29th March 2019 the disquiet in the UK keeps increasing. This is partly attributable to the British perception of its own fund sector’s significance. According to The Investment Association their 240 members managed more than 7.7 trillion GBP assets for clients in the UK and 1.8 trillion GBP for European clients at the end of 2017. Overall that is equivalent to 35 per cent of the total assets in Europe.

But also does the finance industry fear that Brexit is going to entail an exodus of national and international asset managers of hitherto unknown dimensions. And that (according not only to the British media) would involve outflows of billions (in the hundreds) of client’s assets, the departure of dozens of investment managers and the loss of 10,000 jobs.

Two thirds of UK managers consider Brexit as a competitive disadvantage

It is a justified fear: In a regular survey of the CFA-Institute, the worldwide association of investment professionals, 68 per cent of all in the UK domiciled investment companies said in March 2018 that the Brexit vote has already damaged British competitiveness. So far asset managers as other financial institutes do, too, use the EU-Passporting which is at risk in case of a ‚no deal‘. At present, 244 British asset managers use this passporting in order to be able to offer their products in Europe without any barriers. 139 companies from EU member states use an „Inbound Passport“ for their distribution in the UK in return. That British participants in the financial market would really lose entry to the EU market in a ‚no deal‘ scenario has just recently been made unmistakably clear by the Head of the European securities regulator ESMA, Steven Maijoor, in Dublin.

67 per cent of British CFA members assume that they will reduce their presence in the UK because of Brexit. Of all the companies within the EU (except UK) even 76 per cent made the same assumption in that survey. As the biggest loser in a Brexit without a deal, 85 per cent consider it to be London as financial centre. As Brexit-winners on the other hand, Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin, Luxemburg and Amsterdam, are considered.

A relocation of financial service providers on a grand scale would have serious impacts on job markets of London, Edinburgh or Bristol. After all, 10 per cent of the roughly  94,000 employees in the financial sector come from Europe. So why then, with Brexit as the sword of Damocles, have a lot less jobs been transferred abroad so far than it was feared only two years ago?

When will the removal vans drive up?

Back then, in March 2017, not even nine months after the referendum, representatives of banks, insurers and investment fund companies, mainly situated in London, threatened to move up to 10,000 jobs. But according to a regular research by the news agency Reuters less than 2,000 jobs have been transferred out of the UK to date due to the Brexit (s. infographic 2).

If you are following the British press, the reasons for this hesitation are not explicit. Is it because the withdrawal negotiations even after almost three years post-referendum still do not indicate where the trip is going? Do CEOs and their board members shy away from making a momentous, costly decision? Or do asset managers and bankers struggle to make a move to Frankfurt, Paris or Amsterdam palatable to their families? Some companies have allegedly started to offer generous packages to their employees if they move to another EU country.

The calm before the storm must not hide the fact that particularly big companies have their contingency plans in place, they have rented office spaces in EU countries and have applied for the required licences at the local authorities. In Luxembourg, British asset managers Columbia Threadneedle, Janus Henderson, Jupiter Asset Management and M&G want to expand or develop their representations, according to the Financial Times. And in the Republic of Ireland, at the end of January the Central Bank of Ireland held more than 100 applications of British financial companies willing to relocate.

„Especially small British asset manager without international representation should signal ‘We‘re still open for business!’“

Clients, assets and a good reputation are at risk

A no deal-Brexit would hit particularly hard any British investment boutiques and specialised asset manager who although having clients in Continental Europe have no local representation, yet.

For some of these asset managers relocation would be too expensive or too elaborate. Others fear the administrative efforts when licensing and distributing UCITS funds. And some are still hoping, to get off with a slap on the wrist by Brexit. But such an attitude can be (much) more costly for smaller companies – for them clients, assets and their reputation are at stake.

An active approach which does not exclude professional help and with an open, honest and straightforward communication should at the latest have priority in this critical phase of Brexit negotiations. In the end it is especially important for smaller UK manager to signal to their employees, clients and cooperation partners that despite Brexit “We’re still open for business!“

Investment writing: How fund managers can demystify financial jargon

Logo FondsTrendsBe it MiFID II or PRIIPS, the growing complexity of investment products and their regulation, calls for a new approach to communication. In a by-lined article for FondsTrends, the newsletter of Hauck & Aufhäuser Fund Services S.A., Ross Hunter, Copylab, and Hagen Gerle, Gerle Financial Communications, explain how professional investment writing can help fund managers to communicate more efficiently with their investors. Read the whole article (in German) here.