Salesperson product knowledge is a key service factor that is set to become even more important as a changing distribution landscape leads to an increased emphasis on technical knowledge.
We asked Gary Collins (pictured), head of wholesale distribution for EMEA and Latin America at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, to tell us how his firm tackled client service and product knowledge in particular.
In terms of your overall proposition to clients, how important is service and how much time and resource do you focus on this area?
With thousands of funds to choose from, fund selectors have no time to waste. So, it is important for asset managers not only to offer funds that perform how they are designed to but also to provide consistently high quality of client service.
By quality we mean, first and foremost, a knowledgeable contact point in the local market, a responsive team, comprehensive and timely reporting documents, good access to portfolio managers and proactive updates on the funds’ positions and strategies.
Our sales teams understand the importance of building successful relationships based on trust and client focus. Everything we do is about ensuring we serve our clients’ best interests and deploy our global investment expertise and knowledge to achieve successful outcomes for clients.
Columbia Threadneedle won the Selector Service Award for best product knowledge – what do you think you do that has created such a positive impression with clients?
We were honoured to win the award for best product knowledge and to be nominated for two other Service Awards. Firstly, it reflects the hard work of our products team for developing solutions that respond to client needs and that deliver what they say they deliver.
Secondly, it is credit to our sales teams for listening to clients and for making sure they understand every facet of a product and its suitability before presenting it to clients. We provide thorough training and support to our sales team through weekly sales call, product knowledge forums, and internal sales conferences ensuring that we have a consistent message and understanding of the product.
The award also reflects the consistency with which our investment teams follow their stated product philosophy and investment criteria as well the consistency with which our sales teams present the products to clients and the support we provide to fund selectors through events, road shows and access to portfolio managers.
What do you think is the most important thing your sales team needs to know about any product?
The most important thing our sales team needs to understand about a product is the investment criteria, strategy and expected performance in different market cycles as well as how the portfolio managers manage risks and how that fits with clients understanding of those risks. Our sales teams obviously need to know the product specifications like the back of their hand.
The sales teams also need to understand the rationale for any change that could affect the way the product behaves and be inquisitive about the product. As Albert Einstein put it: "If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it". So, it is important for sales teams to ask as many questions about a product as possible and share feedback from clients.
Some asset managers prioritise putting their fund managers in front of clients, some like to use product specialists, while some put the emphasis on highly-knowledgeable salespeople. What’s your view, and why?
My view is to use a combination of all these. We are very fortunate at Columbia Threadneedle that our portfolio managers are approachable and always happy to meet with clients. They understand that it is part of their role. At the same time, we recognise that managing funds is a time-consuming role that requires focus.
For that reason, our client portfolio managers are very close to the portfolio managers and can be on hand whenever required. Equally, our sales people are extremely knowledgeable and keep our clients informed.
Are client requirements around service changing and if so, how?
With MiFID II and fast-changing technology and regulation, it is important to equip clients and fund selectors with the right service and documentation that will make their job less complicated.
A big trend we are seeing is the increasing personalisation of information. Our aim is to make sure that our clients receive the information they are interested in.
What’s the most important thing a fund group should remember in its approach to service?
Don’t take clients for granted! Good fund performance is not enough. Asset management is a people business. Clients trust us with managing their money and it is our responsibility to uphold this trust by forging strong and long-term relationships based on a consistent product and service offering.