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Firms Must Actively Learn to Use Technology: e-Business Tools Can Improve Wholesaler Productivity


Optimistic by nature, Americans are inclined to believe that there is a technology fix for nearly every problem. While that may or may not be the case, there is at least one challenge in the asset management business that can be effectively addressed by a more aggressive application of the current generation of e-business tools: wholesaler productivity.

It's not as if the tools aren't available. We recently surveyed 20 leading asset management firms with a combined $2.5 trillion in assets under management. Most of these firms have a solid suite of e-Business applications in place to support their field reps.

The Electronic Graveyard'

In all too many cases, however, these tools languish in what we have called the "electronic graveyard," a dark and mysterious place where underutilized sales support applications go to die.

This is unfortunate, because most sales teams could use the help. With hundreds of thousands of financial advisers out there, it's simply not possible, or economically feasible, to call personally on every one. While technology is not a perfect solution, it can certainly help. Advantages of tools such as e-mail or mobile content include the ability for wholesalers to interact more frequently with advisers and have access to sales information and data while on the road. For sales managers, these tools offer the ability to track sales activity more closely.

Finally, for advisers, there is the promise of an increased availability of personalized sales and product information, delivered in a more lively and engaging format.

Two of the most dynamic tools available are multimedia-enhanced presentations and Web conferencing. Multimedia-enhanced presentations are any presentation that contains more than one medium (audio and visual, for example), but are often thought of within our industry as PowerPoint presentations with accompanying audio content.

While many firms now have this capability, few use it effectively. Too often, the technology is seen as just another way to push static content to advisers (or, alternatively, as a tool for training wholesalers). As a result, multimedia usage has tended to experience a dramatic drop-off following the initial excitement that accompanied its introduction.

To counteract this, and to fully leverage the capabilities of this technology, firms must take several steps.

First, they must realize that the average adviser spends less than two hours each week interacting with the firm. This means keeping presentations short and to the point.

Second, the content should be highly targeted and make full use of the interactive nature of the medium. A pilot group of advisers should be enlisted to ensure relevance. Wholesalers should be given training and encouraged to record their own content.

Finally, firms should take full advantage of the ability to track usage to determine which presentations are being viewed and at what frequency.

Like multimedia-enhanced presentations, Web conferencing is a technology that has been around for a while but has never been fully exploited by most asset management firms. The benefit is obvious: the ability to engage in a live, two-way conversation with an adviser or group of advisers, without having to travel. As with multimedia-enhanced presentations, however, content is the key. Historically, many firms have created pre-recorded audio/video sessions (portfolio manager commentary and product interviews, for example) and called this a Web "conference," when it was really just another content push to advisers.

This approach effectively negated the key benefit of the technology - interactivity. Advisers responded with predictable ambivalence. Properly employed, the live, high visual elements of a Web conference can significantly improve the effectiveness of the traditional conference call.

To achieve this, firms should develop content that encourages more interactive touches to draw the audience into the flow of the presentation. Potential applications include portfolio manager calls, adviser group meeting support, and demonstrations of website functionality.

There are enormous opportunities to improve wholesaler productivity through the more efficient use of off-the-shelf e-business tools. To paraphrase William Shakespeare in "Julius Caesar," the fault lies not in the technology, but in how it is generally applied. A recurrent theme running through our research has been the need to increase interactivity and to incorporate mechanisms for adviser feedback into the communications process. Once again, it's critical to achieve a higher level of personalization than is currently the norm and carefully target the end user with relevant information.

The demand on wholesalers to expand their adviser base, improve service and grow assets under management is relentless. This cannot be achieved without technology. Under these circumstances, investing in e-business tools and then failing to fully support their implementation - tiptoeing past the electronic graveyard, if you will - is not an option. Instead, firms must move aggressively to more fully leverage the power of the technologies they have on hand to increase the productivity of their people in the field.

(c) 2006 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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