The making of the Client Behavior Benchmark

Here is a story asset managers can be proud of. It is the tale of how an industry-wide innovation initiative brought behavioral science to the discipline of investment client experience (CX). Because of it, you can now use the Client Behavior Benchmark to capitalise on the often over-looked client behavior data that’s already in your systems. If you are not already in the benchmark, in your interests and those of your clients, join in, take control of that data and exploit it.

A decision to be part of the solution

The long-term savings of pension funds, insurance companies, and other institutions provide vital financial security and retirement income for societies. Globally, we estimate they total $30.5tn of assets under management. [1]

Institutions delegate the management of much of these assets to external managers and crucial to this relationship is their ability to engage with investment information and thinking. And yet, in Q1 2019, Accomplish research found that the indicators that institutional clients were receiving an unfavourable experience were double those that signalled a favourable one.

Common issues from the asset managers distracted clients away from their (not unimportant) core tasks. They included failing to understand client needs, needing to be chased by clients for updates, and data issues relating to reports and invoices. The problems spanned the client journey, so we looked for a broader root cause(s) and found that 77% of asset managers just lacked a coherent strategy for an end-to-end client experience (CX).

It was still early days for Accomplish and we were exploring other pieces of research, but we decided to be part of the solution and settled on focusing exclusively on helping asset managers improve the experiences they give to clients. If we got it right, clients would be able to perform their vital functions as effectively as possible.

Top 5 asset manager: “we need to do this regularly, but we need data”

On seeing the research data, our biggest questions were, “what was holding the asset managers back, and why?” To find out, in July 2019, we were lucky enough to have a closed-door discussion about our research with the Heads of CX (and equivalents) from 10 big firms.

Towards the end of a two-hour venting about the issues they faced, the representative of a top 5 asset manager said, “we need to do this regularly, but we need data.” The group evolved the idea into a quarterly CX Forum that would provide the industry-level R&D needed to solve what appeared to be an industry-wide issue.

And so it was agreed: the asset managers would set the research agenda and, on a pro bono basis, Accomplish would provide the analytics, chairmanship, and admin. The collective goal? Better experiences for their clients.

What was holding asset managers back?

Over the next 12 months, the CX Forum performed a program of R&D to build new datasets. 10 firms grew immediately to 17 and then steadily to 34.

First, we developed a CX Maturity Assessment and put them through it to discover what was holding the industry back. Spoiler: a lack of common language and definition, a lack of data about CX and, therefore, an inability to know what ‘good’ was.

Next, we proceeded in detail to:

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of their existing CX measurements (spoiler – 75% were receiving no benefit from their efforts).
  • Assess whether ‘voice of the client’ initiatives could provide a solution (spoiler – no matter how it’s dressed up, client feedback is opinion not comparable data, so it will contain gaps and inaccuracies and could not, therefore, be the solution).
  • Analyze the impact of COVID-19 on CX in asset management (spoiler – 68% expected CX to become more important, 32% expected no change, and no one expected their firm to reduce its focus on CX).

And then it happened. In the July 2020 forum, as we discussed some findings about the limited utility firms were finding in feedback data, someone said, “if what they say won’t give us the data we need, how about we measure what they do?” That set the agenda for the next meeting in November when we discussed a proposal to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) of a benchmark that would let them measure and compare their effect on institutional client behavior. It would be 100% quant and would be updated every quarter.

At that moment, Accomplish became a CX benchmarking company, which it remains to this day.

Bringing behavioral science to investment client experience – a lockdown project

Through the long winter of 2020/21 a sub-group of firms from the forum and Accomplish collaborated on the design: what behaviors would we measure, why, where, over what timeframe, and how would we ensure consistent measurements across different firms? To govern our efforts and take decisions, we instituted a self-governing User Group from which Accomplish took its direction. It remains in place to this day.

We selected a minimum of 23 client behaviors that covered each ‘moment that matters’ on the institutional journey – from consultant relations, through web engagement, events, RFPs, sales, onboarding, reporting, and relationship management – and we developed a taxonomy of metadata definitions. I remember how building the taxonomy was so boring that we even tried to make it sound cool by calling it The Helix© ! Haha!

We then developed a data framework and quality controls that would ingest any information that complied with the taxonomy and tested it with live data from EMEA across Q1 and Q2 2021.

On completion, the collective view was that 75% of the metrics were viable and another 7% would probably also be viable with some amendment. For each behavior, the asset managers now knew whether they had out- or underperformed at the experience they had given their clients. In some instances, they also learned they were in a totally different ballpark from other firms.

And that was it: by September 2021, we had brought behavioral science to the discipline of investment client experience. As far as we know, it was, and it remains a world first.

The Client Behavior Benchmark – survival of the fittest

In the subsequent two years, we instituted the remaining metrics, terminated all non-performing ones, noted and archived the constants, rolled it out to the Americas and Apac, built a 24-month time series behind each metric, and established statistical trend lines.

The benchmark now lets firms measure up to 29 client behaviors, which we split between leading indicators that involve a ‘gift of time’ and lagging ones that involve a transfer of money. We have also established where on the client journey asset managers’ CX is most differentiated, and we have identified the client behaviors that differ by geographic region. Having set-up the CX Forum to provide the industry-level R&D, in Q1 2022 we closed it and Accomplish now focuses full-time on ensuring asset managers get as much as possible out of the benchmark.

Despite all this, what makes us most proud is that the firms who made it through the MVP remain our clients to this day and, encouragingly, albeit from a small base, in 2022/23, the number of firms in the Client Behavior Benchmark doubled. As we look forward to 2023/24, we are excited about welcoming more firms and continuing to share the discoveries that this amazing dataset yields.

[1] In 2022, Institutional Investor reported that 31% of global AUM was institutional and, in 2023, BCG reported global AUM was $98.3tn. So, we can broadly estimate the size of the global institutional market at $30.5tn.

Adam Grainger

Adam Grainger

Behavioral analytics | Business intelligence | Asset management

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