Fund Fact Sheets: The State of the Art

Mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (EF) digital marketers can and should make big plans. But everyone knows that the accurate, on-time publishing of quarterly fund fact sheets is Marketing Job #1 at asset management firms. Nothing gets done until the fact sheets are updated. It can be a life-sucking experience.

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Because it’s been a while since I’ve been in the line of fire for this work, I asked Kurtosys to answer a few questions on the state of the art.

I became acquainted with Kurtosys, “a global provider of digital marketing and client reporting tools that help asset managers attract and retain investor assets,” via Twitter and I like their blog, too. Kurtosys is in the business of selling solutions and in the process of preparing this post it was sometimes impossible to de-couple their response from their philosophy and their underlying product. Still, I think their market perspective is worthwhile.

Beyond the relationship we established in our back and forth for this post, Rock The Boat Marketing has no business tie to Kurtosys. If another provider of fund fact sheet automation solutions wants to submit a guest post with answers to these same questions, I’d be happy to publish it, too. The more we can all share about who's doing what to get the fact sheet monkey off our backs, the more time we'll have to do value-added work.

The answers below were provided by Gerritt Graham (Commercial Director-Americas).

Q. What’s the standard today for how quickly and efficiently the majority of asset managers are producing fact sheets?

  Gerritt Graham, Kurtosys

Gerritt Graham, Kurtosys

Graham: These days, we’re hearing that fact sheet production takes from one to three weeks or longer. Depending on the size of the asset management company, there’s a tipping point where automation becomes a necessity, and that usually happens when a firm manages 10 funds or more. Larger organizations that produce hundreds or thousands of fact sheets already have automation in place. In these cases, any edit to the system becomes a “Change Management” issue, and they typically work to continuously improve this process.

Q. Are firms waiting for the data for all funds to be available? Or, are they publishing on a staggered basis reflecting the fact that data for some funds can be available earlier than other types of funds?

Graham: Generally, all fund documents are produced simultaneously at month or quarter-end. More often, it’s staggered by delivery channel, which is a big problem. The asset manager’s Marketing team says, “OK, we have our fact sheets done and posted on the Web, now we have to key them into all of the Website’s charts and presentations!” 

Different organizations prioritize this differently. Some don’t even post data on the Website, but those that do are scrambling to do it in synchronicity with their PDF reports to clients, PowerPoint decks and other sales and marketing materials. And that’s no small trick, as this fund performance info can have multiple versions, domiciles, languages and document types for different devices.

We talk to our clients about keeping all data and documents in a unified data model (UDM) that enables the same fund performance info to flow through all distribution types. This takes a combination of two processes: 1) understanding and classifying all this financial data in a unified way and 2) mastering all of these output types: Websites, monthly or quarterly fact sheets, longer fund/strategy reviews, pitchbooks or sales aids, and increasingly, mobile applications. It’s essentially implementing one solution and delivering five kinds of output.

Q. The industry has had automated solutions for publishing fact sheets to print, PDF and Web for years now. What's the status of publishing to presentation decks?

Graham: Creating data-driven pitchbooks is a massive problem across the board. Asset management firms build automation to output PDFs and they don’t want to break it by moving to other output types like pitchbooks or presentations.

As a standard document, fact sheets usually come first—most firms have established calendar deadlines to publish these, so that’s the priority. Too often, any subsequent works based on those fact sheets are error-prone as the derived content is entered by hand and these manual processes introduce errors. We believe that the goal should be to automate the creation of pitchbooks or presentations, enabling dynamic updating as the underlying data changes.

Q. Are there other state-of-the-art applications? Are there any advances in Web delivery of fund marketing data? 

Graham: The truly disruptive game-changer is harnessing the analytics behind newer, interactive fund tools. Most fund marketers already understand how tracking the investor’s online journey can help you test and tune your Website to get significantly better marketing results.

But financial service marketers need to get beyond the basics of just knowing which pages are attracting the most visits. That won’t cut it when it’s time to justify exactly which fund marketing efforts make a difference. Tracking ROI with real marketing revenue means getting smarter about this. Meta tags on drill-down data like fund type, domicile and other identifiers can help asset managers turn Web traffic into actionable intelligence. That’s what’s happening now.

Q. Back in the day, the most difficult data requests tended to come from national account relationships. There was the case of a valued distribution partner that used a different categorization of our funds than we did. And, most firms used just a handful of funds versus the full range. The request was that we provide monthly and even daily updated data on just those select funds, using the partner’s asset class designations, to the firm’s Intranet or Extranet.

What’s happening today? Has anything changed in terms of how those one-off requests get handled?

Graham: The industry is so behind in using technology that issues like these are maddening for most asset managers. Firms can’t assume the position that “We deliver data just this way.” They should be looking at what their target investors and partners really want. That’s what stirs real innovation.

This market is report-centric. The first thing everyone asks about is output: “What do I need to show and how should it look?” The second step is to build a pipe to get the data.

As a result, everything is fit for one purpose. Every new classification, mapping or output type needs a new purpose-built solution (or it becomes a stapled, duct-taped mess). This approach isn’t scalable. We believe in unifying the data so changes like this simply become “Let’s turn on this switch,” and out comes another type of reporting. 

Q. The industry has extensive experience in feeding data to outside services (e.g., Morningstar and Lipper), but what can you tell us about distributing selected data (not every fund, not all data, etc.) to other applications—for example, a display ad with a data reference that must be updated?

Graham: We don’t hear a lot of questions about that currently. But there is a huge opportunity to inform the asset manager about all the places where their data appears—and where it’s wrong. Because of manual processes or unchecked data feeds, outside data services can end up showing incorrect data.

This happens today—from the fact sheet to the presentation to the asset manager’s own Website—with data that’s not just out of sync, but completely wrong! And you can imagine how your typical Chief Compliance Officer feels about this. An “entitled distribution” process can enable a firm to choose which information—at both the document and meta-data level—is permissioned to be sent to each recipient before it leaves the system.

Q. Finally, what are your smartest clients talking to you about?

Graham: Our most cutting-edge clients are thinking creatively with us about improving workflow, analytics and display technologies. But in the end they want to use technology to attract and retain assets. That means understanding the different needs of their audience, whether they are deep-pocketed and conservative institutional investors or their influential consultants or even individual investors who have increasingly high expectations for sexy, impressive presentations.

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Check out [above] what JP Morgan UK is doing—beautiful layout and groundbreaking use of embedded data and performance charting. They’re doing the work of getting to know the audience, A/B testing interactive pages, and delivering the message in the appropriate way and channel.

Gerritt Graham is responsible for managing all sales, account management and long-term revenue strategy at Kurtosys in the Americas. His nearly 20-year financial services and technology career includes a variety of senior, global business development roles at The Oracle Corporation, Thomson Reuters and the Gerson Lehrman Group.