Smaller Asset Managers Lag Behind in Adviser Digital Experience

Gap in website satisfaction between large and small asset managers could lead to less investment.

By DJ Shaw

Most advisers strongly consider the digital experience when making investment decisions, and smaller asset managers are struggling in a digital-first environment, according to new findings from J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Advisor Online Experience Study, which examines the relationship advisers have with asset manager websites and was released last week.

Among financial advisers who use asset manager websites, 91% say they are extremely likely to increase investment during the next three months with firms whose sites rate an overall satisfaction score of at least 801 (on a 1,000-point scale), the study says. However, only 13% of asset manager websites scored in that top tier. When advisers consider asset managers whose websites earned satisfaction scores of 800 or lower, just 40% of advisers say they intend to increase investment with those brands.

Most advisers interacting with asset management firms are doing so digitally, says Mike Foy, J.D. Power senior director and head of wealth intelligence. Meanwhile, many are going through the process of reducing the number of asset managers they work with.

“For advisers who are identifying brands that have not only products, but have information and content that they value, those are brands that they’re going to engage with more and recommend more,” Foy says. “Being able to improve the digital experience and create a more engaging, digital touchpoint for advisers clearly has benefits when it comes to any number of metrics we looked at.”

The average overall satisfaction score among large asset managers with $1 trillion or more in U.S. non-institutional assets under management is 657. That number falls to 617 among small asset managers with less than $400 billion under management, the study says. The gap in website satisfaction between small and large asset managers is widest in the areas of research information and content, availability of client-specific information and material, as well as researching product offerings and information, according to the report.

Foy says the reasons smaller asset managers scored lower was because they had fewer tools and resources.

“The ability to get to the most critical tools and information from the homepage or being able to easily access behind-the-password content—the user experience was just not as easy to navigate as what we saw from the leading players,” Foy says.

Websites that scored higher typically had a more modern design and had been through a relatively recent redesign, Foy says. They tend to provide easy navigation to the highest value content, and they have a rich set of tools that go beyond just product information.

“That adds value to clients, keeps them coming back, and keep them engaged with the brand,” Foy says.

Areas in which smaller asset managers have an opportunity to differentiate include increased tool offerings (such as investment comparison tools), more prominent placement of those tools on website homepage and navigation bars and more immediate access to client information, the study says.

According to the study, one area in which nearly all asset managers are falling short on their websites is providing information on environmental, social and governance issues. Just 29% of asset managers are currently meeting advisers’ needs when it comes to ESG reporting.

No brand is currently standing out as excelling or differentiating themselves when it comes to helping advisers understand and communicate ESG strategies more effectively to their clients, Foy says. Part of the challenge is that there is a lack of clarity around the appropriate metrics for evaluation.

“I think for advisers, it’s difficult to really understand what these ESG strategies are in a way that’s easy and clear to articulate to their clients, who, in many cases, are very interested in understanding more about this topic,” Foy says. “There’s really a big opportunity to do more to help advisers.”

Individual scores and rankings were not provided in the benchmarking study. Firms included in the study were (in alphabetical order): AllianceBernstein, BlackRock, Capital Group, Charles Schwab, Columbia Threadneedle Investments, Fidelity Investments, Franklin Templeton, Invesco, J.P. Morgan, MetLife Investment Management, MFS Investment Management, Morgan Stanley, Nuveen, PIMCO, Prudential Financial, State Street Global Advisors, T. Rowe Price and Vanguard.

The study evaluated adviser interaction with asset manager websites based on four factors: speed, information/content, visual appeal and navigation. The study was based on 2,320 total evaluations and was conducted from June through August 2022.