Tallying quantities of topic mentions in daily financial news feeds can reflect what’s on the minds of investors and industry professionals.
- Exhibit A: regular coverage of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.
- Exhibit B: regular coverage of robo-advisors.
- Exhibit C supports the theory in reverse: little news and, likely, little mindshare, though it deserves more attention. There is a fundamental change taking place in the way investment products are assessed, which is evolving the product ecosystem as well as how financial services market research firms explore those products.
An example of the change is BlackRock’s recent announcement that it will be rebranding its index mutual funds as “iShares” (in effect later in June). This news broke at about the same time that BlackRock announced the firing of several portfolio managers in favor of algorithms and models, but it appeared to get only a fraction of the attention. Past product development market research has been based on a validated assumption that the product decision-making journey, greatly simplified, has four steps:
- Identify the exposure you need
- Determine whether you want to pursue it actively or passively
- Select the vehicle (mutual fund, ETF, etc.)
- Select the specific product
By lumping together ETFs and index mutual funds, rebranding them all under the iShares name, BlackRock is blurring the vehicle distinction and introducing a journey that may skip the vehicle selection step altogether.
Contributing to the convergence is the actual blurring of the vehicles themselves. Take, for example, exchange-traded managed funds. These sit so firmly between ETFs and mutual funds that one provider uses 1,617 words on its website to describe the differences. Our product decision-making research often purposefully speeds through steps one through three, focusing on the selection of the product within the context of the vehicle. For example, “What are the most important factors that drive the choice of an ETF once you’ve settled on the fact that you want a passive ETF for a given exposure?” Removing that vehicle context could complicate the choice – now you’re picking among a larger and more varied product pool. However, this is surely not BlackRock’s intent, which leaves another option: BlackRock is placing a bet that its iShares brand can carry more weight and simplify the choice beyond where it is today.
A tour of top asset managers’ websites shows a range of approaches to product navigation, each undoubtedly hoping to direct interested parties to the right product quickly. As asset managers continue to use brand market research to pursue this goal, be on the lookout for three potential outcomes:
- Reduced visibility of the vehicle type as a key component of the product. Related decrease in the importance of educating about vehicle types.
- Simplified product decision-making journey.
- Elevated importance of brands and product naming structures to facilitate that simplified journey.