Sonia Sharigian

About Sonia Sharigian

Sonia is a product director for Cogent Reports with more than 10 years of experience in journalism, marketing and research. She has managed numerous qualitative and quantitative studies in the financial services industry, as well as the hospitality, consumer packaged goods and retail sectors. Prior to Market Strategies, Sonia served as a community manager for Communispace Corporation, where she helped major brands generate game-changing insights via online communities. She also worked as a public relations specialist for Putnam Investments and as a staff reporter for Community Newspaper Company. Sonia earned an MBA from Boston University School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Simmons College. She is an ardent Patriots fan who recently became hooked on sprint triathlons.

DC Plan Advisors Driving Financial Wellness Program Adoption

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Faced with increased pressure to demonstrate added value, DC advisors are offering financial wellness programs more frequently. Financial wellness programs, which are designed to educate employees about how to manage their personal finance challenges such as debt reduction, asset management, unexpected expenses as well as saving for retirement, are starting to soar in popularity.

Nearly four in ten (38%) DC advisors incorporate financial wellness into their offerings, a significant increase from the 29% who reported doing so in 2016. Emerging DC advisors (managing less than $10M in DC assets) and Independent producers are driving the overall increase in financial wellness program availability.

Financial Wellness Program Availability | Cogent Reports

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Advisor Marketing Volume Strikes a Five-year Low

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Providers appear to be easing up on the volume of advisor communications. This year, advisors report receiving an average of 101 monthly touches from providers. True, this may seem like an overwhelming volume of content to sift through, but it is significantly lower than the 110 monthly touches reported in 2016 and a dramatic shift from the 126 monthly touches reported in 2013. This decline is nearly systemic and can be seen across all types of touches except email.

Providers should seek to match their marketing strategies to the way advisors prefer to be communicated with and in a positive sign, this year firms appear to be hitting the right frequency and touchpoint. 57 of the average 101 monthly touches are emails and 56% of advisors cite email as the most effective way to reach them. However, in what appears to be an unmet opportunity, nearly one-quarter of advisors prefer external wholesaler visits, a touchpoint that has seen a decline in frequency since 2015. Continue reading

Acquiring New Business in the DC Market

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External forces confronting the 401(k) industry including the Department of Labor fiduciary rule, provider consolidation due to pricing pressure, and the heavy volume of litigation over excessive fees continue to push defined contribution (DC) plan sponsors to hone in on cost reduction and reevaluate expenses related to all aspects of plan administration and investments.

As such, acquiring new business in the DC market can be arduous, involving multiple influencers and decision-makers. Asset managers and plan providers often struggle to find the right combination of outreach to the various parties involved and, as a result, waste valuable time and resources. With those dynamics in mind, we are excited to kick off a qualitative research effort designed to better understand the process of evaluating and selecting DC plan providers and investment managers from three critical perspectives:

  • DC plan sponsors, those likely to switch plan providers and/or DC investment managers
  • Heavy DC advisors, DC specialists managing $50M+ in DC AUM
  • DC consultants, consultants focused heavily on serving the DC market

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6 Ingredients for Effective Institutional Thought Leadership

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We know how challenging it can be to get the attention of institutional investors, but luckily for asset managers, there is one tool in the institutional marketing toolbox that offers the best opportunity of getting noticed: thought leadership. When done right, institutional investors will not only read thought leadership from managers they are already doing business with, but will also consume pieces from unknown managers, offering firms a way in—and a chance to build a favorable brand impression.

According to a series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews we conducted with institutional investors, thought leadership materials must have six ingredients to craft effective thought leadership materials for this exclusive audience:

  1. Timely
  2. Unique
  3. Sophisticated
  4. Engaging
  5. Objective
  6. Credible

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Unlocking the Power of Institutional Consultants and Peers

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Contrary to popular belief, most institutional investors are not bombarded with a large volume of marketing collateral, so getting their attention should be easier than getting financial advisors’ attention in theory. However, in practice, it’s even more challenging for asset managers to reach this coveted audience.

The most immediate hurdle: institutional investors admit that materials from unfamiliar providers are easily and often discarded. Yet all is not lost for aspiring asset managers. Unsolicited content has a higher chance of being reviewed if the topic speaks to a current business need or if it’s introduced from a trusted source. Even during the RFP process—in which the sole focus is to consider a range of managers for a specific mandate—institutions are not conducting their own research. Instead, they are relying on consultant recommendations. That said, this decision point represents a rare time when institutions are willing to learn about a new manager and develop initial brand favorability for the future. Continue reading

How Institutional Investors React to Marketing

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Asset managers trying to get the attention of institutional investors must go beyond the typical marketing plan. Getting the attention of institutional investors takes place on a completely different playing field.

In contrast to financial advisors, institutional investors are not being bombarded with as many marketing materials, so in theory getting their attention should be easier. However, institutional investors’ marketing consumption behavior is generally confined to the asset managers they are already doing business with or potential managers they are considering when conducting an RFP. This demands an entirely different element of strategy for asset managers when creating their marketing plan, as the challenge for unknown firms to break through to this audience is incredibly difficult.

  • If I don’t recognize the brand or the name … then I probably wouldn’t even look twice at it.” Benefits Director, $750M DC/DB, NYC
  • “I don’t get that much to be honest with you, but I don’t really look at things from providers that we’re not using.” CFO, $20M Endowment, NYC

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Going Beyond Traditional Advisor Segments to Increase Marketing ROI

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Asset managers are collecting more data on financial advisors than ever but often struggle to transform their CRM systems into relevant and meaningful opportunities for advisor outreach and engagement. Undoubtedly, the competition for the attention and assets controlled by financial advisors (FAs) is intensifying, prompting many asset managers to seek better ways to target and communicate with advisors.

Data analytics and distribution teams spend about half of their time on data acquisition and data management, with just 14% of their time on more advanced analytics that fuel advisor segmentation and sales-lead generation, according to Applying Data to Distribution, a report by Ignites Research.* Perhaps more astonishingly, the report reveals that only one-third (39%) of asset managers incorporate advisors’ content preferences into advisors’ CRM systems, and one-fifth (11%) categorize financial advisors by types or “personas” that help determine their sales and marketing approach.

The current methods for segmenting the FA population for sales and marketing tend to be broad in nature and fail to take into account important differences in the attitudes, mind-set and preferences of FAs. Often, the desire to send more-targeted, customized communication is there, but firms fall short in their efforts to implement effective strategies given the additional time and money required to create their own proprietary models. Continue reading

DC Advisors Don’t Feel Support in Wake of DOL Fiduciary Ruling

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The Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary ruling, despite not being fully enacted, as well as the recent calls for repeal and uncertainty regarding timing, has already altered the financial services industry substantially. Heightened fee scrutiny throughout the retirement industry is causing many DC plan providers to be on the defensive, focusing on ways to avoid the next potential pitfall. And although providers may be trying, half of DC advisors report they are not getting enough support from providers with regard to the new rules and regulations. This perceived lack of support in a time of great change will undoubtedly affect advisor perceptions of and loyalty to the providers they work with regardless of the future of the ruling. Continue reading

Building Successful Advisory Relationships

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Amid an era of seemingly unprecedented political and global change, questions around the health and longevity of the financial markets abound. Investor trust in the financial community continues to be tested as factors beyond investors’ control threaten to jeopardize their retirement savings and financial wellness. Meanwhile, ongoing news coverage on the status of the DOL fiduciary ruling, sharpened emphasis on fees and the emergence of robo-advisory services as an alternative to traditional advice models are creating new challenges in the advisor industry. As such, understanding how investor-advisor relationships are established, the key drivers of advisor consideration, satisfaction and loyalty, and the role of trust and value has never been more imperative for advice providers.

Affluent investors don’t typically seek sweeping changes, especially when their long-term goals are funding a stable and healthy retirement. Nonetheless, when trust wanes and cheaper alternative solutions such as robo-advisors are within reach, change can become an attractive option. With those dynamics in mind, we are excited to kick off a qualitative study to explore the critical factors at stake across the key stages of the investor-advisor relationship life cycle. We’ll explore: Continue reading

Custom Target Date Fund Recommendations on the Rise

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A growing number of DC specialists—financial advisors managing at least $50 million in DC assets—are now recommending customized funds to their plan sponsor clients, further signaling a potential shift in the target date fund marketplace. In fact, this segment’s customized fund recommendations have increased significantly from 5% in 2015 to 15% in 2016.

What’s more, nearly half of DC specialists (46%) continue to advocate using an external manager for target date funds rather than the proprietary target date funds offered by the current plan recordkeeper. This is further evidence that incumbent recordkeepers must continue to up their game in this increasingly competitive marketplace.

At the individual brand level, DC specialists are equally likely to tap American Funds and Vanguard as their target date fund provider, while American Funds enjoys a stronger advantage across all other DC AUM segments. Emerging DC advisors—financial advisors managing under $10 million in DC assets—also gravitate to Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe and BlackRock when recommending target date fund providers to clients. Continue reading