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 financial services industry research, 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.

More Employers Are Offering Financial Wellness Programs This Year

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Defined contribution (DC) plan sponsors wear many hats within their organizations, often juggling responsibilities like employee satisfaction, benefits and of course, the management and oversight of their firm’s 401(k) plan. Many are now adding employee financial wellness to the list, as employee happiness and reduced stress both in and out of the workplace are proven to increase the quality and quantity of deliverables and output. A recent report from PwC found that 25% of employees admit that stress from financial issues has been a distraction at work and 18% indicate financial stress has impacted their productivity.* Financial wellness offerings give plan sponsors an impactful way to share financial guidance with their workforces in an attempt to diminish financial stressors.

This year, significantly more plan sponsors are incorporating financial wellness offerings into their benefits programs (21% up from just 16% in 2017.) This increase is being driven by companies in the Small-Mid plan size segment ($5M to less than $100M in plan assets), where 30% of plans are now offering these types of programs. Continue reading

Bridging the Gap: Exposing a Disconnect between Plan Providers and Plan Sponsors

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The defined contribution (DC) plan market is increasingly dynamic with a wide array of industry forces, priorities and innovations in play. In the wake of on-and-off industry reform and legislation along with a continual stream of fee-related litigation, DC plan sponsors are being courted with the latest solutions designed to propel participant engagement, foster financial wellness and, ultimately, increase participant retirement readiness. Yet many are still struggling with the perennial challenges of managing plan costs and navigating the myriad of fees associated with offering their employees a competitive 401(k) plan.

As the DC industry modernizes and becomes more efficient, the struggle with plan fees continues to hover over many organizations, exposing a disconnect between plan providers and plan sponsors. While Micro plans remain the most fee-sensitive segment, Small-Mid plan sponsors appear to be experiencing the most angst and are poised to take more definitive action this year, reporting an increase in likelihood of launching a formal 401(k) plan review or switching DC plan providers. In contrast, Large-Mega plans, which command higher rates of negotiating power, enjoy the freedom to think more holistically about participant needs and are better-positioned to harness the latest innovations.

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Digital Marketing to Advisors: Maximizing Effectiveness to Boost Brand Engagement

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Advisor marketing is in a state of flux, evolving rapidly alongside all other types of mobile communication and efficiencies in terms of staying connected 24/7. At the same time, advisors are faced with increasing responsibilities and higher levels of scrutiny on how they service their customers. Asset managers are sensitive to that and seem to understand that constantly barraging these busy advisors with marketing isn’t the best way of capturing their attention or providing a solid ROI. In fact, last year, advisor-reported marketing monthly touches from financial services providers dropped in frequency, from 110 in 2016 to only 101 in 2017. With the number of marketing touches dwindling and capturing advisor attention not getting any easier, asset management firms are funneling more and more marketing dollars into digital campaigns. Is that the right move?

Is Digital Marketing the Right Tool?

The short answer? Yes.

In 2017, advisors cited email as the most effective way to communicate with them, even outranking external wholesaler visits. What’s more, after wholesalers, the digital touches of websites, webinars and mobile apps generate the greatest lift in brand consideration. Continue reading

Technology, Language and Educational Capabilities: Key Levers in the DC Market

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While DC plan providers are vetted stringently on their respective abilities to provide personalized, proactive client service and customized plan design, there are other factors that are essential to demonstrate in the recordkeeping suite. When we asked DC plan sponsors, heavy DC advisors and DC consultants which factors can best distinguish a DC plan provider from another competitor or incumbent firm, technology, language and educational capabilities were cited as must-have services with strong interplay.

Technology
Serious investment into technology, making processes more efficient, effective. Designing interactions with participants to be easier, more mobile, transparent, resonating with all types of employees.” DC Advisor, RIA

Language
“If you’re not investing in technology and you’re not investing in language, you’re just milking it. You’re not going to be around in five years. … In this day and age when people can withdraw money at an ATM in fifteen different languages, the fact that someone can’t get literature for their 401(k) in Spanish, it’s appalling.” DC Consultant Continue reading

Competition for Target Date Funds is Heating Up

Fact-Based Trends from Cogent Reports™    

Competition For Target Date Funds is Heating Up | Cogent Reports

Competition for target date funds in the DC market is showing no sign of abating. DC Specialists (producers managing $50M+ in DC AUM) are looking outside the two dominant target date fund providers—American Funds and Vanguard.  While American Funds and Vanguard continue to square off for the greatest proportion of target-date-fund dollars among this elite plan advisor segment (34% versus 33%), three investment managers are gaining ground. One in five DC specialists is likely to endorse Fidelity (23%), BlackRock (21%) and T. Rowe Price (21%) for sponsor consideration, compared with a respective 15%, 17% and 14% reported one year ago.

Target Date Funds Provider Recommended Most Often | Cogent Reports Continue reading

DC Plan Advisors Driving Financial Wellness Program Adoption

Fact-Based Trends from Cogent Reports™    

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