As is the case in many business sectors, plaudits in the asset management industry often go to the individuals or companies that successfully win new clients and increase assets under management.

While clearly important for long-term success, this should not be seen as the “be all and end all”. Client retention is equally critical, particularly in such a competitive landscape, and in itself can provide substantial commercial and reputational support, as well as positively influencing internal business culture.

As has already been noted in this series, getting to know clients better forms a crucial aspect of retention, and there is substantial evidence to show that taking proactive steps to understand customer needs and requirements helps retain clients for longer. This is particularly true in times of stress – in periods of poor performance, businesses that maintain excellent client relationships can gain as much as 12-18 months “grace period” by taking positive steps to understand customer needs.

How such perceptions are gathered though is critical. Over 60% of asset managers undertake some kind of perception audit, either using internal resource or via an external third party. There are merits to both approaches, but the ultimate aim needs to be to get clear understandings and insights that an asset manager can act on.

There are a number of aspects that need to be considered in order to successfully gain useful insights from clients: the number and type of audiences being surveyed; how individuals are approached; and most importantly the questions that interviewers will ask in order to gain meaningful and helpful information.

Perception audits cannot simply be a box-ticking exercise, not least as this will show through in interviews and limit the amount of useful information gathered. Put simply, the perception audit process is all about engagement. External audiences are often willing to offer their opinions as long as they feel their time is being used well and their views will lead to some sort of positive outcome. This does however mean that discussions with end clients must be kept concise, to the point and conversational in order to elicit useful information that an asset manager can analyse, on both a quantitative and qualitative basis, and ultimately make use of.

Ultimately, however, this last point is vital. The insights that can be gained from speaking to one’s client base can be invaluable, particularly if “gaps” can be identified between a business’ perceptions of itself and the views of its clients. However, the entire perception audit process (which can be complex and resource intensive) will all be for nought if findings are not acted on. To that end, responsiveness to clients’ insights and perceptions is critical. Like any good business, the best asset managers will be the ones that take the views (and possible criticisms) of their clients on board, and act quickly and decisively to address areas and recommendations that have been identified.