As we have noted on several occasions in this series, perception audits can be an invaluable tool to help asset managers understand their underlying client base and, subsequently, shape their future business activities.There are of course many different reasons to undertake such audits – to support business development, aid client retention, or in response to challenging situations to name but a few. There are also many things that such audits can assess (business positioning, quality of client service, delivery of investment returns, standards of reporting) which will inevitably shape how such information is used.

The point on making use of such research is however critical, with the whole purpose of a perception audit being that of providing intelligence and insight that is “actionable”.

To undertake such work and then not make use of the findings seems foolhardy in the extreme and may indeed risk irritating clients who will likely feel disgruntled over both their views and time not being used wisely.

How though should asset managers use such insights? While this will of course depend on the subject being researched, it is important that client insights are used proactively and, as much as possible, visibly to assure clients that their views have been understood and been acted on. This might mean adjusting key messages and business positioning, changing reporting approaches, being more proactive with respect to engagement on a host of things – the point is that the effects should ultimately be demonstrable.

It is here that communications, both internal and external, can play a significant role. From an internal perspective, work should be undertaken with all those likely to interact with external audiences – sales professionals, clients relationship managers, senior executives and indeed the investment teams themselves – in order to ensure all parties are clear and comfortable with the business’ positioning, messaging and approach, which should be reflective of the outcomes of the perception audit itself. Asset management remains fundamentally a people business, and the ability of personnel to be able to act as ambassadors, reflecting and responding to the views and requirements that clients themselves have articulated, cannot be overstated.

Externally, communications collateral (sales and marketing literature, reporting documentation etc.) should also be assessed and revised as needed to reflect client views and demands. It is here though that proactive public relations can also play a particularly significant role, with targeted, strategic programmes offering an excellent means of promoting a business’ agenda within a highly client-centric context. The ability of a business to publicly address major investment industry issues within the context of a nuanced understanding of client needs is a desirable but often rare commodity, and one that can prove hugely helpful to client retention, profile raising and business development.

In such a competitive landscape, a clear understanding of client requirements, views and (mis)perceptions is critical. But this knowledge alone is only half the battle. Ultimately, taking actions on such insights will speak much louder than words and reports alone.