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Broadridge research finds fund groups need to play to their strengths

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The latest edition of Broadridge’s Fund Brand 50 (FB50), an annual research study by Broadridge Financial Solutions, reveals that cautious European investors put the squeeze on the asset management industry – parking cash in bank savings accounts and money market funds – and scrutinising asset manager credentials like never before. 

As slowing growth colours global economic forecasts in 2024, fund groups need to play to their strengths and flex their brand attributes to compete in a saturated market that cannot sustain the current levels of competition, the firm says.

“In a year that saw passive managers gain further momentum, Vanguard moves into the top-10 brand rankings, scoring highly as a key international player and for its solidity,” says Barbara Wall, Director of Global Distribution Insights, Broadridge. “Fellow passive specialist iShares also moves up the league table from eighth place to sixth, unseating Robeco, although the Dutch active manager maintains pole position for its ESG credentials. The passive trend is further evidenced by the entry of Xtrackers into the top 50, with the firm’s range of sectoral and thematic ETFs proving popular with fund selectors.”

The independent study, now in its 13th year, measures and ranks asset managers’ relative brand attractiveness based on fund selector perceptions: taking into account 10 brand attributes to reveal the top global and regional brands in Europe, APAC, and the US. FB50 also reveals the local market brand leaders in Europe and APAC’s most significant retail markets for third-party fund distribution. 

The top 10 European asset management brands according to the study are: BlackRock; JP Morgan Asset Management; Fidelity; Pictet Asset Management; Amundi; iShares; Robeco; Schroders; Vanguard and PIMCO.

The firm writes that the top-five global brands, led by BlackRock, are all industry giants in terms of both assets under management and operational scale. While the top five remain undisturbed from last year, there is significant movement in the top 10. The remainder of the top-50 list sees selector’s favourite companies run the gamut, from niche product and local market specialists to the major one-stop-shop providers.

The big story is that 2023 was a bad year for ESG in Europe, Broadridge says. “Transparency issues, poor performance, regulatory pressures, and energy security issues all exacerbated the situation. Outflows from responsible investment funds, greenwashing concerns, and the reclassification of many Article 9 products were all compounding factors, as some commentators have questioned whether ESG has reached a tipping point.”

Broadridge interviews with fund selectors suggest that this may be overexaggerated, as ESG still constitutes a major consideration in investment decision-making. But firms are undeniably more sceptical and subject asset manager credentials to greater scrutiny to validate a firm’s ESG bona fides. To facilitate this, selectors would like a more standardised vocabulary around ESG, as well as improved communication around portfolio positions and engagement.

Asset management brands strongly associated with ESG investing, such as Robeco, Liontrust, Nordea, and Pictet have all seen their brand scores fall in 2023, which may point to sustainability credentials being less of a differentiator in this more sceptical climate. Further regulation has been touted as a solution, but Broadridge’s fund selector interviews suggest that this could prove a hindrance, rather than a help, to the ESG cause.

The top-five most important attributes in Europe have seen subtle shifts in 2023. ‘Appealing investment strategy’ replaces ‘Client-oriented thinking’ in first place. This is due to asset managers presenting alternative investment choices to worried clients, many of whom were withdrawing from long-term mutual funds and resting their money in interest-bearing savings accounts.

Fund launch activity was subdued as providers prioritised cost-cutting efforts. The firm writes that this is telling that ‘Innovation/Adaptation to market change’ dropped out of the top five to be replaced by ‘Solidity’ – an attribute that last year was far more prominent in US and APAC than EMEA. “This change benefits the large global firms, a trend we have also observed in APAC and the US. Big firms tend to benefit when investor confidence is low,” the firm says.

“Good communication remains vital, which is why ‘Keeping best informed,’ moves up a rung to third place. Selectors particularly value proactive communication when funds have underperformed.”

Additional findings from this year’s study include:

·          While ESG convictions may not be the game changer they once were, it is noteworthy that 50 per cent of the top-10 brands score highly in this area. Amundi, in particular, has been praised for its range of sustainable investments, including its climate-neutral ETF offerings.

·          The expansion into the private markets space is an emerging differentiator. Schroders reputation in the growing private markets and fixed income spaces mitigated criticism of the firm’s fees and allowed the manager to limit the damage done to their brand to dropping a single rung on the ladder.

·          Fixed income was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy landscape, as risk-averse investors sought guaranteed returns. PIMCO’s strength in the fixed income space helped the firm regain a top-10 berth.

·          A relatively risk-averse European climate was a boon to passive specialists. In many cases, this was at the expense of active specialists, although active ETFs are a growing niche – comprising approximately 5 per cent of Europe’s total ETF intake in 2023, the firm says.

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