Alpha Waves - December 07

The Glass Ceiling for Marketers in Asset Management?

Some say a Glass Ceiling lies in the path of marketers wanting to reach the top of their firms. What are the skills and qualities required for a marketer to achieve board level appointment in asset management? A seminar in London in November 2007, run by the Financial Services Forum (Magnus Spence is Chairman of the Forum's Asset Management Group), addressed this issue. The highlights follow.

What qualities and skills are said to be required to broach this particular glass ceiling, and what challenges exist for marketers in amassing these skills? Speakers included Simon Fenton, Head of the Financial Services team at Spencer Stuart, who began his career in Asset Management marketing, and Henrietta Jowitt, former Head of Marketing & Communications at Schroders.

Simon Fenton suggested that there are six core skills that companies look for when building leadership teams. There is no single over-riding requirement: what a firm is looking for will depend upon its vision and strategy. Where the need is for growth, for example, the key individual competencies required of the leadership team tend to be:

1. Strategy building skills
2. Financial / commercial skills
3. Business planning skills
4. Experience both in the international arena and in working with other internal leaders
5. Analytical capability
6. Leadership skills, relating to taking decisions, the development of top class talent, and the ability to step back from tactics and detail.

Simon denied that a glass ceiling does exist. As long as you recognise the need for the harder skills that dominate the list shown here, the route to the boardroom is open to marketers, he argued. He quoted several examples of those who had already taken this route. But he also quoted a client advising that “you cannot risk being perceived as a fluffy creative marketer”.

He offered several other suggestions for marketers, for example highlighting the importance of influencing skills to engage teams and colleagues.

Henrietta Jowitt has experience both as an industry insider at Schroders, and as an outsider from Mars (the firm not the planet). She agreed that the asset management ‘glass ceiling’ could in theory be broached by marketers, but she highlighted real obstacles. For example, whilst agreeing with the need for hard skills such as those outlined by Simon, she provided a fascinating analysis of why it is so hard to develop and demonstrate such skills as a marketer in financial services.

She showed how the challenges faced by a typical FMCG marketer compare to those in financial services. She had drawn up a list of 13 activities which in a typical FMCG business tend to be carried out by the marketing function, or be led or heavily influenced by them. Who carries out these 'marketing' activities in a financial services organisation, she wondered? Her conclusion was that the marketing departments of financial services firms are usually given responsibility for only one or two of these activities.

Henrietta’s 13 marketing activities, and the department within Financial Services firms which typically carries them out, is reproduced below.

1. Who collects and analyses information on the client/end user?

 Sales/Marketing
2. Who defines product proposition, attributes and quality? Product Development/Investment
3. Who makes the product? Investment
4. Who is responsible for forecasting sales?Sales/Product Development
5. Who is responsible for pricing? Sales/Product Development
6. Who develops the distribution strategy? ?Sales?
7. Who is responsible for profit? ?Country heads?
8. Who is responsible for competitive analysis? Product Development/Sales
9. Who drives new product development? Investment/Product Development
10. Who analyses, identifies and plans new market entry strategies? Sales??
11. Who develops and writes the business plans? Finance/Business Heads
12. Who identifies key issues and opportunities?Not systematic?
13. Who develops and delivers promotional activity to support the above? Marketing


She argued that marketing function in many asset management businesses is confined to “fluffy” promotional activities the alone, hardly the recipe for the development of the hard skills described earlier.

The challenges faced by marketers in asset management to be accepted at board level can be overcome by those with Fenton's six skills. But in order to develop these skills marketers must develop expertise in some if not all of Jowitt's 13 activities, and it seems that many marketers are still far from being able to claim this to be the case.

Magnus Spence 2007

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