November 8, 2011

Competitive review of mutual fund Websites

Paul Leibowitz
MFEA members got a glimpse of what’s going on with mutual fund websites these days. Presenters Allister Klingensmith and Paul Leibowitz from Sugarspun shared the results of a comparative review they did of 117 mutual fund sites of varied sizes over the past two years.

Here’s what they found.

To password protect or not to password protect? Do you really need separate sites for advisors vs. institutional or retail? The research observed a significant drop in password-protected sites and special areas, across every firm size. Probable reasons include saving money by building and maintaining only one site, compliance requirements that most advisor materials meet retail standards anyway and easier updating. In addition, if even 20% of the firms out there offered password-protected sites, think how confusing keeping all that straight would be for an advisor. There may even be advantages to advisors having same experience with your site as their clients do, so they can be helpful in directing them to specific information.

KISS – keep it simple stupid is a pretty good idea.  Navigation appears to be getting simpler, with an increase in the use of dropdowns to minimize the number of clicks to get where you need to go.  Horizontal exceeds vertical display and list order showed a trend toward more product focus: product/performance and news/commentary grew in importance, i.e. “higher” in the pecking order, while “about” shifted to the right.  A growing trend was seen in sites providing immediate access to investor accounts, offering it outside of the main navigation and instead as a site function.
This trend toward simplification dovetails into the growing use of mobile tablets and phones. That said, of the sites reviewed, less than 20 had a mobile-optimized version of their site.

…it’s the king, right? Well, as much as we’d like to think investors can’t wait to hear what we’ve got to say, analytics show that viewers look for performance more than any other section. In the smaller fund realm, this trend up-ticked from 30 to 38%, while for large firms, a slight drop was observed.  This is not to say commentary isn’t of value. Clearly 75% (up from 69%) include it.

Displaying fund data, such as performance and portfolio information, is moving away from multiple tabs to simple scrolling pages by the overwhelming majority of firms. Keeping all fund performance on one page makes it easier for the investor to do quick comparisons.
Social & Multimedia
Moving pictures cause quite a stir when they were invented over a century ago. What better way to bring life to your story and management team? Today, virtually anyone can make a video and get world-wide attention on YouTube. Well mutual fund companies are no exception. In 2011, smaller companies began to catch up with their larger counterparts, with 34% of them (up from 14%) using video on their sites. At the same time, podcasts and RSS feeds bit the dust with smaller firms and declined in usage by their larger counterparts.

Social media remains in its infancy. Surprisingly Twitter is in the lead across all firm sizes, with 50% of larger firms embracing it in some way, while only 16% of smaller firms are on board. Amazingly, about 60% of the large and medium firms are tweeting daily, compared to about 20% in the small firm group. (A whopping 40% of the small firms, however, have accounts but make no posts.) Facebook and YouTube lagged behind, although there was an increase presence on Facebook in the smaller and mid-size groups.
It turns out fund companies are a pretty conservative bunch. Fifty percent of the sites favor blue, followed by about 17% green, all other colors paling by comparison. What about your logo? A clear trend emerged toward a distinctive method to writing your name, with over two-thirds favoring “iconographic,” vs. type or illustration, regardless of firm size.

Use of photography by smaller funds took off, increasing from 38% to 78%. Firms are choosing better stock photos and recognizing that their people, offices and overall look can be a differentiator. Those that used none dropped precipitously to less than 10%. Larger firms were already there, and held their own.
Is it right or wrong?
What’s right is what works for you. While these are not necessarily best practices, the presenters did give us a quick glimpse into what’s happening with mutual fund web communication today – and lots to think about. Bottom line, what does your site say about you? Is it professional looking? Does it provide the information investors and advisors need? Is there enough content – and do you update it frequently – to engage visitors and make them want to come back? Can your grandfather figure out how to get around it? And can your granddaughter get what she needs on her iPhone? If you haven’t updated your site since you built it in 1999 or even 2009, now may be the time.

by Marilyn Dale

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