The Product Specialist role has gained a prominent, valuable place in the institutional investment management arena. These professionals enhance an asset manager’s client, consultant and new business initiatives. They leverage the time of investment professionals by spearheading or contributing to a spectrum of responsibilities, including:
- Serving as a proxy for investment professionals in client review meetings, consultant meetings and prospect presentations
- Acting as a liaison between investments and distribution
- Leading new product development
- Writing investment commentaries
- Developing thought leadership pieces, webinars, blogs, etc.
- Conducting internal educational and training sessions
- Attending and speaking at industry conferences and forums
- Overseeing RFPs and database updates
- Providing quality control in reviewing client reports, prospect presentations, and other materials and media (e.g., website and/or database content)
The role comes with a variety of titles – Product Specialist, Client Portfolio Manager (CPM), Asset Class Specialist, Portfolio Specialist, Investment Specialist, etc. Just as the titles and responsibilities vary from firm to firm, so does the effectiveness of different Product Specialists and CPMs. It can be challenging to overcome the preference of clients, consultants and prospects to meet with a portfolio manager.
Five Keys to Success
Following are important variables and attributes that enhance the credibility and success of Product Specialist professionals.
- Relevant Credentials and Qualifications
More than ten years of institutional investment industry experience is generally required. Many of the top Product Specialists and CPMs have 20+ years of experience. An MBA and CFA are preferred. Depending on the asset management firm’s client base and target markets, other credentials and certifications (e.g., CPA, JC, CIMA, Series 7, 63/65 or 66, etc.) can be beneficial as well. Individuals who have a portfolio management, consultant or plan sponsor background are ideal. They usually take the role further faster than sales or client service professionals who transition into the role. Professionals in this role must be willing to travel and have a deep understanding of the competitive landscape. Not only should they personify the portfolio manager, but the investment firm as well.
- Outstanding Communication Skills
Strong verbal and written communication skills are essential. As subject-matter experts, Product Specialists must be able to articulate the investment process and portfolio strategy, and to discuss specific portfolio holdings and performance attribution as well as, if not better than, the portfolio managers. Product Specialists must be able to engage clients, consultants and prospects in strategic discussions. They must excel at eliciting and addressing needs, interests and concerns. Proficient writing skills are mandatory to contribute to messaging, marketing materials, presentations, investment commentaries, thought pieces and other written communications.
- Reporting Lines Directly to Investments
The most effective Product Specialists sit with, report to and are respected by investments. They are fully engaged with the investment team, short of making investment decisions. They attend investment meetings, review trades and know the portfolios. Having Product Specialists report to distribution, as some firms do, can be an impediment. In a distribution-led structure, Product Specialists are perceived as being in more of a sales role. Clients, consultants and prospects are less receptive to having them as a substitute for the portfolio manager. Whether a Product Specialist reports to the CIO or investment strategy portfolio manager depends on the size of the asset management firm and the specified role of the individual. If the Product Specialist is a generalist by asset class, reporting to the CIO is more common. If the Product Specialist is focused on a specific strategy, they typically report to the lead portfolio manager on the strategy.
- Effective Teamwork
To succeed, Product Specialists must have good working relationships and strong collaboration with virtually all functional areas in their firm – investments, marketing, client service, sales, administration, operations, compliance and business management. Effective teamwork is vital in marshalling an investment firm’s resources to provide optimum solutions and value to clients, consultants and prospects. Strong internal communication, enhanced by consistent use of a CRM system to document calls, meetings and activities, and to keep everyone informed, is a given.
- Proper Incentives
Compensation structure and incentives aligned with the mission of the firm and the desired objectives for the Product Specialist role (e.g., client retention, enhanced consultant relationships and number of strategy approvals, closing sales, product development) are crucial. Incentives to foster teamwork between Product Specialists and professionals in other roles (e.g., sales, client service, consultant relations) must be in place as well.
Benefits of the Product Specialist Role
It is unrealistic to expect Product Specialists to replace portfolio manager interactions with clients, consultants and prospects completely. Product Specialists can, however, allow portfolio managers to travel less and to focus primarily on investment management. In addition to the potential for enhanced performance, benefits of the Product Specialist role include:
- Stronger lines of communication among marketing, sales and investment teams
- More comprehensive and regular interactions with clients, consultants and prospects
- Increased opportunities for client retention and asset growth
What is your firm doing to maximize Product Specialist success? Please share your insights and comments below.
Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., a preeminent marketing consulting firm to asset management firms ranging in size from start-up firms to some of the world’s largest investment firms with over $1 trillion under management. Charnley & Røstvold helps clients with competitive positioning, marketing strategies, key messages, presentation refinements, communications and sales training, consultant relations and client service programs.
Christine Røstvold, co-founder of Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., is a popular industry speaker and author. Christine was a founding board member of PAICR (Professional Association for Investment Communications Resources), and served on the Advisory Board for more than a decade.