“More hunter than game” or “to see and to be seen” – these statements often reflect the more or less derogative verdicts of critics at national and international conferences. Frequently, one of the arguments presented is that the “concentration of investors” at many events is too small. Another claim is that both active and passive participants simply utilize these venues for self-marketing: they seek contact with personnel consultants and competitors. These are the less constructive aspects of this critique. What is typically forgotten though are that these events have existed for years and, despite prophecies of doom, provide benefits for participants. The following discussion point seems noteworthy: What advantages do national and international gatherings of the asset management industry offer? What can and what can’t one expect from these formats?
Selection: National and International Events
Examples of large-scale conferences within German-speaking countries are, among others, the Fund Congresses in Mannheim and Vienna or the Fund Congress in Switzerland. Interesting from an international point of view is also the FundForum International. Event types overseas offer even more interesting formats. Terrapinn, Financial News, Marcus Evans, and others are among the well-known providers for this. All providers, even those in Germany, can be characterized based on quality, scale, and market penetration. Among a group of experts, the reputation can be perceived quite differently as well. In addition, one can identify a large number of national and international providers, including “in-house events” of asset management firms and consultants. IPE, for instance, is an example of a cross-country approach that is sometimes locally known as IPE Institutional Investment. This is merely a small sample selection and is by no means comprehensive in its nature; but, it does show how seemingly “unnecessary” formats continue to thrive.
Similar to scientific and academic conferences, many national and international conferences simply set out to disseminate knowledge within a particular industry. In addition to media, internet, and the likes, these sorts of events can certainly generate an exchange of ideas, discussion, and knowledge. However, over the years, different objectives have started to emerge so that new foci—even combinations of such—become possible: conferences to gain leads for the sale of investment companies. Other objectives could be the maintenance of brand awareness and customer retention.
Differences in Expectations: “Professional Visitor” versus Sales
Visiting events such as the Fundscongress or the FundForum International, one may be able to draw a first conclusion as to why misplaced expectations can lead to hardly justifiable, negative judgments. If an event organization widely announces that its goal is to bring together national and international industry, it is not too surprising that primarily industry representatives attend the meeting. Any plus of investors’ shares should clearly be seen as an added value to the event. Examples: At a national event, industry primarily meets industry. At an international event (FundForum International) similar structures exist, but what stands out is that over the past years, more and more investors attend the event. Every participant and sponsor must decide for himself or herself what constitutes the optimal mixture of providers and investors. I can only speculate here, but that one or another critic of this sort of event was not aware of this matter in the beginning.
Fund Boutiques: The Added Value of International Events for Providers and Investors
When one examines, for example, the settings of an international event (“Monaco”), it stands out that interesting individuals or groups from Germany who wish to participate often come with a certain degree of market significance. If firms have departments or divisions for international business development, interest in participation is more likely. (The personal experience of the author addressing numerous domestic fund selectors regarding panel discussions in foreign countries seems to underline this issue.) Companies such as Union Investment, DWS, and Deka observe these events and show their interest.
Companies like Universal-Investment in Germany (private label fund launches and sales) and other investment companies such as Hauck & Aufhaeuser or IPConcept could discover, in terms of content, a large network of asset management providers and asset managers who promise interesting subject-matter discussions. These specialized investment companies would, in turn, offer foreign asset managers added value in regard to market entry in Germany—administration or direct sales support. As an alternative to the classical concept of placement agent, the discussion of market processing strategies certainly seems appropriate. Many providers, even in Germany, are not aware of the potential that Europe or “the globe” can offer; for each excellent niche player, opportunity exists—and not just on a national level. In light of border-crossing sales, good times have come for providers and fund initiators.
Excursion: Optimizing Potentials and Similarities: Asset Management Companies, Consulates, and Economic Chambers
The primary goal of conferences or symposiums is the exchange of ideas within the industry, and ideally, this includes the chance to make business connections. Yet, this depends on the actual number of investors at the event. The typical event structure often reflects the settings found at events organized by consulates or economic chambers: they bring people together through a common topic. These institutions also want to foster business connections, but know the format’s limitations due to resources. In the end, one can lead a horse to water, but one can’t make it drink. Focused approaches to establish contact typically occur through classic sales activities or through bringing suitable providers in.
There are interesting national and international event formats that are credible. Obviously, many asset management companies evaluate the efficiency of event sponsorship. In addition to conferences, this also holds true for special event formats (road shows, investor conferences). However, what seems really important is that there is no “best conference” format; the productive competition among event organizers promises positive change. Valuable though is the clear positioning of the individual formats: industry meets industry, industry meets investor, or a combination of both. A good event should positively contrast from the sort of event about which critics sometimes rightfully say: This event is only about a hairdresser who wants to sell a haircut to another hairdresser!
*) Markus Hill is an independent asset management consultant, investor relations – national & international in Frankfurt am Main