Uncovering the Practices of High-Performing Client Service Functions

Mike Smith, Divakar Padmanathan, Emma Haffenden



A version of this article originally appeared in Portfolio Adviser.

Over the past decade, we have seen Asset Managers make substantial investment in their Distribution capabilities. This has predominantly been directed towards Sales functions, arming them with the technology, data insights and training to maximise productivity. By contrast, Client Service has historically received less attention with staff typically making do with manual, improvised processes, at best using systems designed for other teams, and at worst, using spreadsheets and forwarded emails – these frustration have long been shared by Heads of Client Service across the industry. But Client Service teams today must meet a new set of expectations: to demonstrate value to investors, to prove that all clients receive a fair and consistent service, and to realise economies of scale that will contribute to firm-wide fee reduction efforts. In this environment, many are finding that the goodwill and tenure that has long held together their fragile, inefficient Client Services processes are no longer sufficient. As a result, addressing constraints to Client Service effectiveness is fast becoming a priority for Heads of Distribution too, who are now allocating their budgets accordingly.

In this article, we synthesise our learnings from research conducted into the Client Service practices of 30 of the largest global Asset Managers, collectively with £7 trillion AUM. Through Alpha’s extensive research, we discovered that firms in the top quartile those with the most mature client service capabilities support 28% more clients per person than those with weaker capabilities. In this article, we share the differentiating attributes of these leading firms.

Differentiated Practices of Leading Firms

Standardise to Personalise:

Proactively defining a client-centric standardised offering, to free up capacity to deliver personalised services where commercially.

Deliver 2-Speed Transformation:

Defining a roadmap that recognises where strategic quick wins can be achieved, vs. where longer term foundations must first be laid.

‘What Gets Measured Gets Managed’:

Identifying, implementing, and monitoring the MI and KPIs that are expected to drive the targeted client satisfaction and efficiency outcomes.

1. Standardise to Personalise

Is ‘bespoke’ synonymous with ‘personalised’? Heads of leading Client Service functions don’t think so. Of the managers interviewed, around 10% identified that their Sales teams now have comprehensive, clearly documented guidelines about the services that can be offered to each client type and tier. These guidelines are most effective when they are underpinned by a firm-wide understanding of personas, journeys, tiering and segmentation. However, even where there is a nascent roadmap of the desired client experience, leading firms operate an effective coalition between Sales and Client Service, investing time to formalise guidelines around the service that should be delivered. At first glance, this may not seem like a very personalised approach. However, leading practitioners argue that this well-defined, intentional offering, based on a researched understanding of the common needs of each client type or tier is in fact key to delivering a personalised experience. It enables these firms to proactively offer prospective clients a meaningful suite of services, safe in the knowledge they can be delivered profitably and to a consistently high standard. In fact, many of these firms have found that by operating consistent processes aligned to a standardised offering, and underpinned by robust data sets, capacity is created to deliver bespoke services in the areas that matter most. A virtuous cycle is therefore created. Increasing standardisation of non-differentiating services such as query management enabling these firms to invest in efficiently providing a more differentiating services such as bespoke reporting.

Outside of the top quartile, reactive proposition development is common. Many individuals interviewed talked about tactical processes being retrospectively cobbled together in response to a client service commitment that had already been made. One might therefore expect that efficient service delivery would be dependent on significant practitioner involvement in the pre-onboarding process. However, our research of 30 global managers identified that this is not the case. Firms in the top quartile for Client Service capabilities, had less practitioner involvement in the pre-onboarding processes than the industry average. In part this was due to the existence of resources such as Service Catalogues which provide firm-wide clarity about what can be offered to each client, and requests that would require an escalated, exception-based decision to be made. As a result, rather than implying a dilution of service which some may fear, firms with a standardised client service offering are able to spend less time on reactive operational activity, and more time to continuously improve the service proposition.

2. Deliver 2-Speed Transformation

The only firms that are not in the midst of a Client Service transformation are those that have not yet started. Historic underinvestment in Client Service does not appear to be unique to any specific firm. Without exception, top quartile firms continue to press ahead in the knowledge that further Client Service productivity gains are not just possible, but an essential contribution that must be made to their firm’s stand in the industry price war.

As with any organisation, Asset Managers looking to scale to remain cost-competitive find that a tipping point is eventually reached. Beyond this, the marginal productivity gains of adding headcount becomes so low, that technology and automation becomes unavoidable. However, whilst the existence of this point is consistent across all managers, the subsequent trajectory is not. Those that used their empirical understanding of client needs to pre-emptively standardise their offering and data sets, to underpin well-sequenced automations, realise significant benefit. By contrast, those that resist the tipping point until it cannot be ignored often find themselves reactively introducing technology in a siloed fashion, on top of a myriad of disparate data sets and processes, increasing the cost to deliver, and reducing the benefits ultimately realised.

Despite the perils of diving headfirst into automation initiatives without first laying the joined-up, firm-wide proposition and data foundations, few Heads of Client Service can achieve funding to deliver these foundational initiatives in isolation. The leaders that have secured this investment have typically done so by defining a two-speed roadmap. Alongside proposition and data-focused initiatives, a parallel set, focused on ‘quick wins’ are pursued, to realise near-term savings that can partially offset the investment in the ‘game-changer’ initiatives. Indeed, many of the differentiating quick wins such as Case Management, and Onboarding Task Management are fast becoming an industry hygiene factor, with 36% of managers reporting that they already have these respective capabilities today.

3. ‘What Gets Measured Gets Managed’:

In accordance with Peter Drucker’s iconic mantra, top quartile firms know what to manage, and know to measure it. The measurable things that matter broadly fall into two categories – those that indicate delivery efficiency, and those indicate client satisfaction or risk. Of the firms in our study, 18% identified that they already have the capability to dynamically view key client service performance metrics in a visualisation tool. However, where firms have a robust set of Service KPIs in place these firms are delivering client outputs twice as efficiently overall; for example, faster onboarding times and timelier issuance of client reports. Further still, 65% commission third parties to source client satisfaction scores, with 15% using client satisfaction data, in part, to measure and inform change initiatives.

Whilst some of these capabilities are the domain of Client Service leaders exclusively at present, they remain the near-term aspiration of the majority of other firms too. A key constraint facing the latter group however is access to necessary source data in a reportable format. However, once again, opportunities exist for firms that proactively define a two-speed Client Service roadmap in advance of reaching their tipping point. Whilst some insight will inevitably be dependent on the delivery of foundational data sets, others are not. Significant insights into bottlenecks, pain points and proposition gaps, along with their root-causes can rapidly be generated following the delivery of quick win initiatives such as Case Management in isolation. Indeed, much of this insight can be key to informing the delivery of the game-changer initiatives.



For firms looking to emulate the practice of peers in the top quartile, our study uncovered the 3 critical steps that must be taken:

How to deliver sustainable, best-in-class service:

  1. Standardise to Personalise: Start by researching your clients’ needs, ensuring they’re consistently understood across the firm. Use this to then define a core offering, from which intentional, calculated deviation can then be made.
  2. Deliver 2-Speed Transformation: Use this core offering to shape a roadmap of strategic change, that balances quick wins with game changing initiatives, whilst being careful to minimise tactical effort
  3. ‘What Gets Measured Gets Managed’: Build a reporting strategy from the get-go, based on an understanding of what needs to be measured and why, using these KPIs to refine the proposition and roadmap on an ongoing basis, creating a cycle of continuous improvement.

Why Alpha?

Alpha has supported over 20 Asset Managers with Client Service initiatives. Firms have ranged from regionally focused specialists to top tier global managers. The support Alpha has provided spans all stages of the transformational journey, from initial health checks and client experience reviews, through to data and application implementations, and ongoing support model design. Through delivery of these engagements Alpha has developed a range of templates and accelerators to help achieve targeted Client Service outcomes.

Please get in touch if you would like to find out about participating in Alpha’s Client Service Benchmarking Programme or to discuss any of the topics in this article.


About the Authors

Mike Smith 2021
Mike Smith
Executive Director, Global Head of Distribution

Mike has over 20 years' consulting experience and is an Executive Director and the Global Head of Alpha's Distribution Practice, advising Asset Managers globally across their Sales, Marketing, Client Service and Product functions. Mike specialises in Distribution Transformation, including Strategy, Operating Models, Process Optimisation, Distribution Technology, Client Experience, Distribution Data & Analytics.

Divakar Padmanathan
Divakar Padmanathan
Associate Director

Divakar Padmanathan is an Associate Director in Alpha’s Distribution practice, and has experience advising wealth and asset Managers on Sales and Client Service strategy. Divakar has also led a number of implementations of client management technologies, such as CRM, portals, websites and marketing automation tools for a variety of firms across the industry.

Emma Haffenden
Senior Manager

Emma has 15 years experience delivering business and technology strategy consulting services to C-level Executives of the leading global asset and wealth management firms. She specialises in research, analysis, benchmarking and competitive intelligence. Emma is responsible for a number of peer benchmarks at Alpha, including the Global Client Service Benchmark which covers the client service operating model, capabilities and service quality KPIs.