China comes top for internet-savvy investors

Mutual fund shoppers in China increasingly depend on websites for information on investments, a new poll shows. But investors in Asia appear to be using more traditional information, such as friends' advice.
China comes top for internet-savvy investors

Online is king when it comes to mutual fund sales in China, with buyers most likely to rely on websites for their source of investment information, according to a survey.

That stands in contrast to other parts of Asia, where more traditional sources of information are more likely to provide guidance to retail investors.

In a survey of about 4,000 retail investors by research house Cerulli Associates across four markets (Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Singapore), respondents were asked how they gathered their investment information.

Of all the sources, the one with the largest support in China was product information on bank websites – garnering a huge 62% of the vote. Chinese investors put their trust in such websites more than in the rest of sampled Asia – comparable figures were less than half in Hong Kong (24.6%), Singapore (25.3%) and Taiwan (29.3%).

Chinese respondents cited general financial websites as their second-most important source of investment information, with 52.5%. Hong Kong (37.4%), Singapore (40.4%) and Taiwan (44.4%) were ame way behind.

There were other surprises in the poll – newspapers were cited by 44.9% of those surveyed in Hong Kong, making it the number one source of information in the city. The city’s love of newspapers was higher than China (24.7%), Singapore (37.9%) and Taiwan (18.8%).

Chinese investors also appears to put more faith in those in a professional capacity – investment advisors and bank staff received 45.4% and 44.7% respectively of the vote in China, more than in other markets.

Overall in the markets surveyed, a recommendation from friends and relatives was the top influence on investors.

China and Taiwan buyers appear to be the most heavily influenced by their relationships when making investment decisions, leaving professional advice trailing in their wake.

On a regional basis, 43.8% of respondents said they used their colleagues, friends or relatives as an information source – this was highest in China (49.5%) and Taiwan (50.2%). A total of 40% of Singapore investors cited them as a source, along with 35.9% of those in Hong Kong.

Rachel Poh, a senior analyst with Cerulli who co-led the report, said despite variations, the results were part of a regional trend.

"Many foreigners correctly believe that China is a guanxi [relationships-based] society, but this is not limited to China,” Poh said. “Asians in general tend to trust their relatives and friends, and the people or brands they refer them to. As such, word of mouth will have a great impact on people's perception of a fund manager."

However, the research house said more asset managers were investing in digital social media technology and tools to catch up with consumers' online experiences in other industries. "Digital media is permanently changing the game, and more managers need to get on board," said Yoon Ng, Cerulli's Asia research director.

But a survey earlier this year by US investment services firm Charles Schwab reported that limited penetration had been made by technology in China.

The poll of emerging mass affluent showed that new technology was not being used in the country to improve investment decisions as much as it should.

When making investment decisions, a large proportion of those surveyed said they used newspapers (43%) and television and radio (28%) more often than digital sources.

In the same poll, savers’ most popular method of accessing their money was online banking (77% of respondents) However, only 37% said they used online investment platforms and just 16% were using mobile phones for banking and investment.

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