RFP: Diary of an institutional salesman, part 33

Will’s assumptions about sales are tested.
RFP: Diary of an institutional salesman, part 33

I guess the writing had been on the wall for a few months now. Swiss Heritage has bought out Integrity, and the old dream team is slowly being disbanded. Most of the big changes were made in Europe and the US, the firms’ respective home markets – now the spotlight has turned on Asia, and it’s shining pretty damned brightly, I can tell you.

As is often the case these days, the big decisions are being communicated via video conference from Europe. Every afternoon at 4pm, we all file into the boardroom, ex-Integrity people on one side, legacy Swiss Heritage guys on the other, and await our instructions from five suits who have never met most of us in their lives.

Five suits whose impressions of Asia come from a two-week holiday in Phuket in ’03 and watching the 100m final from Beijing 2008. Five suits we’ve all been sending update e-mails to since Easter.

I’m up for two different jobs. First, and most likely, is head of business development for the region. I’m the natural choice for this, with more experience here than Andreas Himpfeldorfer on the other side of the table, and importantly a working knowledge of the institutional market. His recent arrival and newly formed links with the private-banking community won’t count for much when they think about the low-hanging fruit on offer around here.

The other possible role is that of regional CEO. This is clearly a role William T. Fitzgerald could slot into nicely and, given the right level of autonomy and budget, would really excel at.

However, dear diary, if I’m being realistic, it’s way more likely that they’ll give Kim this role. He had been regional CEO at Integrity for a few years pre-merger, and CIO before that. He’s getting on in years, so they’ll take the easy option of having him oversee the merger, pinning any teething troubles on him, then retiring him off and replacing him either with me or one of the suits flown in from Europe.

Himpfeldorfer is one competitive son of a gun, though, and keen to ‘get up to speed’ with all the surviving Integrity products. He has been holed up in his office all week, poring over old pitchbooks and RFP responses, taking notes and shooting e-mails around the world to ask the fund managers about their processes. What a waste of time – like any of that is going to help in a sales job!

I’ve been more focused these past few weeks, too: I’ve been out working my Rolodex. Ironically, all the management activity has led to far less oversight of expenses, so I’ve been flying around the region, doing what we in the business call ‘keeping people warm’.

Obviously, clients and prospects are a bit anxious about what will come out of the other side of the merger, and need me to tell them straight what’s going on. The truth is nobody knows until the 'Famous Five' say so, but I’ve been able to calm a few nerves about things. Indeed, when they hear about my new role, the RFPs will start to roll in.

In a sporting move, I even suggested Himpfeldorfer come with me to Singapore, that Mecca for private banking, the Switzerland of the East, where easy money grows on trees and dumb people are very rich. (Well, at least that’s what our competitors seem to think!) But no, he elected to stay in the office, with his head in the books.

This got me thinking – do clients want or expect sales guys to understand the investment products? Surely not. Do customers expect the guy in Fortress to understand how a DVD recorder works? Of course not. Do you think the bikini-girl sprawled on the hood of the Porsche knows the workings of the internal combustion engine? Don’t be crazy!

So why should it be different for us? That’s what Product Ambassadors are for – those geeks can answer the tough questions from those few clients who feel they have to ‘kick the tires’ before investing. Heck, those types are so few we can even let them speak with the fund managers – might as well give them something to do other than stare at Bloomberg screens and pore through boring company reports.

Nope, there’s no reason for me to know much more than the track record, the fund manager’s name and brief bio, what the fees are and how much discount (trail commission to you PBs out there!) I can give.

Himpfeldorfer is now talking about ensuring clients have ‘a great investment experience’ and truly understand the finer points of investment fundamentals.

Am I being cynical here, folks, or is this just baloney? Nine out of 10 clients don’t care about this stuff and the other one simply doesn’t get it. Most of our products are just the same as the next firm’s – the reason we have so many different funds is so that, at any point in time, at least one will have a stunning track record across 1M, 3M, 1Y and 3Y, and then we can take it to market. Screw investment experience – I’m going to have an awesome sales experience with those hotcakes!

I snap back to attention, as the VC comes to life in front of us. The moment of truth awaits us. I’m feeling good, and know my efforts with the clients have been recognized back at HQ. Will it be CEO or more of the same for another year? Suit #1 begins to speak…

[Recorded later]

Dear diary, it’s unbelievable! I sensed it was going wrong for me when they stressed the importance of investment quality first and foremost. Of course that’s what we tell clients but it has always been business growth that hits the bottom line. But they seemed to mean it – and went on to name Kim as the new head of business development! The guy who has never sold anything in his life, who shut off my best-selling fund by soft-closing the strategy, who actively told clients not to invest in the hottest fund on our shelf in 2007 – our new business development kingpin!

It would be odd, I thought, when I’m CEO and have to direct Kim in my old job – a complete role reversal.

This notion too was short-lived – Himpfeldorfer was named CEO!

I left the room on this news. I can take a hint. Anybody out there looking for a new sales guy?

William T. Fitzgerald is a fictional character, as are all the other individuals and companies in "RFP Diary". Any resemblance to the living or to real firms is purely coincidental. Will's adventures continue fortnightly.

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