2020 may have been a monumental year for all the wrong reasons. But for international financial firms eyeing China’s multi-trillion-dollar retail fund market, 2020 could not come soon enough, as China’s regulator continues to open up its financial industry to foreign players.
The Big Picture
By the end of 2020, global firms like Blackrock, Vanguard, Fidelity, and many more would finally be allowed to target Mainland China’s individual investors via their wholly-owned entities. On top of that, Alipay, the mobile payment juggernaut owned by Alibaba-affiliated Ant Financial, would almost certainly be a major force in helping these foreign firms establish a foothold in this rapidly growing market that is estimated to be worth $3.4 trillion by 2023. Furthermore, the easy access provided by the Alipay platform along with the dynamic internet culture in China has already made selling funds very much like promoting a consumer product (explained later in this article), in which the strategy and tactics are starkly different from how global giants market their brands and products in their home countries.
This article introduces four culturally-relevant ways that will help foreign brands crack China’s retail fund market.
1. An Aspirational Chinese Brand Name
In addition to making a brand name easy to pronounce and remember amongst local consumers, hence elevating brand awareness, a Chinese brand name also empowers a foreign brand to make its case through a combination of characters that would reflect relevant brand attributes. For the financial industry in particular, the best names often align with customers’ financial aspirations, making them feel understood and cared for, and in turn grant trust to a company.
Certain characters hold culturally significant meanings adored by investors and Chinese people in general. Whether it’s out of aspiration, auspiciousness, or even superstition, these characters have been used by many investment firms, both foreign and local, to express goodwill in their names and establish themselves as legacy brands. For example, 通 [tōng] meaning open and connect is used by J.P. Morgan 摩根大通 [mó gēn dà tōng]; 顺 [shùn] meaning smooth and successful is used by Invesco 景顺 [jǐng shùn]; and 达 [dá] meaning reach and achieve is used by Fidelity 富达 [fù dá].
Having a Chinese brand name early on and owning the trademark also protects the brand from copycats and unnecessary confusions, especially for well-established companies. Wells Fargo is known as 富国银行 [fù guó yín háng] amongst overseas Chinese communities for many years, but the name was only trademarked in recent years in China where local companies using 富 (wealthy) and 国 (country) - 富国基金 [fù guó jī jīn] and 国富投资 [guó fù tóu zī] - were already established.
2. A Resounding Brand Tagline
A Chinese brand tagline is an essential part of the brand asset for financial companies in China, from the nation’s biggest banks like China’s Merchants Bank, whose tagline is 因你而变 (We Evolve for You) to digital platform Alipay’s 支付宝，知托付 (Alipay Honors Your Trust), they always come with taglines that resonate with consumers. For financial brands, especially consumer-facing brands, trust drives brand equity. A resounding brand tagline is arguably the most effective means to humanize the brand promise and deliver it in an impactful manner. When dozens of brands compete on one platform, a simple yet resonating line of promise may help a brand win over the competitors. Here are a few examples from popular local brands that present their promises through different angles in their taglines:
- Approachability: 博时基金 (Bosera Funds) - 让专业，更简单 (Make Specialties Easier)
- Stability: 天弘基金 (Tianhong Asset Management) - 稳健理财，值得信赖 (Steady & Trustworthy Money Management)
- Future-proof: 易方达基金 (E Fund) - 我们执着于在长跑中取胜 (We’re obsessed with winning in the long run.)
3. An Approachable Product Nickname
Similar to global practice, a fund’s official Chinese name usually follows a standard structure: [brand name] + [investment target / product name] + [investment strategy / category], i.e. 博时天颐债券A (Bosera + Tian Yi + Bond A). These types of names are certainly the most widely used, but the fact that they hardly ever sound appealing to customers prompts the trend of catchy names. Many companies create nicknames for their funds in a way that showcases the products’ main attributes, intending to appeal to audience who are less financially savvy, and at the same time, adds personality to the product and the brand.
On Alipay, that aforementioned product named Bosera Tian Yi Bond A also has a much more appealing nickname called 攻守兼备灵活基 (“Attack & Defense” Agile Fund). There are many interesting examples, each with a unique focus: 量化男神操刀 (Quantitative God’s Charge), which focuses on the fund manager’s capability, is actually Invesco Great Wall’s Shanghai & Shenzhen Composite 300 Enhanced Fund. 稳健底仓之选 (The Choice of Steady Bottom Position) is Tianhong Asset Management’s Yong Li Bond E Fund. And 能赚会花，人生赢家 (Earn & Spend to Have It All) is E Fund’s Consumption Sector Stocks fund.
4. “Caifu Hao” Unlocking the Imagination
In addition to the ability to sell funds and sharing company news and point of views directly to the followers, Caifu Hao (Wealth Account), the wealth management platform embedded in Alipay, is unlocking financial firms’ imagination on how to engage with existing and potential customers with the platform’s multimedia and social-mediatized functionality.
- Live Streaming: While live streaming is nothing new, selling consumer products, now mutual funds, directly through the engagement enabled by live streaming is certainly a novelty cultivated by the unique online behavior in China.
- Short Video: Riding on the wave of TikTok culture originated in China, financial firms are leveraging this form of media on Caifu Hao to actively educate the audience in a creative and accessible manner.
- Gamification: Gamification empowers brands to interact with the audience in a more engaging way. The New York-based global asset management firm AllianceBernstein launched a Monopoly inspired mini game on its Caifu Hao account as a preliminary launch for its new financial products. The game quickly engaged with its audience on the platform as it mimics the investment returns and losses of the major markets around the world.
The long-awaited access granted by the Chinese regulators to foreign firms will not come without challenges. Foreign firms will face fierce competitions coming from many local players that are already holding stronger brand awareness and closer affinity amongst Chinese consumers, as well as joint ventures in which foreign firms themselves have taken a major stake. The moment is now to hop on the fast-moving bandwagon and make your brand known and loved in China.