Caught on camera
Delegates to the National Association of Pension Funds’ annual investment conference in Edinburgh in March may have noticed the TV screens dotted around the venue showing interviews with pension personalities. Leading UK pension industry figures such as Railpen’s Chris Hitchen and incoming NAPF chairman Robin Ellison were giving their views on the major issues of the day.
What the NAPF delegates may not have realised is that the company behind the programmes has quite a few more strings to its bow.
Asset.tv is the brainchild of a former asset management executive Craig Walton, who spotted an opportunity to deliver tightly focused programming to the investment industry. The NAPF project – it will film its forthcoming conference in Manchester in May - is just one of the company’s activities.
Walton, 44, is a former marketing director at Foreign & Colonial and Framlington. Asset.tv was founded in October 2003 and went live last year. It now has around 20 staff. Other founding directors include TV industry veterans, media specialists and financial sales people. The firm is owned by the management, although there is some private equity backing as well.
Originally focused on the retail side of the industry, bearing in mind Walton’s background, Asset.tv has recently started to look at the institutional space in more detail. Walton says this has become more possible of late because of the convergence between retail and institutional – with questions to the two sides becoming increasingly similar. Former Newton Fund Managers’ director Simon Wombwell has been taken on as a consultant to help develop this aspect of the venture.
The system works over a virtual private network and aims to deliver broadcast quality interviews with fund managers on a daily basis to users via stand-alone touch-sensitive screens, which it supplies. Walton says 154 finance firms in the UK now have screens installed.
“We operate a very large virtual private network,” he says – adding that putting the network in place needed a “substantial capital outlay”. It has thus far avoided delivery via the internet due to bandwidth constraints, but that could be about to change with the wider adoption of broadband internet and software plug-ins.
Walton says 90% of the questions a fund selector or investment consultant might want to ask the fund manager are in fact put to the managers in the Asset.tv interview process. It’s a bit like a video ‘fact-sheet’. He stresses the interviews are not just PR exercises and that the questioning can be quite tough, covering such topics as poor performance and personnel moves.
However, the objectivity of the exercise could be open to question, bearing in mind that the managers themselves have to pay to appear. Walton points out that his firm charges fund managers “a commercial rate that both they and we are happy with”. There are 58 fund management groups signed up to provide content. “It’s not PR – it can’t be,” Walton says. “It would not last two minutes. We ask the questions you’d ask yourself.” Indeed, users of the system sometimes supply the questions they’d like Asset.tv to ask. And the firm itself sends out an email blast to users asking for topics.
The question, say observers, is whether sufficient people will sign up to the service. Asked if Asset.tv is profitable yet, Walton states that the company is adequately funded for the future.
Coverage also extends to managers’ market views as well as market moving events such as Bank of England press conferences. With the network in place and screens starting to appear on desks, the issue now for the venture is to get the content right. The company is talking to Bloomberg about providing hedge fund content to the financial data firm.
Walton says pension consulting firms have already expressed interest in the system – with Watson Wyatt and Lane Clark & Peacock having screens in their offices. He adds that the system has been hardwired into the internal database of a major consultant and is connected to another’s corporate intranet.
And he adds that the company is eyeing the pension fund market more directly, in that it is talking to fund managers about creating videos for trustee communications. And it is considering embedding market reporting into a PDF document for scheme members.
Among its other activities, Asset.tv is able to run bespoke private TV channels for finance firms. It hosts hosts videos for more than 50 financial institutions and runs dedicated streams focusing on hedge fund and multi-manager content. Going forward, Walton has ambitions for the system to get non-UK managers onto the system.