The role of the retail brand in the institutional asset management business

After the great recession, the institutional asset management (IAM) industry was in complete disruption. Firms were examining ways to transform their organizational structures to minimize any appearance of conflict or impropriety. Mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, and divestitures abound. While SunTrust leadership had decided to spin-off the institutional asset management business from the retail bank, the role of the SunTrust brand in the spin-off was still being considered. Understandably, tracing its history back to 1891, leadership was reluctant to give up the equity of the SunTrust brand even recognizing the target audience was vastly different from that of the retail bank. FullSurge was brought in to help SunTrust 1) determine the most appropriate architecture strategy for the institutional business, 2) determine the role of the SunTrust brand across the institutional business, and 3) determine the optimal naming strategy for the brands within the institutional business.

Enabling flexibility and communicating uniqueness

FullSurge began with a comprehensive audit of the institutional asset management business by benchmarking key competitors’ as well as niche players’ brand architecture strategies. From the audit, we identified the category mandate—complete brand separation between the retail bank brands and the institutional brands. Even the global retail banks with ubiquitous brand awareness were not connecting their brands, not even demonstrating an “endorsement” relationship. Bottom line, no SunTrust brand presence in the AIM business.

With the architecture strategy and role of the SunTrust brand questions answered, we turned our efforts inward as we now had six new brand names to create. We conducted one-on-one in-depth interviews with IAM leadership to better understand their long-term business strategy. The key for leadership was to enable brand flexibility as the brands within the business could potentially change. Given this, we recommended against creating any form of naming system, rather creating six different names that were highly unique and benefit-oriented based-upon each brand’s specific business needs. We then worked with each of the six brand teams to help articulate their unique brand strategy, including the positioning statement, brand name, and visual identity. 

From the audit, we identified the category mandate – complete brand separation between the retail bank brands and the IAM brands.
Brand Architecture Example Ridgeworth 4
Achieving a successful exit by acquisition

The client fully embraced our strategy recommendations including hiring FullSurge to develop the names and visual identities for the 6 IAM brands. The flexibility of our approach enabled them to purchase other boutique funds and fold them into the “family” without looking like “step-children.” Further, they were able to sell-off the underperforming funds without damaging the remaining brands. Ultimately, the client was able to achieve a successful exit by being acquired by a global financial institution. 

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