Investors want to view websites with clear and understandable information—yet that's not what they're getting from asset management companies, according to new research. 

Instead, investors are being fed complex content that takes longer to digest and requires high mental effort to understand, according to research by Visible Thread, with the backing of Edelman Trust Barometer.

A report released by the firm deemed the asset management industry's websites as the least trusted globally when compared to 14 other industries that were included in the research.

"Even for the highly educated, overly complex content takes mental energy to decipher, and is hard to understand," the report said. "The net effect is poor engagement and missed business opportunity."

The report, the 2019 Asset Management Website Clarity Index, showed that asset management firms' websites are not transparent and they do not speak to consumers in a clear and accessible way, leaving them with low trust levels.

Researchers analyzed the performance of 60 of the largest asset management firms, reviewing nearly 6,000 web pages and more than 5.8 million words, focusing on the websites’ readability, whether passive voice was used, the length of sentences and the use of complex words.

The top five sites overall in 2019 were those of Federated Investors, Vanguard Asset Management, Putnam Investments, Boston Partners and Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, the report said. Federated, the report noted, substantially improved readability and jumped from a 21st ranking among asset managers last year to first this year.

In 2018, the top five sites were Putnam, Boston Partners, Vanguard, J. Safra Sarasin and MEAG

In terms of readability, the report said the average American reads at an 8th-grade level, which is a score between 60 and 70 on a scale of 100. Writing at this level maximizes potential customer reach and engagement, it said. The higher the score, the easier the content is to understand, the report said, adding that firms should aim for at least a score of 50.

But the average readability score of the 60 asset management firms analyzed was 37, which is the equivalent of requiring a college degree to easily understand communications, the research said.

As an example, the report noted that the novel "Moby Dick" scored 58 on the scale, while the Harvard Law Review scored 30. The Harry Potter books came in at 73.

The websites with the highest readability level in 2019 are Vanguard Asset Management at 54, Federated Investors at 53 and Putnam Investments a 53, the report said. BlackRock had the lowest readability score at 12.

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