In 2005, Jeff Duckworth joined John Hancock Funds as national sales manager for the financial planner and bank channels. Today, he is the firm's president of distribution. His distribution strategy can be boiled down into one word: advisors. A total of 100% of the firm's distribution is through financial advisors, Duckworth says. In a Q&A with Money Management Executive, he speaks about why relationships with advisors are essential to his growth, a push toward mobile, and the distribution channels that are best suited to his products.

Q: As president of retail distribution for John Hancock Investments, you coordinate your firm's work with 200,000 to 300,000 financial advisors. How do you find the best ones to do business with?

We're looking at data from outside resources such as Market Metrics and Albridge and data within our own CRM system. This helps us spend the right amount of time with the right advisors.

Q: Besides working with advisors to aid in the distribution of your funds, what are some other trends driving your growth in the market?

Because of our history of managing asset allocation portfolios for so long we are always thinking about what an investor needs today and what they will need in the future. As a result of this thinking we have searched the globe for the best liquid alternatives managers. We do not believe that this is just a fad but instead is a trend that will be here for many years to come.

Q: How is that broker-dealer relationship so important within your marketing and distribution efforts?

Broker-dealer models, platforms and recommended lists have all become a very important ingredient in growing sales and assets. Due to this we have put an emphasis on providing operational closeness with our best clients. This means that we have to work efficiently as a team to focus on the right funds with the analysts.

Q: How do you see your operations and marketing efforts evolving over the next 10 years? In other words, how will providers need to adapt?

On the sales side, I don't foresee our sales force growing. We must be more efficient and productive at every level. Margins are thinner so we all must be more productive with the same or less resources. This results in working smarter with the use of technology, targeting marketing, and proper focus on the right firms and the right advisors.

Q: How do you evaluate a good territory?

The first thing you must determine is if a territory can be profitable and then determine if it is ultimately scalable. We can determine this by examining the total amount of mutual fund business in a certain geography. Plug in some market share and growth assumptions and determine if it is a viable territory. In 2013 our sales were up 79% but we still came to the conclusion that we had 3 territories that would not be viable long term. It is never easy to remove a territory but it was the right business decision to remove three.

Q: In terms of distribution, do you expect more or less spending on distribution?

Our expectations are to control our costs (spend about the same) while growing our sales and our assets under management. We are increasing spending in some areas but cutting it in others. Technology and data management is an area of investment but we are not investing in additional wholesalers.

Q: What steps have you taken to move toward mobile?

Our sales team is very good at using mobile technology via the iPad with their advisors. We are not where we need to be or plan to be with social media however. Our industry as a whole has been slower than others to adopt social media but that is starting to change.

Q: What are the advantages of mobile for providers?

From a compliance perspective the move to mobile has been very helpful. We have the ability to make sure our wholesalers are using current and approved material. In addition, technology is now available to track what materials and/or presentations are being used in meetings which helps us better educate the wholesalers.

Q: How do you see the mutual fund vs ETF dynamic playing out?

Even though we don't sell or manufacture ETFs, we do believe there is room for passive and active management in a portfolio. We believe that a well diversified portfolio needs both While we are on this topic, the way the market is looking right now I personally believe that we are in a time period that is particularly good for active managers.

Q: Which distribution channels are best suited to your products?

A total of 100% of our distribution is through financial advisors. We do not distribute directly to the public. Beyond our traditional retail selling channels we have a heavy focus on DCIO, RIA and bank trust. Another area of focus for us is education of wholesalers. We take wholesalers out of the road four times a year for training. We put a big premium on education. We spend extra money to do this. Looking forward I see an opportunity to use technology more for training which should have the wholesalers out of the field less.

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