In January, Franklin Templeton Investments rolled out an educational program to help advisers persuade their clients to get back into the stock market.
As the year approaches its end, David McSpadden, a senior vice president in global advisory services at Franklin Templeton, admitted that he is a little surprised to find the program as relevant as ever.
"I definitely think skepticism remains around the market," he said. "People are not comfortable around the economy, and that's carrying into their approach toward the markets."
Judging from mutual fund flow data, that is true in spades. In September, stock funds reported outflows of $11.16 billion after shedding $16.5 billion in August, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund trade group.
Investors are still flocking to bond funds, which had inflows of $26.49 billion in September and $30.81 billion in August, according to the institute's data.
Franklin Templeton's 2020 Vision campaign makes the case for investing in equities in the decade ahead. It aims in part to focus investors on the market's history of long-term growth. It is also designed to help correct many investors' misperceptions.
"We feel very pleased with the response we've gotten from advisers," said McSpadden. "They've been very appreciative of the content and feel it's the right message for clients." One common misperception, turned up in a Franklin Templeton survey of 1,000 Americans this year, is that the stock market was either down or flat in 2009: An aggregate 66% of respondents held one of those views. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average actually posted a gain for the year of 22.68%.
"We wanted to help reorient clients and provide a tool for financial advisers who were having those conversations with clients," said McSpadden.
Trying to persuade investors to return to the stock market is not easy, said Alois Pirker, a senior analyst at the Boston research firm Aite Group LLC. "With the uncertainty that the market is projecting, consumers are saying, 'I don't know where the market is heading.' To a fair degree, you have to say they're right."
Investors' hesitancy has been a drag on revenue for brokers and mutual fund companies, he noted. "It's definitely one of the big issues the industry is facing," Pirker said. "Business has been way down, and the results have really shown in the last two quarters."
Franklin Templeton's wholesalers have made 2020 Vision presentations to financial advisers and joined them for presentations to clients. The company has distributed more than 320,000 brochures for advisers to give their clients.
And it has made a range of content available online. Charts and interactive graphics are used to make the case for equities during this decade. The case consists of five points: that the market rises over time despite volatility, investment opportunities globally are growing, innovative companies will create growth opportunities, quality companies will thrive during a recovery and equities are a hedge against inflation.
Interactive quizzes are sprinkled throughout the content. One asks which of four companies was founded during a recession: IBM, Disney, Microsoft or McDonald's. The answer is: All of them.
"A number of advisers like to have that available and ready," said McSpadden. "They like the interactive nature of it and how it lets clients play a guessing game."
It is impossible to gauge the extent to which the 2020 campaign has succeeded in making investors comfortable with the stock market. But the trend for Franklin Templeton appears encouraging. As of Sept. 30, equities made up 43% of its $644.9 billion of assets under management, the company said. This was up from 41% at June 30 but still below the 47% mark at Sept. 30, 2009.
At the same time, Franklin Templeton's fixed-income managed assets declined slightly on a percentage basis, accounting for 39% of total assets under management at Sept. 30, compared to 40% at June 30 but still above the 33% level of Sept. 30, 2009.
Still, there is clearly a ways to go to win investors' hearts and minds, said McSpadden. "Anecdotally," he said, "I have heard from financial advisers that they are more optimistic than their clients in general."