Finance: All it took was a fresh pair of eyes ...

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When financial services company Aetna International Funds called in design consultants, its aim was to develop a new brand. What it ended up with was a more efficient way of communicating with the brokers who sell its products.

The process began when, in the words of Keith Bamber, principal at design consultancy Bamber Forsyth, it was realised that the logistics of Aetna International Funds' communications efforts were "mammoth", with something like 250,000 data sheets drawn from various sources being sent out around the globe every quarter.

But, with the help of information technology experts, Mr Bamber recognised that the branding exercise provided an opportunity to develop a better service for his client.

As part of the move to create a clear brand with which the company could make its materials both instantly recognisable and obviously part of a whole, they created a publishing template based on the company's existing Microsoft software.

This means members of Aetna's small marketing department can now send out communications direct from their personal computers, without needing training in desktop publishing techniques.

At the press of a button, market information from a range of suppliers, including Micropal and Bloomberg, can be drawn into a file and readied for instant publication in the new design style. Moreover, just another press of a button will instantly translate the material from English into Spanish or German.

"Aetna is operating in a market where quality, variety, frequency and reliability of information update is key to leading the field," says Mr Bamber.

The company, which is the offshore division of the global financial services group Aetna, cannot quantify how much new business it has won as a result of the approach, but is confident that it has enhanced its position in the market.

Meanwhile, productivity in the marketing department - which was previously swamped by the task of producing regular fact sheets and compiling them into quarterly reports - has improved markedly.

David Evans, the business's managing director, says: "Bamber Forsyth's diagnostic approach to our brief meant they found new ways for us to compile and disseminate up-to-date information, maximising the potential of our existing information technology and supplying a more clearly branded, better service to our customers."

In addition, the way the package has been designed means Aetna can adapt it as and when it needs to, and it is envisaged that ultimately it will be able to offer customised versions of its fact sheets.

Mr Bamber sees a key advantage in the fact that the company can - through the template - do the work itself.

And, while he claims that "larger companies with much greater resources are not producing such good material", it is likely that such organisations will cotton on to the Aetna approach - and change forever the way financial services companies communicate with their customers.

Roger Trapp