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Posted Sep 19, 2022

How to build stronger investment partnerships: Bell Partners and Urban Green Investments share their strategies

Jasmine Nazari, Chief Operating Officer at Urban Green Investments, and Tyson Strandberg, Director of Client Relations at Bell Partners, joined us to share how they deliver a great investor experience. Below are selected highlights from our conversation.

The importance of transparency

Transparency has been a driver of the success of Bell Partners, now one of the country’s largest apartment owners with $5 billion in assets under management and 63,000 high-quality multifamily communities across the United States.

"For us, transparency is authenticity,” Strandberg said. “It’s sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly and letting the numbers speak for themselves.”

Her goal is to provide a self-service environment where investors can get the data they need. “Over time, the way to provide transparency has evolved. 45 years ago, it was a phone call and an investor memo. Today, it’s sharing this electronically with a few clicks.”

For Nazari at Urban Green Investments–a fully integrated investment and development firm–transparency is a “superpower” and a key to growth. “Transparency is all about trust. With more trust comes more investors. Providing transparency is a way to set yourself apart and drive growth.”

Providing more value through self-service reporting

“Self-service reporting removes some non-value add investor relations activities,” Strandberg observed. “Because of the growth we’ve experienced, we can’t operate in a reactive manner.”

Providing data in a self-service environment allows the Bell Partners team to focus on scalable ways to add value.

Reporting as a reflection of organizational quality

Nazari has noticed how investor relations isn’t just about interactions with an investor, but the supporting systems and processes used to manage these interactions–and how these reflect the overall quality of an organization.

“It’s very powerful when you have an empowering experience that makes it easy for your investors. It shows how efficient we are. We don’t waste time or resources.”

Deciding what data to include in reporting

“The more information you share, the fewer questions you get because you’re giving investors the tools and detail they need for their reporting,” Strandberg said. A goal for her is to continually identify themes in common requests and then add data into the portal that will proactively answer these questions.

“This helps alleviate some of the back-and-forths between our team and our investors and allows investors to find what they need quickly.”

Providing a best-in-class experience is the guiding principle in deciding what to include.

“Of course, you can’t provide a good investor experience if you don’t deliver great returns, but the experience is also defined by the way you deliver and communicate those results. Our company tagline is ‘We care, we deliver’ - which drives us to work hard to perform for our investors and do that in everything we do.”

Selling change: internally and externally

For some, a concern about rolling out a digitally-enabled investor portal is adoption. Even for an early adopter such as Urban Green Investments, this was a factor.

“It took us a little bit of time, but my response to anyone who is not offering something like this is asking if they would bank with a bank that doesn’t have a portal,” Nazari said. “It’s the same thing for investment management. Just as we can’t imagine banking with a bank that doesn’t have everything at your fingertips, this is what investors increasingly expect from us.”

The recognition that investor expectations are increasingly digital created urgency for Nazari and her team.

“If you don’t have an investor portal today, you’re going to be behind your competition. It takes a bit of time to implement and digitize everything. But once we rolled it out–it was never a problem for us or our investors.”

For Nazari, something that was also helpful is loading historical data and then encouraging people to check it out. “This piqued their curiosity by wanting to make sure everything was accurate and correct. Once they see their data from the past in there and how accurate it is, the portal becomes familiar and feels easy for them.”

“Our jobs are about data. We need to know about our investments, our investors, and what they are seeking. Data integrity is critical here. It’s not just about your investment performance, but your investor preferences - and staying up-to-date with those. Investor needs change, you need to keep track of that out of respect for them.”

In Strandberg’s experience, people who are initially skeptical about using the portal are typically won over quickly once they see everything it offers. “As soon as an investor sees the wealth of information available, and ease of accessing that information, they become a frequent user.”

Accelerating change through marketing

A little marketing is helpful to guide people through transition, Strandberg shared. And that was true both externally and internally.

“We sent a mailer and some teaser emails to create buzz and excitement for the portal among our investors. That helped us drive adoption quickly. We had a 60% adoption rate on day one, and it’s increased ever since.”

Internally, branding the project with a name helped build momentum. “Anytime there’s change management coming, we name the project appropriately. This helps make it fun and build energy. Juniper Square was ‘Project Bamboo’ because that spoke of the longevity, versatility, and strength we needed from our investor portal. It helped us build interest and talk about this internally.”

“Creating the future today”

Digitally-empowered investor relations programs like the ones that Nazari and Strandberg have built are empowering them for the future.

“One of our core values is to prepare for the future today,” Strandberg said. “A key driver of that was implementing the Juniper Square platform. It created efficiency for relationship management and visibility internally for everyone involved in building strong relationships. We can track all meetings and calls in one place and better maintain and manage our relationships. We use it to see how investors are interacting with us and have full visibility into all the activities our teams are doing to build relationships.”

For Nazari, automation is a key part of staying competitive in this market. “You need to lean into technology and use it because if you don’t other people will be eating your lunch. We are thoroughly outnumbered by the number of investors we have, so technology like a CRM helps me trust my past self and my future self and give investors the attention they deserve.”

Advice for GPs today

“Investors are relying on your data to be accurate,” Strandberg said in closing. “Providing data transparently builds relationships and trust with your firm, and that helps at all stages of your relationships. The impact on our fundraising has been life-changing. Digitizing the subscription process ensures accuracy and a great experience for everyone involved. Working with Juniper Square has allowed us to better manage our relationships, offer transparency and retain our investors.”

Nazari encouraged GPs to think about the future. She spoke about how working with partners such as Juniper Square enables her to stay ahead of the constantly changing environment and any needs that will lie ahead for their firm. “Keep thinking about the future and the tools that will help you get you there because that’s where the next edge of growth will come from.”

To watch the full conversation on demand, go here