BlackRock finds assets aren’t enough in bid for clout

Campaign afoot to make BlackRock brand better known

April 3 (Bloomberg) -- Laurence D. Fink, who built BlackRock Inc. into the world’s biggest asset manager, now is seeking to increase the firm’s clout beyond Wall Street to the wider public.

Fink is pushing for reputational heft with investors, regulators and peers, as the adulation received by rival Pacific Investment Management Co. has eluded the firm he co-founded in 1988. He’s started a campaign to make BlackRock’s brand better known, and is asserting its views on pivotal issues including money-fund rules and the dangers of complex exchange-traded funds that are at odds with firms such as Fidelity Investments and Societe Generale SA. He’s seeking to become a champion of corporate governance, urging 600 companies where BlackRock has its biggest stakes in to adopt shareholder-friendly practices.

“People always asked me what do I care about the most for our company, and that’s an easy answer; it’s respect,” Fink, 59, said in an interview in his office at BlackRock’s New York headquarters. “Being the largest asset-management company in the world isn’t a stat that I actually care about. If we’re the most respected asset-management company in the world, that’s a pretty lofty position.”

Gravitas is crucial for BlackRock as it tries to bolster its reputation as an active money manager, woo individual investors and increase its share of the U.S. mutual-fund business, where it holds 2.2 percent of assets. While Fink built BlackRock into the world’s largest provider of exchange-traded funds, only about 6 percent of its assets are in actively managed U.S. retail funds. Fink has said building that business is a “big priority” for BlackRock.

BlackRock’s Diversity

BlackRock’s $3.51 trillion in assets include stocks and bonds, institutional accounts, hedge funds, passive strategies and portfolios that use mathematical models, giving it the broadest array of products among money managers. BlackRock has also been picked by government agencies in Europe including Greece, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden since 2008 to evaluate hard-to-value debt portfolios. The firm’s BlackRock Solutions unit was selected by the U.S. in 2008 to oversee tainted portfolios at the peak of the financial crisis.

“The core motive driving our brand campaign, our regulatory advocacy and our corporate governance engagement is our responsibility to our clients,” said Linda Robinson, a senior managing director and global head of marketing and communications for BlackRock. “That is the motivation and what is driving those actions.”

Pimco’s Followers

Although Newport Beach, California-based Pimco has less than half of BlackRock’s assets, its founder and co-chief investment officer, Bill Gross, is one of the most widely followed bond investment managers and analysts of Federal Reserve policy. Gross, who was named the fixed-income manager of the decade by Morningstar Inc. in 2010, posts monthly investment outlooks online and his postings are followed by more than 62,000 users of the microblogging site Twitter.com.

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