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Understanding consumer loyalty to socially responsible investment funds
Business Sciences and Management Journal (BSMJ), Volume 2, Aug 2017

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For consumers wishing to have a positive influence on social and environmental problems socially responsible investment (SRI) mutual funds represent an interesting option. In essence, the availability of SRI funds means that consumers indirectly can own the companies that they want to influence. Compared to consumer attempts to influence through purchasing behavior, owning companies and engaging them collectively through a mutual fund could potentially be more effective to achieve social impact. However, in order to have a social impact, the size of the fund is important. Thus, for SRI funds to be able to have an impact, it is important that consumers not only choose SRI in the first place, but also stay invested in the SRI fund for an extended period of time. Against this background, the purpose of this paper is to investigate what factors influence consumers to invest in, and stay invested in, SRI mutual funds by addressing determinants of satisfaction in the SRI context. In the marketing discipline, one of the most important determinants of retention is consumer satisfaction (e.g., Rust and Zahorik, 1993). The fundamental logic is that if consumers are satisfied with the product or service, they will also be more likely to stay with the provider of the service and be loyal. In this study, the Nordic School of Services Marketing was applied as a theoretical framework in order to increase the understanding of satisfaction in the SRI sector (e.g., Gronroos, 1998). In essence, the theory prescribes that satisfaction will be the outcome of both perceived technical quality (the outcome or result of the service) and perceived functional quality (the way the service is delivered to the consumer). In the SRI context it can be argued that the consumer is investing to achieve both financial return and ESG (environmental, social, governance) influence. These two aspects would then amount to technical quality dimensions. The first set of hypotheses thus supposes that the two technical attributes of SRI: ? H1a: A positive evaluation of financial quality of the SRI fund will impact customer satisfaction with the fund in a positive manner ? H1b: A positive evaluation of ESG quality of the SRI fund will impact customer satisfaction with the fund in a positive manner In addition to technical quality the functional quality attribute is of interest. In an SRI context this would entail how the service related to the SRI mutual fund is perceived by the consumer. The second set of hypotheses thus address functional attributes of SRI: the way the service is delivered. ? H2a: A positive evaluation of the SRI providers accessibility will have a positive effect on satisfaction with the SRI fund ? H2b: A positive evaluation of the SRI providers servicescape will have a positive effect on satisfaction with the SRI fund ? H2c: A positive evaluation of the SRI providers service personnel will have a positive effect on satisfaction with the SRI fund As both profit oriented and socially oriented investors choose SRI funds (e.g., Derwall, Koedijk, Ter Horst, 2011; Nilsson, 2009), it is likely that financial and ESG performance is of varying importance to different investors. Thus, investors that are more involved with environmental and social issues are likely to derive a larger part of the (dis)satisfaction with SRI from the evaluation of the funds ESG quality than investors with less involvement. ? H3: The higher the level of ESG involvement, the stronger the relationship between perception of ESG quality and satisfaction To test the hypotheses a survey was sent to 2,000 Swedish private SR-investors. A total of 369 questionnaires were returned which represented a response rate of 18.5%. A set of ANOVA analyses were run to examine the hypotheses. The results showed that both perceived financial and ESG quality proved to be significant predictors of customer satisfaction. Judging by the F values however it was clear that, of the two, perceived financial quality F(2, 360) = 38,81, p < .001 was more important for customer satisfaction than perceived ESG quality F(2, 360) = 3,79, p < .05. Regarding functional quality the results showed that accessibility F(2, 272) = 4.73, p < .01 had a significant impact on overall satisfaction with the SRI mutual fund. However, the results also indicated that neither evaluations of service personnel F(2, 272) = 2.45, p > .05, nor physical environment F(2, 272) = .95, p > .05 had a significant impact on overall customer satisfaction. Finally, interaction effects showed that ESG involvement did not have a statistically significant impact combined with ESG quality or financial performance. The most noteworthy result of our study is the statistically significant relationship between perceived ESG quality and satisfaction. After all, investing is very much a financial activity, and in neo-classical economics, financial return and risk is almost exclusively used to explain investment behavior (e.g., Rivoli, 2003). However, although the results of this study show that ESG quality impacts overall customer satisfaction, the results also highlight that ESG quality is not as important as financial performance of the SRI mutual fund. One interpretation of these results is that traditional attributes, such as financial return in parity with for example other mutual funds are perceived as hygiene attributes ? something that must be in place for satisfaction to occur ? while ESG attributes are perceived as additional value adding attributes. This combination of conventional buying criteria and environmental motivations has been called motive alliances (Belz, 2006) and has been proven in other contexts as well (e.g., Jansson, 2011). Without the conventional financial attributes reaching a high level of quality, customers are likely to be dissatisfied with the offering in its entirety, irrespective of how well the product or service delivers on ESG attributes. This area is in need of further research. In our current studies we focus on applying a longitudinal perspective on customer satisfaction and loyalty in order to understand how the quality attributes in the SRI sector have an impact over time while market conditions are changing

Author(s): Jonas Nilsson, Johan Jansson, Anna-Carin Nordvall
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