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November 18, 2020 | News

Top ops leaders share how Covid-19 has shaped digital strategies

Key takeaways on digital transformation from execs at Enfusion, SSGA, DWS and Fiducia Optime

as published in Fund Intelligence / November 17, 2020

Many asset managers have had to overhaul their digital strategies this year as the coronavirus pandemic has worn on, and more effective use of data has become a must-have.

Successfully operating in a remote or hybrid environment in the future will require more agility and integration of data practices firm-wide, leading executives from DWS Group, Enfusion, State Street Global Advisors and Fiducia Optime shared on a Fund Intelligence panel earlier this month.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion.

Rethinking adaptability amid pandemic disruption

For many firms, the Covid-19 crisis was the first true test of operating in entirely remote conditions. Kristina Theiss , COO, client coverage Americas and global head of client data management at DWS Group, said that tech upgrades became a necessity at the pandemic’s onset to keep the workforce connected.

She said that many of the adaptations made are likely to remain essential to acquiring and maintaining business in the long-term.

For her firm specifically, budgets that would have otherwise been allocated toward travel and entertainment were able to be reallocated toward tech and other digital vendors as DWS sought better connectivity with its clientele.

Frank Glock, head of EMEA sales at Enfusion, said there has been an increased interest in platform-based solutions as a by-product of the pandemic’s second wave. While there may be benefits to decreasing margin pressure by reducing the real estate footprint of a firm, he argued the industry has overestimated how well its front office has coped with the pandemic.

The technical transformation – which is difficult in its own right – is compounded by the human transformation and the job skills transformation that everybody has to go through to leverage the new ways of doing business.

Jet Lali, Chief digital officer at SSGA

“If you look at the alpha generators – PMs, traders, analysts – actually this has stifled community culture and importantly creativity,” Glock said.

Beyond a change in the way employees and clients communicate, Covid-19 has also materially changed the sales process. Jet Lali, chief digital officer at SSGA, said salespeople are having to engage with new techniques – such as social selling – to attract and retain partnerships.

“The technical transformation – which is difficult in its own right – is compounded by the human transformation and the job skills transformation that everybody has to go through to leverage the new ways of doing business,” he said.

He added that digital transformation has resulted in the standardization of business conduct for global operators, versus the more localized sleeves they operated in previously.

However, Ori Porat , founder of Fiducia Optime, which sources and manages vendor relationships for asset managers, said that despite the new reality many of his clients remain on the two- to five-year roadmaps they had previously sketched out.

He said that the virtual working environment has made it easier for companies to be agile, however, as layers of decision making have been stripped out.

“Fewer people are involved at fewer points and it’s more those who are directly relevant to a project,” Porat said.

Effective data, effective sales

Data management and sales success are more synonymous than before as harnessing information has become crucial to surviving in a remote-oriented environment.

Glock said confidence in the usage of any new system is crucial for asset managers, for which keeping data sets orderly is key. Maintaining clean and comprehensive data in one aggregated home ensures the platform can coexist with other proprietary systems and services a firm offers, he explained. That includes attention to detail on points such as the time zone different pieces of data have been stamped with.

At SSGA, Lali said his team parses 10 million data points per month that it can be difficult to meaningfully use all of it. The data ultimately becomes more valuable when it can be disseminated across the entire organization and internally generated sales data, marketing data, operations data and finance data can be combined with third-party sources.

“You have to design it in such a way that makes vast amounts of data easy to comprehend,” Lali said.

“Data isn’t just for sales anymore; it really is for the entire organization,” Theiss added. “When you have good data, and it’s connected, you can be predictive and prescriptive to drive sales.”

She added that the hurdles to attaining that firm-wide integration are substantial, however, and to be successful firms need to break their roadmap down into a series of small potential wins. That, in turn, will help justify to leadership teams the value in continuing to invest, as they will be able to see measurable returns on their investment as the project runs.

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