Digital Transformation in Asset Management: Taking the Long View

Let me share an unusual story. A great uncle was a renowned locksmith. He was once invited over from Glasgow to unlock an exquisite medieval chest found in the attic of a French chateaux. The lock of this chest was an amazing piece of work and the chest clearly contained something. My uncle succeeded in picking the lock. On opening the chest, he found it empty, apart from its key and a note reading, in old French, “Sir, you are a better man than I”.

Our antecedents always communicate with us, always inform us in our professional endeavours, although rarely as directly as in this example. Our colleagues inform our activities through their own skills and knowledge. Nothing in our professional activities is “an island, entire unto itself”.

Yet, there seems a current pretence that Digital is somehow a binary thing, The call is to, “Switch off the old, switch on the new!“, it is somehow either one or the other. I understand the implementation pressures behind this, but challenge it to be the best route towards success.

Emanuel Leutze, Metropolitan Museum, NYC, NY

Too often, Digital seems to become a fetish idol, which, like the alien in Ridley Scott’s film, should explode out of its host, whatever the damage, and take over. This surely needs some balancing?

Is this the best way to achieve greater operational efficiency? The best way of increasing AUM? The best way to achieve the goals of MIFID 2. Is it even the entirety of your client communication and reporting requirements?

I strongly doubt it. Digital is a component of all these things and like all components it needs to be systematically integrated into established, and proven, operating models to work properly. Digital should not be in battle with an organisation’s existing operations and delivery teams, it should be integrated with them.

Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz

Currently, it is like a comic strip dust ball fight. Snoopy (COO) looking on and assessing, both Charlie Brown (operations) and Lucy (digital) have valid points, but fight on. Time for common sense in our digital revolution.

Common Sense as the rallying cry for a revolution? Well, Americans will recognise it as such. Tom Paine's pamphlet, Common Sense was a foundation from which the American Revolutionary War grew. There is good precedence for such a call.

So, stand back, take the long view. Do not seek compromise. Do not just wait for one side to overpower the other. Analyse. Take the best from each side to create something new and more powerful. That is true revolutionary power, that is what the awesome power of America grew from.

I know this current situation is exacerbated by the established client reporting system vendors trying to adapt to Digital as an afterthought. I would hate to be a software engineer in any one of them right now. Management say, “Clients are now prioritizing Digital... You have built a great locomotive, now make it fly at supersonic speeds as well”. It is a deep challenge to completely reengineer well established software from the core out. Massively more so than enhancing processes within an operating model.

This does make it more difficult for asset managers to respond to change. But, these vendors’ failure in strategic forethought is simply a result of a necessary data centric focus within Asset Management. Business models have become geared and tuned to processing data, and have become very good at that. Client reporting vendors have aligned and entrenched to this narrow purpose. But, digital is not about data, it is about contextualised content. They are not the same, Themes this article, Did the Earth moved for you... and Digital discusses in more depth.

So, stand back. What is the fundamental goal? As a service industry it is simple:

To consistently provide the right and compliant information when, where and how it is asked for.

Now, build from that. It's what we did with iPlus.

This is where integration begins. Ask, “How does our existing operating model succeed in this goal?”, “How does our digital strategy align with this?” and “How do we integrate the two and make both better?”.

Calm the battling dust clouds. Allow the established and proven to inform and enhance the new. Engage with your antecedents, their aims and ambitions were the same as yours are. Good and informed minds have worked on this before you, let them help you. Recognise the value that comes from them saying contentedly to you, “You are better than I”.

The operational risk and cost of multiple and competing operating models are unnecessary. The past is not a roadblock, it is a chest of treasure to enrich the new.

Integrated Publishing Solution's iPlus solution is the cornerstone for organisations serious about building a digital strategy that will work today, tomorrow and long into the future. Read this success story to learn how a global asset manager enhanced sales productivity, transitioned distribution to digital channels and reduced operating costs.

We bring you a series of blog posts and case studies by our team:

Graham Duncan, CEO and Founder of Integrated Publishing Solutions, has significant practical experience in providing successful integrated digital solutions to the Asset Management industry, from the world's first online portfolio valuation portal for Killik & Co, in the 1990's, through to the current global deployments of iPlus 3.

Dr Peter Ellis brings a deep understanding of the Asset Management industry. Managing Director at Deutsche Asset Management and, subsequently, Investit. Chief Operating Officer and Strategic Advisor to BISAM. Peter brings a remarkable depth of knowledge to the Integrated Publishing Solutions team.

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