7 Essential Qualities For Modern Fund Operations Leaders

Jun 8, 2020

​It’s no secret, the way private funds share data is changing, rapidly and dramatically. A lot rides on data operations decisions that appear more complex than ever.

Deftly navigating the new landscape would seem to command a unique array of skills. There are certain characteristics the private fund leaders who are defining the future share.

Welcoming transparency

The leader understands digital transformation is bringing unprecedented transparency to the funds market. He believes his fund has an edge competing out in the digital open, based on the merits of their performance. Neuberger Berman’s visionary CEO, George Herbert Walker, demonstrates his grasp of this when he points out that just as consumers are leveraging technology to shop for value, investors are applying the same dynamic to fees. The question is when do you accept this and ask what does your business need to do in this new world?

Championing value and edge

The executive knows that to win in this transparent world, she needs to demonstrate value that connects with the market. That means advocating for competitive advantages like data insights pulled from operations, better customer service at scale – tested through exposure to competition. This dynamic is underway in other complex industries, like insurance. Caribou Honig of InsureTech Connect writes when a firm exposes their areas of excellence to scrutiny, including by the competition, the firm actually learns and benefits.

Practicing diplomacy

For the moment, data operations is hardly the only playing field that matters. Legacy systems generate and handle the bulk of the business for funds, and they are suddenly finding themselves competing with digital challengers. While many legacy professionals are already capitalizing on digital to better serve their investors, others have yet to seize the opportunity, and some are resisting change. There are likely many inside your organization. An effective data operations leader can serve as an emissary, partnering with an experienced integrator or change management specialist, persuading the holdouts to embrace new technology and helping them learn how doing so can improve their performance.

Excelling at change management

The funds industry is changing broadly, but some of the fastest, most impactful change is occurring in middle and back office despite those areas being back from the frontline. Leaders presiding over the middle and back office, however, have visibility that can benefit the whole organization. A great leader communicates to her company what the new playing field looks like, and champions the change that needs to happen to compete effectively. Most of all, she delivers the message that shunning change doesn’t work, especially when change is becoming easier with new platforms. That’s the crucial bit, change doesn’t have to be scary, it can be empowering when it’s laid out in a digestible process with good partners.

Finding tech innovation exciting (no really)

At first this appears to go without saying. But the truth is many in the funds space are quietly uneasy about how data technology changes businesses. Rather than being overwhelmed or intimidated, successful executives view technology as an opportunity to build a better future for the fund and their stakeholders. Part of how she stays focused is in how she organizes, how she stays up to date without succumbing to information overload. Developing a trusted network of peers through which you can exchange bits of news and identifying resources to curate what’s important is key. You can’t read everything all the time.

Unusually comfortable with quantitative tools

The best fintech partners have great tools and can provide useful data to carriers. The strategic data operations executive must be able to extract actionable analytics to make insightful product and operations decisions. A leader who can thoroughly grasp data and use it to guide strategy can ensure that funds fulfill strong market needs and attract the right investors.

Knowing how to win a comparison shopping contest

Some funds believe that as data aggregation becomes more prevalent, it could commoditize our industry further. Going back to the earlier point on exposing your business to competition, the strong data operations leader understands how to compete and win based on value and service, rather than price alone. The goal should be to master the advent of aggregation — and use it to sell great fund performance — before data transparency masters you and pressures your margins.

At the moment, it may not seem easy to shepherd middle and back offices into a new digital era, but for those who embrace it, it’s not as daunting as it seems. We’ve seen that those who embody these ideas and qualities not only excel, but have the potential to become the industry’s new clear leaders.

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