FOUR QUESTIONS – Adam Davis of Reformis on Navigating The Politics Of Private Fund Data Operations
In this installment in our series of Q&As with leaders in the fund and fund services industry, Reformis Global Data Practice Lead Adam Davis discusses the office politics of change management. Reformis is a business and technical consultancy for investment managers and allocators with a focus on strategic advisory, software implementation and change management.
Harmonate – We know fund managers are looking more closely at data and technology these days. Can you explain the shift and tell us how should funds respond?
Adam – Financial leaders may not say it during interviews with the financial press, but they are deeply concerned about the pace of technological change in sectors ranging from consumer banking to wealth management.
A few years ago, a PWC survey found that more than 70 percent of financial services CEOs were concerned about the speed of technological change. Nearly a quarter believed their business faced disruption. That’s why innovators like Harmonate CEO Kevin Walkup, have argued the financial services are “headed for a period of radical required transparency” because clients have access to other investing options and information online.
Uncertainty among execs presents a need for concrete solutions and a strategic plan. Most executives at financial firms already realize that big data is a business imperative, but don’t necessarily know what that means operationally. That’s where tech-savvy and future-oriented members of their teams need to step forward – fast. It’s time for funds to truly start managing data as an asset.
Harmonate – How do those tech-savvy team members convince the C-suite to devote resources to building a future for their data?
Adam – Just like architects settle on a blueprint before construction begins, fund managers need to agree on their goals before building the proverbial foundation to optimize data management and build a data-mature investment firm.
Whereas many firms currently have data stored and managed in different departments with limited ability to share information across the organization, forward-thinking funds are trying to consolidate data in a central depository where every team member can access it. Consolidation streamlines information sharing and avoids the redundant work of cleaning and compiling data.
Most data-mature firms also have a centralized data management team, or data stewards, throughout their organizations. These team members understand the data on a very deep level, allowing them to check for quality and redundancy across departments and troubleshoot or train others should special needs or problems arise.
Once executives can envision the house, they’re more prepared to dig the foundation.
Harmonate – Let’s say the C-suite is receptive. Where should the change management process start?
Adam – Present concrete proposals. Look at your organization for specific places where a data-centered approach can solve problems or create efficiencies. Move the conversation about data from abstractions to actionable items.
Assess examples of where existing systems broke down — clients complaining about delays in reporting or a regulatory hiccup caused by faulty data — and show how more effective data management would fix it.
What tasks are high-value accountants performing that could be automated? What tasks are being performed by multiple departments because data isn’t being shared? What jobs and tasks can machine learning perform better than humans, allowing humans to focus on higher-value work?
Companies will eventually need to take a more holistic inventory of their data requirements. But identifying specific pain points provides a good starting place.
Harmonate – For firms just starting their data journey, it could take years to integrate centralized data systems and retrain or hire personnel to run their data operations at enterprise scale. How do you make sure data remains a business priority over time? Are their pitfalls to avoid?
Adam – Celebrate milestones along the way to track progress. Report back to the board on how much accuracy has improved, how many hours have been saved, and how client satisfaction has gone up.
Also, let CEOs and COOs use the technology. Let them see how much easier they can realize their goals if they manage data properly in easy-to-use interfaces.
As for pitfalls, remember that it’s a mistake to approach data as an IT issue. It must be a business priority. This means members of the business and operations teams should be making the case for increased investment in data systems.
Bad data management can damage client relationships, mislead your own analysts and cause regulatory compliance headaches. It’s true that the exponential increase in incoming data in the future will entail new costs. But the alternative is unacceptable.
If firms don’t start building systems that can digest and disseminate lessons from the increasingly large volume of information available for analysis, they’ll face more than a tech problem. Within a few years, their inaction could cause their entire operations to fail. Now is the time to for them to see the light.