Connecting with clients has always been a core tenet of SS&C Advent’s business. And in the era of social distancing and travel restrictions, we’ve gone the extra mile to maintain those valuable connections. Since an in-person client conference was out of the question, we decided to do it virtually. In October, we hosted our all-digital SS&C Advent Engage 2020 conference, and we were thrilled to have nearly 800 attendees log in. Over two days, we conducted some 25 sessions covering industry trends, product roadmaps, demos, training and more.
One of the highlights was a conversation between Co-General Manager Karen Geiger and three C-level executives from client firms: Mike Fastert, COO and Chief Legal Officer with TIG Advisors, a $6 billion, New York-based multi-strategy investment manager; Jake Schutt, Principal and CTO with Parallel Advisors, a wealth management firm based in San Francisco with $3.5 billion AUM; and Niraj (Raj) Shah, COO of Kennedy Capital Management, an asset manager in St. Louis with $4.2 billion in assets.
Topic A, of course, was how these firms have weathered the stay-at-home mandates and their thoughts about returning to their offices. Kennedy Capital has allowed people to return to the office if they are comfortable, Shah said, while observing all the certification requirements such as PPE for all employees. “Those are table stakes,” as he put it. The firm values in-person collaboration, especially among investment teams, but recognizes that certain operational jobs can be performed from home. Fastert agreed that togetherness is essential to building a culture, and expressed concern for younger employees who are shut off from opportunities to learn from their colleagues. He added, however, that firms have to be mindful of their employees’ risk tolerances and watch their legal liability. “We’re in uncharted territory,” he said.
Firms have had to get creative to sustain collaboration, leveraging technology where possible. Parallel is using Chatter, for instance, to convene regular internal forums as well as “water cooler” conversations. Staffers have also met out in the open at a park, with appropriate distancing. From a technology perspective, Schutt pointed out that the firm was “built from scratch for remote work,” and that has paid off during this period. (Parallel’s tech stack includes the cloud-based Black Diamond platform.)
Geiger noted that the trend toward technology and operational outsourcing has accelerated during the pandemic. Fastert agreed, noting that more hedge funds are sending out “rote” work such as overnight reconciliation so in-house staff can focus on break resolution in the morning. The ability to accommodate a remote workforce and reduce the need for office space can potentially free up overhead that can be invested back into running a more efficient business.
Parallel outsources all its technology. “We don’t want to be in the business of building technology,” Schutt said. “It has to be in the cloud, scalable and secure. We partner with companies that are moving in that direction, and if we can influence their roadmap to our benefit, that makes us more confident in the decisions we make for the long term.”
Cybersecurity has been a top-of-mind in the work-from-home environment. For TIG, phishing attacks in the early days of COVID were the “big alarm bell,” Fastert said, which the firm addressed through continuous, intensive employee training. Mobile and endpoint device management became a greater concern as well. Having a vigilant system administrator and making sure employees adhered to the same policies as they followed in the office helped everyone sleep easier at night, he said.
So how do firms think about growth in times like these? In the hedge fund arena, Fastert noted, new vehicles that take advantage of assets depressed by the pandemic are attracting capital. Marketing to institutions, however, is a lengthy process that has only gotten longer under the public health restrictions. Some public pension funds, for example, are required to do on-site operational due diligence, and managers have to figure out how to satisfy that.
In wealth management, said Schutt, the key is continuing to do right by clients, and referrals will follow. Parallel is trying out online marketing tools while extending a “digital environment” to existing clients. “This is when we earn our fees,” he said, by engaging clients more fully about their portfolios and plans. “That is the best marketing tool.”
On the whole, the panelists agreed that the industry was holding up well in the face of the challenges wrought by the pandemic. “As an industry, we’ve done a pretty good job,” said Fastert. “That includes vendors and partners, too. We can all be proud.”
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