Companies are increasingly looking to their IT departments to reduce costs, manage risk and contribute to overarching strategic vision
In 2013, market research firm Gartner declared “every company is a technology company,” and it didn’t take long for the pronouncement to become a mantra for the corporate world.
Or, most of the corporate world. For many investment professionals, the shift to digital has been seen as an unwelcome disruption rather than an opportunity. In 2017, McKinsey & Company surveyed North American asset managers and found only a handful were creating more value for clients through investments in technology and automation. But, importantly, it found that those who did reported stronger financial performance and lower operating costs.
That doesn’t surprise Gene Fernandez, Chief Technology & Product Officer (CTPO) at FactSet, a global provider of integrated financial information, analytical applications, and flexible software solutions for investment professionals.
“It’s been a really eventful few years in this space,” he says, “and the pace of change is getting faster.” According to Mr. Fernandez, investment professionals still on the fence about embracing emerging technology should do so sooner rather than later. “Those that do will really be the ones to disrupt their competitors and stand apart.”
With that in mind, here are a few of the most important ways finance professionals can start putting technology to work for themselves, and their clients.
Don’t be afraid of the cloud
“Even three or four years ago, you saw a lot of people in financial services skeptical about the cloud, concerned about regulatory and security implications,” says Mr. Fernandez. “Fast-forward to now, and very few people on the buy-side don’t have a cloud strategy.” He largely chalks that up to one thing: flexibility when it comes to cost, storage and location.
“Before public clouds, everyone had their own data centre, and had to manage costs and maintenance and everything else,” says Mr. Fernandez. Now, public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services provide solutions that can grow or shrink based on workload.
Mr. Fernandez points to FactSet Data Exploration, a cloud-based evaluation and analytics environment hosted by Microsoft’s Azure cloud environment. It allows users to combine FactSet’s proprietary datasets, clients’ in-house data and third-party unstructured data with powerful visualization and analytics tools.
It’s important for investment companies and professionals to tailor cloud strategies to their own needs, says Mr. Fernandez, but all can benefit from greater flexibility and freedom.
Make use of APIs
Application Program Interfaces (APIs) allow easy integration of multiple data sources. Think of it like a factory—when you want to retool the production line, you don’t want to rebuild the whole factory. Likewise, APIs allow buy-side professionals to retain legacy platforms while plugging in new datasets, allowing endless flexibility.
This has become a key priority for FactSet, which offers full-stack solutions for clients, but has increasingly focused on what Mr. Fernandez calls “an open paradigm”—a data marketplace in which third-parties and other content sources are integrated into FactSet’s offerings.
“Clients can buy pieces of what we offer and neatly embed that into their existing workflow,” he says, “or they can just buy data from us. We have APIs, where they can get data when and where they need it, or access our calculation engines to fuel their existing workflows.”
Leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning
More information means more analysis, which is where AI and machine learning come in—combing through unstructured data to find patterns and correlations, and improve predictive analytics.
Fortunately, the cost of AI solutions has fallen dramatically. Last year, FactSet partnered with DataRobot—an industry-leading enterprise AI platform—to create DataRobot on FactSet, an automated machine-learning tool which helps even novices incorporate AI into their processes.
“It’s really the ability to process vast amounts of data in almost real time,” says Mr. Fernandez. “Imagine you see a natural disaster in Asia, and can correlate that instantly to the supply chain of the companies you care about, or uncover risks for a particular portfolio.”
Importantly, that information is available anywhere, anytime, as is the case with all data and solutions from FactSet. FactSet’s browser-based client portals bring information to users wherever they are. That’s been a boon during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many clients lost access to workplace setups but could still access the information they needed remotely.
“That’s a key example of the importance of flexible technology,” says Mr. Fernandez. “And why now is the time to embrace it—you never know what tomorrow will bring.”
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