[The Institute for Innovation Development recently talked with David Halligan, Director of Sales and Account Management of SalesFocus Solutions - a FinTech company that focuses on sales analytics and reporting solutions for asset management firms. Their MARS Product Suite was designed to transform data from asset managers into actionable business insights to identify new sales opportunities, obtain product-targeted marketing leads, and facilitate asset growth. We asked David to share with us his thoughts on the FinTech-Asset Management working relationship and how it can become a long-term strategic partnership.]
Hortz: How is your perspective as a FinTech company and as technologists helpful in addressing financial service industry problems?
Halligan: Financial service and asset management firms have grown from internal legacy technologies to trying to manage and upgrade their various business technologies through their own IT group. The issue this presents is that they have an IT infrastructure that has grown into supporting business solutions for which they do not have the cutting-edge expertise they may need.
These firms need to leverage their resources by actively working with FinTech experts to creatively apply the newest IT solutions available or design new technology solutions for their business. Having an outside perspective on their business challenges combined with cutting-edge technology expertise, FinTech companies can help isolate the key problems to focus on, create new tech solutions to address them, and provide ongoing expertise to continually develop those solutions, as well as create others as the business evolves. This makes us a great potential partner to propel ongoing growth and efficiency for asset management companies.
Hortz: What do you see as a major problem for asset managers that could be solved by financial technology solutions?
Halligan: “Big Data” has been a common catchphrase and buzzword for several years, but Big Data is not a solution. The ability to manage and draw direct insights from the growing amount of data asset management firms have, and using it to their benefit, is the solution. Turning Big Data into actionable intelligence is one the biggest challenges facing asset management firms today - especially when they try to accomplish this with only internal resources and legacy systems.
Hortz: Tell us about some of the proprietary software and other technology tools/services you have developed for your clients.
Halligan: Almost 20 years ago, we developed an asset management-specific CRM that brought in sales and asset data from a handful of sources. Today, that system, referred to as MARS (Marketing and Reporting Sales), has evolved into a Distribution Intelligence Platform. It has evolved to accommodate sales and asset files for all asset management products as well as integrate with third-party data sources such as Market Share data packs. 10 years ago, we added a Data Stewardship service because we realized there were economies of scale and it would be less expensive and more efficient for our clients to leverage our team of experts for this service. Today, that added service is standard for all clients.
Along with the MARS platform, we offer a proprietary mobile app built for iOS devices. This is typically used by the external sales team, providing them with timely and accurate Sales Distribution and CRM-related data. We have clients that continue using our CRM, but we also offer integrations with other CRMs such as Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) and MS Dynamics (NASDAQ:MSFT).
Leveraging our expertise, oftentimes we can reduce costs for our clients by eliminating the need to hire expensive consultants or integrators, since we can do this work for them. Most recently, we have launched a registered rep database of over 750,000 CRDs that is maintained by our Data Stewardship group and provides real-time updates for our clients while managing changes across firms, offices, and advisors in their MARS environment. We have enhanced the MARS platform and built our own analytics and visualization suite so our clients need not hire a third-party vendor for business intelligence.
Hortz: How, specifically, did you go about building the right technology to solve client problems?
Halligan: First and foremost, we listen to our clients, and next, closely follow industry trends. The current MARS platform and its related services are the result of a collaboration of feedback from our clients and changes in the asset management industry. Where we didn’t have expertise, we hired the right resources. For example, when we built our bi-directional, real-time Salesforce.com synchronization package, we hired Salesforce.com developers.
We also look to partner with leading technological firms to enhance our offering. We have current partnerships with leaders in the technology space Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (GOOG, GOOGL), Microsoft, MicroStrategy (NASDAQ:MSTR), Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), Salesforce.com, and Sungard.
Early on in the mobile space, we saw a need for external sales teams to have information readily available to them in the field. Our first foray into the mobile space was on a Palm device, then the BlackBerry, and now iOS devices. We evolved our solutions with our clients. When the trend began for firms to adopt enterprise CRM solutions, rather than business-specific ones, we changed our model to integrate with other CRMs so our clients could continue to leverage the core reporting and data analysis engine of MARS.
Hortz: Why do you feel it so important for financial services firms and FinTech companies to build strong strategic partnerships versus having a typical client/vendor relationship?
Halligan: Partnerships are two-way relationships that endure over time if they learn how to work collaboratively. That makes them strategic partnerships. Our primary focus is to ensure we understand our clients' business needs. Even though our sole focus is on the asset management and insurance industries, we realize each of our clients may have different operating models. That is why we do not provide a confined, restrictive solution. We work with each client to ensure that MARS is set up to satisfy their specific needs.
If financial services firms and FinTech companies don’t have this tight-knit partnership in place, the financial services firm will, at some point, encounter a challenge with their vendor that may not be able to be solved, thus dissolving the relationship. In the partnership model, both sides listen to each other, and the FinTech company can develop multiple solutions for the financial services firm to choose from, rather than restricting them to a one-size-fits-all solution.
Hortz: Can you give us some examples as to how the two sides of the relationship can evolve and grow together?
Halligan: Most recently, we engaged with one of the largest ETF providers in the US to modify MARS to provide reporting using disparate ETF data sources. Our contacts at the firm were familiar with MARS from past experience at other firms and knew SalesFocus Solutions to be a FinTech firm that was more than agile and flexible enough to meet the needs of their business. This firm was managing all this data in a playbook, which was actually a large spreadsheet, and this was the source of information provided to their wholesalers. Today, they have this information and more at their fingertips using our IntelliMARS mobile app. This firm created a business intelligence group that did not exist before, and MARS was the FinTech solution they chose for this unit to use.
Another example would be one of our clients that partnered with us to create our Unify Registered Rep database. This client looked at other vendors in this space, but didn’t want to hire another firm. We provided them with a framework of what they were looking for and built our Unify database in conjunction with their inputs and requirements. Once we successfully launched it for this client, we were able to bring it to market for all clients.
Hortz: What best advice do you want to share with asset management firms about the need to reach out and partner with FinTech firms such as yours?
Halligan: When looking for a solution to a current business need or challenge, try not to focus on the short-term effort and the change required to put something new in place. Focus on the long-term benefits of having a true expert perform these vital functions. Most importantly, when looking at the cost and expenditure to bring in a FinTech solution, make sure you also evaluate the current expense savings such as internal resources freed up to do more strategic work. FinTech solutions can be a significant component in the growth and success for all asset management firms.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.