Archive for July, 2013

Costs of Inadequate MIS

2013-08-24 17.13.49It’s surprisingly common for firms to attempt to drive cost savings by defraying investment in management information systems (MIS). In short-term budget planning it makes sense, especially in recent year with increased scrutiny on expenses and rerouting of IT expenditure toward regulatory requirements. But this can’t be part of a longer term strategy. There are significant costs, some hidden and some explicit, that accumulate every year that investment in MIS is deferred. These costs should be factored into any technology investment decisions.

The lack of visibility and transparency that comes from lack of correct management information systems creates three different types of costs: explicit, hidden, and opportunity costs. I’ll talk about each one and provide some key examples.

Explicit Costs

You can quantify how much you are spending to plug your MIS hole. If taken in perpetuity, these costs will greatly outweigh any projected investment in new MIS.

– Increases in staff to cobble together and produce information and reports. Firms with inadequate systems will have armies of analysts often doing low-value work, often taking hours and manual manipulation. It’s a useful, and often shocking exercise to determine a “cost per report” metric.

– Higher risks of transaction errors driven from either inaccurate data that drove a bad decision or critical pieces of information missing not available (or hard to attain) at the point of transaction.

– Regulatory costs in the form of fines and contingencies due to non-compliance or breaches. Without systems to provide transparency in rules and limits at the point of a transaction or automatically flag breaches or potential breaches, firms can face massive penalties.

– Increasing costs of infrastructure decay. This is probably the cost that’s most ignored and misunderstood. Managers assume that no investment means no cost, which is wrong. It’s like owning an old, beat-up car – the cost to keep it running can be extraordinary. The main drivers of this cost are:

  • Increased staff and programmers to create band-aids/patches to fix tactical issues
  • Increased infrastructure costs maintain an antiquated platform with “band-aid sprawl”
  • Increased future cost to replace a complex patched infrastructure

Hidden Costs

Hidden costs will of course not show up on an income statement, but they are real and insidious. They can have a lasting negative impact on the performance, client relationships, and on the firm’s culture.

– Loss of staff productivity. It’s not the job of front-office professionals to hunt down data and they are often really bad at it. Any time they waste tracking down information is less time they are talking to clients, creating products, and enhancing their work. Also, there’s a huge risk that they use wrong information or inaccurately interpret it leading to confusion and wrong decisions.

– The frustration level from staff in firms with bad MIS can be high. People who feel they are not being as productive as they could be are usually not satisfied with their jobs. It makes it enticing to go to a competitor. Senior managers lose a lot of credibility from their staff, making it extremely difficult for them to execute on their strategies.

– Loss of credibility with clients, which is the death knell for a client-centric organization. Clients will see that not only is the firm not managing their own house well, they also won’t be able to fully understand their needs. Clients want to be engaged with the “right” conversation that helps them solve their problems and make money. The “right” conversation emanates from the right set of information.

Opportunity Costs

In our current information driven economy, having the right piece of information or insight at exactly the right time can be a huge competitive differentiator. Firms lacking in the right information systems and processes will constantly miss opportunities, principally:

– Opportunities driven from day-to-day information flow that can be missed, such as market, competitive, client or product data. Lack of timeliness to action will allow competitors to scoop up the opportunity.

– Cross-selling opportunities, which are completely dependent on good information flow, especially information flow across business units within a firm. These opportunities can represent the biggest upside to any organization.

Strategic Stagnation

The best way to think about inadequate MIS is as if an organization is gummed up by molasses. Information is not allowed to freely and quickly travel to where it is most needed. You end up with what I call “strategic stagnation” where, in spite of the most well-intentioned and detailed strategic plans, an organization without the proper information tools will not be able to efficiently execute and will stagnate.

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Strategic Trends for Global Asset Managers

2013-07-03 16.30.18In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, we have seen major shifts in trends influencing growth in the global asset management industry. Four key changes are significantly affecting strategic thinking in the industry:

  • A continuing movement towards bifurcation of vehicles that provide “alpha” and “beta” exposure to market returns. This isn’t by any means new news, but we feel that this is clearly understood by professional investors, but is not fully understood by most non-professional investors. The impetus to find value for fees paid will accelerate the demand for “beta” products further which will cause a sea-shift in assets. Interest in index funds and ETFs will increase even more than they have in recent years.[more…]
  • Increased volatility in the market coupled with increased difficulty in identifying uncorrelated returns will push many alternative strategies into the limelight. Expertise in global emerging and frontier markets, private equity, quant and derivatives-based strategies are becoming the core way of generating any portfolio’s “alpha”. The game is up for those managers that are trying to sell what is effectively beta as alpha.

  • A global macro context is becoming core to any portfolio strategy, including those that bill themselves as focusing on a very targeted market. Even some of the most basic fundamental domestic equity portfolios are now subject to impacts from global markets. It’s becoming less relevant to specialize in one country, region, asset class, or sector. Asset allocation is becoming a more important overlay, especially in understanding movements in correlation over time and ability to shift strategy as correlations shift. Because of massive US corporate investment in China, for instance, many funds that bill themselves as US equity-centric may actually have huge China exposure and need to be managed as such.

  • It’s becoming much more imperative to be able to clearly communicate a firm’s expertise and points of differentiation. The days of asset managers being abstract or vague about their investment philosophies are quickly coming to an end. Many hedge funds and other specialized firms will gain favor because they provide unique value propositions that are not currently offered in the marketplace. What will be critical for their success, though, is the creation of a strong, recognized brand and clear messaging about their differentiation. Additionally, they will need to develop a highly efficient sales organization that can carry that message to investors. As successful as some investment strategies are, the ability to clearly (and sometimes simply) articulate why these strategies are worth investing in is just as important. This is no small effort and should be a core part of the business strategy.

We feel that there is still significant “life” to the traditional fundamental asset management model, mostly because of the huge asset pools that sit in those strategies today and the inertia built into these. But we think that this will shift very soon and very rapidly as competition accelerates and the industry continues to consolidate and chase limited opportunities. The firms that prepare for these shift will be the ones to thrive.

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