Can the Funds Sector Learn a Few Lessons from Skype?

Complexity often means risk, mess and can easily spell disaster. The fund sector for example, is one that requires constant thinking, innovating and success management; and it’s not always so easy, especially with a myriad of tasks and operations to see to internally. Below Lauri Paal, who used to work with Skype, Microsoft, and is […]

Complexity often means risk, mess and can easily spell disaster. The fund sector for example, is one that requires constant thinking, innovating and success management; and it’s not always so easy, especially with a myriad of tasks and operations to see to internally. Below Lauri Paal, who used to work with Skype, Microsoft, and is now the Chief Product Officer at KNEIP, discusses with Finance Monthly some things the funds industry could learn from the telecommunications industry, from consumer behaviour to outsourcing and standardization.

Telecommunications has changed significantly in the last ten years. The regulation, technology and approach have all been reviewed and the industry has seen obvious moves. For example, voice to data as well as communications switching to apps. Moving into financial services, I have witnessed complex regulation and, like in the telecommunications sector, this is constantly changing and creating new challenges. However, our approach and business practices have not changed.

From the outside it is easy to think that the reason the telecommunications industry changed is because of the rise of 3G and eventually 4G technology. But the truth is that change is driven by consumer behaviour and I like to believe Skype played a part in how people consume technology today. Skype’s approach to voice services radically changed the market as we focused on lower cost and high quality international calls. To guarantee this standard, in traditional telecoms networks, operators needs to connect to hundreds of networks globally. Quantitative measures are used to monitor performance. At Skype we defined quality of service as a core value. We created a live feedback feature which is used after every call and we built an algorithm which allowed business allocation based on customer feedback. We drove this innovation.

Non-core activities were outsourced to specialist organisations. We did not build local infrastructure as many telecommunications agencies have in the past, we outsourced to partner management operations, including pricing and invoice management. The results were positive for everyone with each industries’ players focusing on their specialist industry, ultimately providing the customer with a better experience.

Now, in the financial services industry, I think there are a number of lessons that we can take from the disruptive approach in telecommunications and change the way our sector operates. Too much of our industry is still reliant on manual operations and systems are not streamlined to free up professionals to work on their area of specialism rather than on back office functions. Just as voice has become a secondary asset to data in telecommunications, so to traditional investment – especially assets under active management – is facing an optimisation drive. We need to find solutions that automate compliance processes, giving better focus to core activities.

I think the industry needs to push for standardised back office functions and compliance process. We have spent months preparing for PRIIPS and MIFID II but this needs to pay off for the end user. These complex regulations have focused on transparency but that is only beneficial if it uncovers inefficient historical processes, and force companies to adapt and innovate, ultimately becoming more effective. The industry, jointly with the regulators, should focus on understanding and enabling technology trends. Markets tend to be self-regulating, driven by customer demand. Perhaps keeping the end customer (or investor) in the centre of the process and making sure initial objectives were met post implementation will ensure processes are improved.

Asset managers currently tend to build a lot of solutions internally. The industry should rather take a step back to determine which tasks are core, such as product manufacture and investment management, and which tasks can be considered as non-core. Doing so could lead to greater business efficiencies and could, given time, lead to a more standardized industry, as we all witnessed in the communications industry.

However, I think the biggest lesson we can learn from the communications industry is the need to put customers in control. We are seeing trends towards younger investors demanding more knowledge of and access to their investment choices. We need to look at systems that allow the end user to understand and put them in control, whether they are an asset manager or an individual. If we can simplify processes, then their needs will define the future of the industry. Customers will decide and putting them in control needs to be our mission regardless of the industry.

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