Front-to-back under lockdown – a tale of deployment

It’s no secret that active asset managers are on the back foot and have been for some time now. The shift to passive investing and increased regulatory pressures have compressed margins to the extent that actives are seeking defensive positions.

Here we find two main options prevailing in the market. The first of these is large scale mergers (like Janus and Henderson) that give firms sufficient scale to compete on a different level. The other option is to look at operations for costs savings. In respect of the latter, there is a rising tide of firms deploying full front-to-back enterprise solutions. But how practical is such a mammoth task under lockdown conditions?

We recently completed an enterprise deployment for a major global asset management firm. The project preceded and continued beyond all three lockdowns, a difficult period for clients and consultants/vendors alike.

One question we often heard during the summer concerned how we would get this new system live by remote means. The expectation was that the working situation would have a major, if not devastating, impact on timelines. The fact that lockdown had no bearing on the project whatsoever has, for us, dispelled some of the long-held myths in asset management concerning system migration in general and enterprise deployments in particular.

Of course, one could attribute some of the success to the technology involved: a cloud-hosted platform supported by staff located all over Europe (or even the world, to an extent). The fact remains, though, that the predominantly face-to-face interaction that clients have (quite justifiably) always expected in executing such a project have not been required.

A common question we faced was: ‘How can you go live without floorwalking?’ The truth we all discovered is that floorwalking isn’t essential; you can provide very efficient support through remote means. The firm utilised the support and workflow management tools they already possessed to great effect.

We have also seen productivity increase among client teams as they have adapted to a different way of working, with front, middle and back office staff more engaged than we have witnessed in many an office environment.

The client has also made a significant saving on their travel budget, avoiding the need to fly in staff from all over Europe on a weekly basis. With no flights and accommodation, administration costs were also reduced.

The conclusion we have drawn is that the issues that the client (and we, at least initially) were concerned about deploying remotely did not materialise and there were even some significant benefits.

When we eventually emerge from the current environment, what will we reflect on as being the key takeaways from this project? Three learnings stand out on this particular deployment as being pivotal to success.

The first is the need for a solid project structure. Governance is obviously important, but the actual working model proved to be critical in that as soon as we were on lockdown, everybody knew who they needed to communicate with, what meetings had to go in the diary and what tasks had to be completed by when.

The second point is the importance of high-level sponsorship. We had the backing of a hands-on CEO on this project and this patronage was key.

The final learning is that from a technology and implementation perspective, remote deployment demands a more iterative methodology. This project had originally been conceptualised as a ‘big bang’ migration. Our response to COVID-19 was to break up the delivery, essentially repeating the process in order to generate the desired outcome.

The end result was actually a faster, more successful deployment.