Investment managers are struggling to keep up with the requests for customized client reports due to increase in workload this creates on a monthly and quarterly basis.
Customization then leads to cost increases, thus causing frustration in the current environment of cost cutting and rationalization. To mitigate the impact of costs, managers are definitely better off if they implement a framework to create scale around customization, rather than throwing bodies at the problem.
Taking the right approach to automation leads to better outcomes, and investment management should take lessons from the automotive industry here. When you buy a car, you choose from a vast array of options to personalize the vehicle and make it yours. While the buyer is given choices to make the vehicle their own, in reality nothing is custom, everything is engineered and tested to roll off the production line.
When it comes to client reporting, they are the edge cases, the requests that are not part of the standard, that become the issue. The classic example is the creation of customized Excel files for a specific institutional client. In this scenario, customization can run to the very foundations, even down to accommodating certain formatting rules. To add to this complexity, in most organizations these report templates have been hard coded (using literal code), to handle all the required business rules. As a result, business users on the front line are unable to make changes. Thus customized reports become one of a hundred different bespoke activities undertaken each reporting cycle, leading to legacy processes and organizational debt that becomes be a constant drain on internal resource.
So what should investment managers be doing to counter these issues?
- Choose a consumer grade reporting tool:
Your reporting teams need the right tools to make reports. If the tool you currently use requires developers, or your team has to learn coding skills, then you have the wrong tool. Your teams should be able to make changes to templates as easily as they update manually curated reports.
- Accommodate all output types:
You need to use a tool that supports the integration of data across all the common business output types: PowerPoint, Word, Excel and PDF. It’s not sufficient to have a solution for automating a PowerPoint document whilst having no capability to create an Excel report.
- Treat your reports like a product:
Most customizations of reports are variations of a theme. Perhaps a client has asked to see the top 20 sectors instead of the top 10, or that the extra sectors are rolled up. It helps to treat these like features in a product. In a good reporting tool these requests can easily be accommodated using flags and conditional blocks. In this way, what appears to be a customized solution can also be offered to other investors down the road. Consider turning this into a menu of options that your clients can choose from to help differentiate yourself.
- Resist manual effort:
While it can be tempting to accommodate a client request as a one off, in reality you are just taking on organizational debt. When people leave, get sick, or move departments, this great thing you did to help a client will become a service issue. No good deed goes unpunished! Instead, take the time to automate using the best in class tool you sourced in point 1.
Some other key enablers to this utopia:
- Normalise your data:
Implement a corporate data warehouse connected to your reporting tool. Then mandate that all data used in the organization is mastered there. In doing this, you’ll avoid building custom data feeds for each new client request. Many managers are having success leveraging emerging technologies in this space with much lower cost ratios, such as Snowflake.
- Centralize everything:
Disclaimers, commentaries, fund manager bios, and even translations should all be key elements of your content warehouse. Don’t be tempted to hardcode content elements to cut corners. You will be left with orphaned content that escapes updates and leads to compliance breaches.
- Automate, automate, automate:
Merging data and content into templates with business rules is only half of the battle. Pre and post flight processes must also be automated. Data health checks, review steps, and distribution should all be codified into a system. In this way, the effect of team churn can be kept to an absolute minimum.
It all comes down to automation and choosing the right technology partner.
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