Are Your Fund Website Tools from the Stone Age?

Getting financial data onto your website is easy, right? You get your IT team to build a web service, you plug it into the site and then data goes in. You call BigDesign Co., write them a big check for styling the data into a chart or table and then you’re done.
Next time you need a new data point you call up the IT department and tell them to change the web service, and then they tell you to take a ticket and get to the back of the line. When they are ready six months later you write another check to BigDesign Co. and the change finally gets made, but now there’s a new hot product you need to push and the cycle starts all over again. Eventually, you get the change in, but you’re not done yet. Oh no, you’re not even out of the foothills.
Your marketing efforts take off, the number of visitors increase to your site, and suddenly, out of nowhere your site slows down on the sexy product pages you’ve built and you just don’t know why, but you know that needs to change because you’ve read this and it gives you sleepless nights.
Then you realize that the web service is backed up by a SQL Server running on a teeny tiny virtual machine, no more powerful than an HP 12C, and to meet demand you’ll need to pay another 100k a year in maintenance for a bigger box. You fight for this budget, and finally you get it, but then Goldman launch their new website and you realize you need to build yourself a snazzy new fund explorer because everyone has one now, but the web service you built doesn’t support real-time search. And back to base camp you go. Ultimately, you realize you have a website with tools from the Stone Age. But how can you change things for the better and jump off this seemingly endless treadmill?
Of course we solve this problem for clients every day, but doing so really isn’t as simple as it seems. Here are some tips on how to get fund data distribution right in your business:

Build a really flexible data model

Most databases are rigid. When you need a new data point on your product pages they need to be re-coded and tested. The trouble is that as soon as this set of changes is added, they in turn break other things, which then also need to be re-coded and very quickly time and costs start to escalate.
We designed our database in a hybrid-EAV fashion, with referential integrity on the important objects. Put simply, that means that when a client brings their data to us we can onboard them really quickly without making code changes. This allows us to turnaround changes really quickly when new types of data are needed on your website.

Choose a fast, scalable data store that fits your budget

SQL Server is good but it gets really expensive when you scale it up, as Microsoft charges per core for it. MySQL and MariaDB are cheaper open source options, but of course they need to be supported correctly, which can also add cost. We use MemSQL – a distributed, all in-memory port of MySQL, which is specifically tuned to query large amounts (terabytes) of data at high speeds (50-150ms). This would be overkill for a single AM but we support lots of different managers so we need that scale. You can also use a NoSQL store like Couchbase or Mongo, but we’ve found that these came with their own issues, which is a completely different article.

Modularize your widgets or tools

Most asset management product pages are made up of similar components that are essentially variations on a greater theme: a performance chart, an asset allocation breakdown, and a manager bio. When you build your pages think about abstracting out the individual components into widgets that can be plugged into different pages where they behave differently, but use the same codebase. This will get you to market quicker and make it easier to swap out down the road or tweak styles. We go a step further with this concept, using a special technique to beam down widgets into a client’s page from a sort of widget mother ship every time someone loads the page. This means that we are able to control things like styles and functionality centrally without having to involve internal IT groups when changes are required.

Hire industrial designers not graphic designers

Web designers tend to come from a background of graphic design, but the best UX designers tend to have more of an industrial design mindset. They don’t just think about how something will look they think about how people will interact with it, how it will make them feel. The industrial designer asks questions like “Does it matter that a fund explorer takes 2 seconds to load or 200ms” or “is it obvious how a visitor should find fund prices on my site.” The industrial designer will think about the engineering required behind the scenes to make these experiences happen, rather than building an unrealistic mockup in illustrator and expecting it to magically come to life.
Moving your fund website tools from the Stone Age to the present day actually relies first and foremost on getting the fundamentals right. Creative flair and design tweaks most certainly have a role to play, but without the right foundations, the right server back-up, the right processes in place to let you easily manage a fluid website that can change and adapt to market and competitor movements, they are little more than superficial improvements.
The good news is that with some careful upfront choices, you can have both. We regularly work with clients who know they need a cost effective, robust solution that excels at data storage and data management but who won’t give up their dream of a website that looks better than the average asset manager’s.
So, if it’s time your sleepless nights over website speed and fund tools came to an end but you value great design, take inspiration from an exhaustive list of fund data elements in our fund component gallery.