The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

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1 March 2016
United Kingdom

This is the final post in a series looking at the digital challenge facing asset management firms. In this post we look at the future of client communications.

Let’s start in the past

In generating product marketing documents and client reports, asset management organisations have always focused on two core objectives:

  1. Effective management of the quantitative data, qualitative information and unstructured commentary (let’s call it all data to keep things simple) to go into the documents.
  2. Efficient production of documents by populating templates with data according to the needs of different products, regions, and clients.

But this will not work in the future. At least not across all distribution channels.

The problem is that digital communication channels work at a lower level of abstraction than traditional channels:

  • Digital channels distribute data elements; traditional channels distribute documents.
  • With traditional channels, data is customised according to the document in which it will appear. With digital channels it is customised according to the channel through which it is distributed and according to the target audience. A list of top ten holdings may need to look different on an IFA platform to how it appears on an in-house fund centre.

Asset management organisations need to shift their focus away from data and onto content.

It’s context, stupid!

Content is more than data; content is data + context.

Context prescribes how data is to be presented. For example, if, when and how it is to be presented in individual documents, individual channels and individual jurisdictions.

In simple terms:

  • Data is the what of client communications
  • Context is the when, where, and how

Content corresponds to individual data elements. For example: a table of performance data; a chart of fund and benchmark performance over time; a pie chart showing the constituents of a fund; market commentary; regulatory disclosures.

Traditional client communication systems do not manage content efficiently or effectively because they operate at a higher level of abstraction. Most of them can handle individual objects within documents, but they do this by treating them as components of documents rather than as entities in their own right. The ‘intelligence’ about where, when and how data needs to be presented should be contained within the data elements themselves, not within the documents that utilise them.

Avoiding the mistakes of the future

People like saying “hindsight is a wonderful thing” but I’ve always thought that foresight is better. Another word for foresight is vision. Hindsight allows us to avoid past mistakes, but vision allows us to avoid the mistakes of the future.

Focusing on data rather than content hasn’t been a major problem up to now, but as asset management organisations make increasing use of digital channels in client communications the limitations of systems that do not operate at a content level will rapidly become evident. Managing content is an order of magnitude harder than managing data because as well as managing the data itself you also have to manage when, where and how it is to be distributed at the level of individual data elements for delivery to individual audiences via individual channels.

The operational overhead of distributing the correct data elements in the correct form at the correct time across multiple distribution channels, including 3rd-party platforms, while ensuring full regulatory compliance across all jurisdictions at the level of data elements will become intolerable.

The challenge facing asset management organisations is how to adopt the widespread use of digital channels in client communications and maintain their commitment to traditional channels, without an unacceptable increase in IT and operating costs. Implementing a fragmented system platform and increasing the data management overhead by an order of magnitude is not going to do it for them.

A new approach to client communications is required. One which features a content repository in which each data element is stored together with multiple context rules defining when, where and how it is to be distributed. Both data and context rules can be centrally approved, which will significantly reduce the effort associated with ensuring regulatory compliance for digital distribution of product information.

The content repository can be used to produce traditional factsheets and client reports by aggregating data elements into documents. The same underlying data used to populate documents can be distributed through multiple digital channels customised by channel and by audience, without any additional effort.

In a few years’ time I don’t want to be looking at the world of client communications and saying “hindsight is a wonderful thing”. How about you?

All we need is a bit of vision; to change our way of thinking. Because the technology to avoid the mistakes of the future is already here. We just need to use it.

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