Posts by alok:
Infosys is bracing for pressure on its U.S. business from anti-immigrant policies by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, according to a recent article.
“Margins might be impacted in the near-term,” Chief Executive Vishal Sikka said, adding the company had not yet done any simulations on how large the impact may turn out to be.
Infosys’ contingency plan for the case that the group would not be able to send low-cost developers to work with temporary work visas on big tech projects in the United States would be to hire staff locally, he said, while also conceding that hiring people in the United States would likely be more expensive.
Infosys last month cut its annual revenue growth target for the second time in three months as India’s software service exporters feel the pinch of major Western clients holding back on spending. Read the rest of this entry “
Alternative asset managers have seen their ranks explode over the last several years, due to a perfect storm of low interest rates, strong corporate growth and increased bank regulation. The number of active private equity firms has spiked 143 percent, while the number of active VC firms has rocketed 173 percent in the last 15 years. Due to all of this competition, differentiation has never been more important.
The best performing fund managers, surprisingly, are not the best fundraisers. According to Chestnut Advisory Group, good communicators outperform top investment performers by a ratio of 4-to-1 when it comes to raising new capital. The ability to differentiate and effectively convey your message to the right investors has become extremely critical to fundraising success.
Jane Morris, managing director with the private placement firm Liora Partners sums up the current state of private equity fundraising: “Fund raising is not a short term activity; it’s an ongoing, never ending process. You are either actively seeking new investors, pitch book in hand, or you are laying the groundwork for your next fund raise.”
To effectively establish your brand with investors it’s important to maintain a highly focused, tailored strategy that connects with their investment goals. This isn’t rocket science. Most fund managers already know what they need to do. The challenge typically is in the execution; fund managers aren’t necessarily the best marketers.
In our work providing investor relations technology to hundreds of alternative assets firms, we have seen some common themes emerge.
Establishing Investor Relationships
Fund raising is not one size fits all. Funds need to identify their target investor population and understand investment profiles. Their investment size, industry/area of focus, risk appetite, past investments, communication preferences, etc., are all critical. The information enables IR professionals to develop a very clear profile of what kinds of opportunities will resonate with different groups of investors for communication targeting. Read the rest of this entry “
Placement agents are in vogue. There are tens of thousands of money managers and alternative asset fund managers that are totally dependent on them. In 2015, more than 50% of private equity funds that closed used a placement agent, according to Preqin.
It isn’t hard to understand why. Fundraising requires an intense focus over 17-18 months, not to mention specialization, relationships and physical proximity. A fund manager devoting more time to the fundraising process has less time to focus on implementing the fund’s investment strategy. Furthermore, placement agents have a much broader reach and more up-to-date investor knowledge than most managers could achieve without a large internal marketing/sales team.
Placements agents range from specialized divisions of large brokerage firms to small and midsized independent firms. The larger firms work on six to ten fundraising mandates per year. Therefore, they prefer to undertake mandates that represent the ‘low hanging fruit’—a fund that’s easily marketable. Others are specialized based on certain asset classes, investor type, offerings, or geography.
To be successful, placement agents must leverage the intelligence from their previous mandates and track institutional investors and their investment preferences. Most of them use Navatar to manage multiple mandates and stay on top of investor activity.
We spoke to some of our placement agent customers to get their perspective on what it takes for a placement agent to succeed when working on a mandate.
Download this free eBook, “Eight Questions That Alternative Asset Fund Managers Must Ask Before Hiring a Placement Agent,” for the insights gained from these conversations.
Today’s ever more tech-centric world is changing the game for both clients and wealth managers. And client service is one of the key areas where the battle for a client’s wallet and mindshare is being waged.
“For us, client service and advisor service processes are really the most important and the most complex pieces of what we do on a day-to-day basis,” says John Van Sant, President, Cascade. “It’s also obviously one of the most time sensitive parts of our business as well, and a huge part of our value proposition.”
When Cascade, a boutique wealth management firm managing around half a billion, recognized that they wanted to differentiate by providing a better level of service to their clients, they decided to focus on accuracy, not efficiency. John led the charge, with the goal for a more consistent client and advisor experience.
“Like most small mid-size firms that are in the industry, we have five key functional areas- marketing, business development, investment management, client service and advisory service. Like most medium-sized businesses, we’re obviously limited on resources when it comes to personnel versus some of the larger firms. So in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency most firms like us must have a fully integrated turnkey platform that integrates all of the different functional areas,” according to John.
Cascade picked Navatar One for Salesforce, as the hub for the turnkey platform, to help create connect all the functions.
The results? John Van Sant describes how Cascade built a model with consistent processes, as well as showcases exactly how key functions such client onboarding, service requests, client meetings etc, must function for an advisory firm, in this recorded webinar video.
The Johnsons Corporate team pioneered the Six Stage Sales process that helps them systematically cast a wider net when seeking buyers for businesses. Thanks to their adoption of sophisticated M&A technology, Johnsons Corporate is well positioned to be a leader in Australian mid-market M&A, widening their targeting ability to more than 1000 buyers and closing each deal within 5-8 months.
When it comes to selling mid-market businesses, Johnsons Corporate doesn’t believe in taking shortcuts. The Johnsons Corporate Six Stage Sale Process, developed and refined for over 50 years, is based on the conviction that the sale and acquisition of mid-market businesses warrants a systematic approach to cast the net over a broader pool of prospects in more commercial and geographic markets than others would even contemplate.
In practical terms, the Johnsons approach translates into custom marketing campaigns to 500 to 1000 targets (as opposed to 30-40 targets that most corporate advisory firms work with), and it’s central to how they have been able to create a unique position in the Australian mid-market M&A marketspace. Read the rest of this entry “
Most business people are frustrated because IT can’t even understand their issues, let alone solve them.
“IT organizations somehow forget that people come before technology,” says Jonathan Feldman. “Like a raging infection in the corporate body, IT is continually at war.” Feldman, a CIO himself, believes there’s something wrong with any department that seems to have a male dominance. It suggests an elitism, an anti-collaborative stance.
IT has long been tolerated as a costly but necessary line item, but that may be changing. Businesses are under pressure to deliver results and they have little patience for drama. They want IT to get its act together.
Is this possible?
No, says Feldman. “As with a dysfunctional relationship that needs to end before something really bad happens, I have a proposal: End it. It’s not working, folks. It’s super-dysfunctional, and we all know it.” Read the rest of this entry “
Multitenancy – The Odd Sounding Cloud Tech Term that Changes Everything for Financial Services FirmsDecember 16th, 2015
“Think of an ice breaker ship ploughing through frozen seas and that will give you some idea of what multitenancy is doing to the old IT model,” says Navatar CTO Rexlo Joe, who Salesforce recently featured as a success story.
Multitenancy is a architectural design in cloud systems, which allows the vendor to share resources between clients. It allows the vendor to eliminate mundane, repetitive tasks and focus their time instead on adding new features.
Not all cloud products are multitenant, though. A legacy vendor with an on-premise product never invests in multitenancy since that involves developing a completely new product and a new business model. It is much easier for them to turn their legacy system into a single-tenant product (each customer is hosted separately).
“If you’re not buying a multitenant product, you’re buying a product that will be frozen in time, while your competitors will always have the latest technology,” says Joe. Read the rest of this entry “
Corporate IT continues to argue that public cloud security cannot be trusted. They believe, mistakenly, that they can keep data more secure than the public cloud.
“We live in a world where data center breaches are in the headlines almost monthly, much to the consternation of corporate IT — the same corporate IT that fears the public cloud due to fears around data security. The truth is that the public cloud is more secure than the typical data center, and IT would get better security if it got past its prejudice against the cloud,” says David Linthicum, in his recent article.
Because IT manages its own data resources, it believes it’s doing a better job than other people might, says Linthicum — especially those people at those cloud services where security practices are opaque. But it’s simply not true. Cloud providers have better security mechanisms in place and are more paranoid — and attentive — to security risks throughout their entire stack. Read the rest of this entry “
Advisors all share the same #1 priority: their clients. There is nothing they want to avoid more than to look bad when getting in front of clients. To ensure that client review meetings run smoothly, they, along with their staff, go through numerous time consuming steps that require attention to detail. Still, this is also a process where advisors commonly experience frustration and inefficiency.
In our recent webinar (see below), we covered this topic in depth.
There are several areas where advisors and their staff commonly experience inefficiency and frustration, but arguably the costliest activity is executing client meetings efficiently and effectively. Nine out of ten advisors, including those using Navatar One, identify the client meeting process as the activity where they want to improve efficiency.
- Advisors cannot afford to screw it up. Being disorganized or erroneous when in front of clients can create distrust, convey incompetence, and ultimately lose clients.
- There are often many tasks and detailed steps involved, often involving several people and multiple systems, which requires tight coordination and communication.
- The average practice services 200-300 households. This equates to executing hundreds of meetings per year, which – when combined with the numerous tasks and required accuracy and attention to detail — results in the execution of client meetings being the highest percentage of staff consumption on an annual basis.
- The frequency by which other activities are performed often pale in comparison. (Hint: compare how many meetings you had last year with how many new clients you on-boarded or how many service requests you handled.)
Read full article here.
A strong track record of investment performance is always the most important factor for asset managers looking to attract capital: that’s what the conventional wisdom would have us believe. But a recent Chestnut Advisory study reached a very different conclusion. According to an analysis of asset flows and testimonials by institutional investors, performance is actually lower on the list of deciding factors.
What’s at the top? Effective investor relations.
Asset managers who establish trust through communications and support appear to be more successful at raising money than those who perform well but fall short in client outreach and education. In fact, 92% of institutional investors surveyed said that they consider IR to be integral to an asset manager’s mission. Those firms that lead on the communications front outpace IR laggards when it comes to retaining capital and leveraging client relationships as well:
The survey shows that trusted asset managers raise more assets, are hired more quickly and are fired more slowly than the general population of asset managers. They also have an easier time cross-selling and up-selling their clients. Read the rest of this entry “
The precipitous declines in U.S. stocks and other global markets in the past week brought out the fear in many investors. On Monday, when the S&P 500 closed down 4% for the day and 11% from its May 2015 high, financial advisors found themselves fielding calls from jittery clients wondering whether to sell.
The NY Times describes one advisor’s day amid the tumult:
By 2 p.m. Monday, Gregory J. Blank, an independent financial adviser based in New York, had already fielded nearly 20 phone calls from anxious investors. He handles assets for about 200 clients, a mixture of younger adults and retirees.
“They see it in the news,” he said. “They get worried. They call.” Mr. Blank said that the older investors were more concerned, since it was harder for them to replenish whatever they had saved up for retirement. But the worst thing to do right now is to panic, he advises them.
In Financial Planning, advisor Kimberly Foss recommends reaching out to clients before they have a chance to panic, and urging them to stay the course.
When volatility strikes it’s important to reach out with information and reassurance rather than sit back and wait for worried clients to call you.
The Navatar View: The good news is that markets showed signs of rebounding on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 up 2.2% at midday. But this may not signal the end of volatility. When markets melt down, as they did over the past few trading days, advisors need to anticipate significantly higher call volume.
In times of crisis, it’s essential to know that your firm can handle those incoming calls and keep clients focused on their long-term plan. Even when markets are on the rise or holding steady, though, you can undertake outreach and education to ensure that clients won’t overreact when those market drops do happen.
This may be a good time to review the breadth of information you’re maintaining on your client base as well as your strategy for keeping them informed and engaged with their investment plan. A state-of-the-art system, such as Navatar One, which can automate this process, can help tremendously. When you can identify which clients may have more reason to worry when corrections happen – as well as those who have a tendency to worry even without reason – you can more effectively get ahead of the panic that market declines often induce.
A Financial Advisor IQ article recently reported that FA client allocations to alternative investments have grown by close to 20% across wire houses over the past three years. Seems like pretty strong growth, right?
Until you look at the data showing that alternatives still represent only around 5% of most FA client portfolios. Investment News warns that’s not enough to control portfolio risk, according to industry experts. Among them:
“Ed Butowsky of Chapwood Capital Investment Management tells Investment News tepid allocations to alts do little to control risk. To make a difference, he says, you need 20% or more…’”
The article notes that alternatives (such as hedge funds that can offer portfolio protection against down markets) “will come screaming back in vogue” in the next market correction, but in the meantime advisers appear cautious about suggesting fee-laden products that have underperformed in the current bull market.
The Navatar View:
Investment News rightly points out that when markets ultimately correct, advisors may wish they had been braver in suggesting bigger allocations to alternatives.
But that’s easier said than done.
To effectively alter individual asset allocations across a large client base is a sophisticated operation. Advisors who aim to lead not lag their competition need to be on top of their game when it comes to knowing each client’s needs, their risk appetite, their varied personal situations, etc. And they need airtight compliance processes to move client portfolios into private capital markets.
In addition, they will need new and better ways to connect to — and evaluate — alternative products and investment opportunities. Navatar has hundreds of alternative asset funds as customers and we know how difficult it can be to stay close to opportunities to invest in these (one of our soon-to-be-launched products will make this easier).
The bottom line: Winning in this environment requires ever-increasing sophistication. Advisors need to expertly leverage tools and technologies that establish them as leaders as well as open up the right opportunities. We get it. As the #1 connected growth platform in the industry, we’re regularly adding functionality to help our clients drive their growth agenda.
David Mahmood has grown Allegiance Capital into one the most active and dominant middle-market investment banks in the world. Allegiance has closed on hundreds of transactions ranging up to $150 million in value, through their global network of deal professionals. Their success can be attributed to Allegiance’s focus on maintaining an entrepreneurial mindset, but also to their embrace of state-of-the-art technology. Allegiance is now poised for its best year ever complimented by the adoption of a firm-wide platform that has resulted in their ability to identify and close deals 20% faster, while doubling their documented pool of qualified buyers.
A serial entrepreneur, David created seven businesses in various industries, before starting Allegiance Capital. Headquartered in Dallas, Allegiance has offices in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis and Monterey, Mexico. It also participates in Globalscope, a group of leading corporate finance and business advisors operating around the world, providing access to a larger pool of qualified potential buyers that many of its domestic competitors lack. Since its launch in 1997, Allegiance has closed hundreds of middle market transactions ranging in value from $10 million to $150 million in a variety of industries that include agriculture, business services, construction, retail, chemicals, energy services, healthcare, manufacturing, technology & telecommunications, and utilities.
Allegiance’s success stems in part from Mahmood’s experience and understanding of the entrepreneurial process. Many of the bankers and managers at Allegiance are former entrepreneurs, so they understand what it means to run a business. They are also very tech-savvy and understand how good technology and timely information makes the difference in a sale negotiation. Read the rest of this entry “
The RIA business, being heavily dependent on client relationships, relies on efficient CRM systems. Several legacy software vendors have traditionally offered CRM to financial advisors with mixed success. With the advisory market growing rapidly, newer cloud CRM vendors are bringing more options, in addition to forcing legacy vendors to upgrade their offerings – which is great news for the advisory business.
For instance, Navatar, a pure play cloud CRM provider, enters the space after their success in alternative assets and investment banking. Navatar partners with Salesforce, the cloud poster company, to serve several financial services markets.
On the other hand, legacy providers, such as Junxure are also cloud bound. Junxure just launched their cloud-based offering. Prior to this, Junxure had been selling client-server based CRM to advisors, which continues to be their main offering.
(There are some other options too. Custodians, sometimes provide CRM to advisors. So do horizontal providers such as Salesforce, Microsoft and SugarCRM, partnering with third-party consultants or resellers.)
The legacy and new CRM providers bring their own strengths. The legacy providers, having worked with advisors for years, have an established customer base. However, coming from the client-server model, they are not known for innovation. They also maintain their client-server customers and, therefore, have to juggle both the legacy and new products – a bit of a distraction.
The pure-play cloud providers are very strong on innovation and servicing their customers. They bring the cloud DNA, having been deeply embedded in the subscription based business model. However, as newcomers, they still need to prove their value and earn the advisor community’s trust.
So, there are some trade-offs and it may not be easy to compare apples to apples.
Here’s my take on what to look for in the cloud-centric world if you are running an advisory business and evaluating CRM options. There are three important things to keep in mind, at a minimum:
I. Look for a product that can cope with your growth. This one may seem obvious, but most people look at product features/functions before making a decision, anyway. Depending on your size, focus (institutional/retail, types of products), as well as integration required into different custodial platforms, financial planning, or portfolio accounting systems, you will be able to shortlist two or three products that may have the potential to deliver. The important thing to assess would be how the product can accommodate your changing needs over time. Is it flexible enough to support your business if you start, say, an alternative asset fund?
II. Look for a product that won’t get frozen in time. In the cloud world, the pace of innovation is fast, which means that the vendor must constantly improve the product. This is achieved through a technological concept called multitenancy (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the geeky stuff). Multitenancy helps eliminate repetitive tasks and leaves the vendor with more time and resources to focus on product innovation (just the way the manufacturing assembly line brought drastic efficiency, so carmakers could spend more time improving their cars). Not every product is multitenant. If you buy a product that isn’t, you may get frozen in time, while your competitors surge ahead with state-of-the-art products.
III. Look for a vendor who is invested in your success. CRM providers have traditionally been happy to sell you their product, before sending you to a consultant for fitting it to your needs. This model is changing in the cloud – the CRM vendor is expected to make the product work for you. Unless the vendor is on the hook for ensuring your success, you will be spending money on consultants for years. The vendor must have a dedicated team devoted to your success and a solid track record to prove their credentials.
If you pick the right product, it will help you grow assets as well as make you more efficient. If you pick the right vendor, they will focus on their product as well as your success.
“The best customer relationship management software for private equity firms is one that works for everyone – from the investor relations team, to the information technology department, to the deal origination group. It has to work across all of a firm’s offices, from the US to Europe to Asia,” says Chelsea Stevenson, in her article “Need for CRM Speed” within PEI’s Fund Administration and Technology Special Supplement 2014.
We agree. The ideal scenario for CRM is when everyone in the firm uses it.
However, the ideal scenario isn’t always achievable. Private equity folks are often too busy to worry about getting trained on a CRM system. Larger firms have teams across continents, making it challenging to get everyone to be enthusiastic about a certain technology. In situations like these, the CRM decision inevitably gets postponed.
It shouldn’t be an all or nothing approach. Firms are competing for investors or for investments, and the cost of a single lost opportunity, due to inefficient processes, can be high. There should be more than one way to skin the cat, if everyone in the firm isn’t enthusiastic about a CRM.
Wealth managers are struggling with CRM, even though they are an attractive market for CRM providers. Look at any industry blog and you’ll see stories about RIAs and independent advisors, who are sucked into becoming CRM mechanics. They continue to pay CRM providers and consultants, throwing good money after bad, in addition to burning their own time doing system implementation. Can the cloud rescue advisors from CRM torture?
Here’s a typical example of what advisors face: Dave Grant, who spent years trying various specialized CRM systems for RIAs, before implementing Salesforce, says in his blog post:
“I’ve tried to make my new RIA as heavily reliant on cloud technology as possible. Anything that I could push into a cloud technology solution I have. However, I’m still wrestling with one of my basic needs: a CRM system.”
Clearly, he is still struggling. The reason for the struggle, as I pointed out in a recent article, is that the advisors’ interests aren’t aligned with the interests of the CRM providers or consultants serving them.
Conflicts of Interest
Let’s take a look at the interests of the vendors, starting with the CRM providers. A majority of them serving this market are legacy on-premises software providers who collect the big checks for their software upfront, after which they have little incentive to worry about customer adoption issues. Over the years, these CRM providers have talked customers into believing that their success (or adoption) is somewhat unrelated to the software manufacturers and best addressed by consultants. RIAs pay for the software and the CRM provider is off the hook. Enter the systems integrator, who is tasked with understanding the customer’s business and then mapping it to the CRM software. The RIA staff and the consultant work together, hoping to build a Rolls Royce, but often end up with a Yugo. Worse, many continue to throw additional money at the problem.
Recently, a few of the legacy providers have started selling cloud-based CRM. However, focusing on customer success is not in their DNA and they continue to operate like on-premises vendors, outsourcing customer success to others.
Then there are the big cloud providers like Salesforce, Microsoft (Dynamics), and SugarCRM. The challenge is that they are horizontal cloud providers — they approach every industry with a one-size-fits-all solution. Their focus is too broad to address any RIA-specific issues. The onus for success is passed back to the RIA, paired with a consultant.
But what about consultants? Aren’t they supposed to be focused on making RIAs successful?
In reality, most of the consultants who work with RIAs aren’t really consultants — they are systems integrators (SIs) who earn money customizing a system and charging clients by the hour. The more time they spend customizing the system, the more money they make. That means the wider the gap between the RIA’s needs and the CRM system, the happier the SI. Now, SIs definitely have their uses. However, they would be the last people interested in an out-of-the-box CRM that fits RIA needs.
In some cases, custodians and independent broker dealers, who are more aligned with advisor success, provide technology that includes CRM. However, custodians and broker-dealers are not in the CRM business, so they are again dependent on CRM providers and consultants to deliver the goods.
There is new breed of vendor that is decidedly different — the vertical cloud CRM provider. Vertical cloud providers, such as Navatar, are not systems integrators or services firms, but pureplay SaaS CRM providers. They don’t charge by the hour. They usually offer a monthly-usage, fee-based, pay-as-you-go pricing model. They invest heavily in customer success because their survival depends on how well they serve their customers, which is where their interests are neatly aligned with the RIAs.
For the torture to end, however, the RIAs also own a couple of important action items:
First, recognizing the obvious: that fixing CRM isn’t their mission. They are in the business of money management. It’s the CRM vendor’s job to provide the CRM to support that business. If the CRM doesn’t work, and the vendor isn’t motivated to solve their CRM issues without getting the RIA to pay, the RIA is dealing with the wrong vendor and needs to find the right vendor.
Second, finding a CRM vendor whose interests are aligned with their own — a.k.a. a vertical cloud CRM provider. Most CRM vendors nowadays label themselves as cloud providers, making it difficult to separate the real from the fake. Here are some simple qualifying questions: Does the CRM provider also offer an on-premises version of its solution? Does the CRM solution require paying for professional services? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, the RIAs can safely stay away from those vendors, if they want to escape CRM torture.
My recent article for Seeking Alpha predicts a significant uptick in cloud adoption in financial services, thanks to the arrival of industry-focused cloud providers, improving trust in cloud security, and a bunch of other factors. Not everyone agrees. Dissenters argue that cloud security cannot be trusted.
Here is an excerpt from one of the comments on the article:
“As a communications programmer, I tell you that most customers have not fully realized the risks inherent in the current implementations of multi-tenant cloud computing. Those can be cleaned up eventually, but they CAN NOT BE CLEANED UP COST EFFECTIVELY. The encryption required means non-trivial CPU usage. So, you’re faced with either doing whatever you’re doing insecurely, or doing it with dedicated hardware. The multi-tenant, elastic model is simply broken from a security and efficiency perspective.”
This is a typical argument we hear from old school IT or legacy vendors such as Oracle. They tell you multitenancy is bad for you, either because they haven’t upgraded their skills (and are fighting to save their jobs) or because they want to sell you dedicated hardware. CPU power is commoditized and getting cheaper every day, so the “non-trivial CPU usage” claim doesn’t hold water.
In fact, I realized that the case against cloud security now rests heavily on the recent hacking incidents, as some of these comments suggest:
“Target and others are just beginning to learn how difficult it is to do security correctly even on dedicated closed systems.”
“… the most critical data needs to be kept inhouse. The recent string of hacking cases against Target, Niemen-Marcus, and Michael’s should demonstrate that to everybody.”
Clearly, Target’s data was kept inhouse and secured by their internal IT. Turned out that wasn’t the best security, after all. Another person, who commented on the article, highlighted the irony:
“The irony here, regarding financial services organizations, is that they are breached constantly. I’ve had every major credit card I own compromised in the past 18 months. These banks also have more down time due to weather, outages, failed upgrades, etc than would never be accepted in the public cloud.
If you understand how public clouds like Amazon Web Services handle availability, you wouldn’t be concerned about outages. For an in house or on premise service to have the same type of capabilities related to availability is cost prohibitive. Banks are already severely wasteful with their data center resources.
The primary reasons banks haven’t moved to public cloud yet is more around Public Relations, sunk investments in under-utilized, owned infrastructure, and, well, complacency.”
Security arguments notwithstanding, Gartner asserts more than 60 percent of banks worldwide will process the majority of their transactions in the cloud by 2016. Ovum claims capital markets will accelerate their adoption of cloud this year. And Oracle’s CEO declares that its main rivals are no longer IBM and SAP, but instead they’re Amazon and Salesforce .
All of this suggests that despite the security concerns, the cloud is gathering momentum within the industry. If you are seeing a different trend, would love to hear from you.
“Competition is heating up in the world of private equity,” says William Alden in his Dealbook article. According to him, private equity executives are noticing an increase in competition for deals in the last year or so. Several say that, in the face of competing bids, they have been forced to sit on the sidelines more often than they would like.
Is this competition primarily due to low interest rates and generous bank financing, as the article suggests? To a certain extent, that is true. However, there are other important factors at play, that may be worth exploring, as well.
To quote the article further:
“We’ve been a little less active than we would have liked to have been in the last 18 months,” Joseph Baratta, the global head of private equity at the Blackstone Group, said at a venture capital and private equity conference. “We’re not finding that edge. We’re being a little more disciplined on that value metric.”
Like Mr. Baratta, Candice Szu, a senior vice president at the Carlyle Group, emphasized the importance of finding an “edge” in competitive situations. That often means bringing a particular expertise in an effort to make an offer more compelling, she said. “It’s something we always ask ourselves: What can we bring to the table that’s a little different?”
Why do Blackstone and Carlyle need an “edge,” one may ask? Firms like these traditionally had unmatched resources and reach which, in the past, helped them uncover deals that others couldn’t. However, that has changed. Today, smaller private equity funds are also able to get to the same opportunities, thanks to social media and specialized deal marketplaces (such as Navatar Deal Connect). Smaller funds are getting savvy at securing a large inflow of deals and becoming efficient at processing them rapidly, thanks to the latest cloud-based tools and databases, that can easily match or exceed the infrastructure of larger firms. Armed with the new tools, they are able to level the playing field with a more “personalized” approach, causing larger players to have to find an “edge” to compete.
A good example of how smaller firms are competing, is outlined by Martin Stein (Managing Director at Blackford Capital), in this webinar. Blackford, a middle market private equity firm focused on manufacturing & distribution, has mastered the science behind widening their reach to get in front of the right deals.
In addition, there are margin pressures, as the article points out. Private equity managers must find cheap investments at a time when stocks are near historic highs.
Though private equity firms will continue to hunt for bargains, returns may not be as high in the future as they have been in the past, David M. Rubenstein, a co-founder and co-chief executive of Carlyle, said in a keynote speech on Sunday.
“The days of getting fabulously rich in private equity may be a little bit behind us,” Mr. Rubenstein said.
Are the low returns a temporary phenomenon, due to interest rates and other factors? Or are they here to stay? I’m no private equity guru, so I will leave that to the experts.
But I do believe that competition can’t be all that bad. It may lead to better times ahead, for the industry.
The cloud’s main story so far has been one of horizontal providers, such as salesforce.com, Microsoft and Amazon, offering one-size-fits-all solutions. While these providers had some success in the financial services sector, their products weren’t specialized enough to address the need of asset managers or bankers.
The advent of vertical SaaS providers is the topic of my latest article, Will 2014 be the Year of Vertical Clouds, written for Wired. Even though they’re a young market today, expect to see a larger number of these vertical cloud providers getting scale and attention, in 2014.
“In the days before the cloud, on-premise software providers that focused on selling into a vertical market were considered second-class citizens to the ‘big guns’ selling into the broader horizontal marketplace. However, with the advent of the SaaS model, the tables have turned,” according to Gordon Ritter of Emergence Capital.
Which is great news for the financial industry, since we will see vertical providers going very deep even in niche areas that which most people thought didn’t exist, or weren’t sizable enough. For instance, Navatar provides products for corporate venture funds and corporate development groups, a market few software providers had historically paid any attention to.
As I have pointed out in the article, vertical cloud providers go deep to address the needs within their market – much deeper than a one-size-fits-all provider would. They act as a one-stop-shop for their customers. Navatar, for instance, provides wealth managers with CRM from salesforce.com, content sharing from Box, and data from custodians, portfolio management and reporting systems — all bundled into one offering. Not only do these solutions provide a competitive advantage for financial firms, but they also reduce spend on IT staff.
We may see a huge influx of vertical providers, and a lot of lame lemmings and road kill. A vertical cloud provider’s success will depend on their ability to fully address their market’s needs as opposed to offering a piecemeal solution or an easily replaceable solution. Equally important, their survival will depend on how well they support their customers (customers are becoming more aware of their increased clout in the cloud and getting more demanding and less forgiving).
But, we will surely see some great companies emerge. So far, the future looks promising.
The answer is - it isn’t possible. ”No one’s ever on an old version of Salesforce.com because Salesforce.com is multitenant, that is everybody shares the same servers, so when those servers are upgraded, everybody’s upgraded.”
So naturally, when a perplexed customer asked me whether “Navatar runs on an older version of Salesforce,” I became very curious about what could have prompted that question.
When the customer revealed that a consulting firm had advised him about Navatar being on an older version, the mystery began to unfold. Basically, consultants and systems integrators make money customizing software. Some of them don’t like Navatar’s pre-built software for financial firms (built on the Salesforce platform) since it reduces the hours they can bill to a customer. To steer the customer away from off-the-shelf products, they feed false information so they can make money re-inventing the wheel.
This happens often, since the cloud, still in its infancy, is a bit like the wild west. Fortune hunters, such as consultants fixated on their billable hours or software salespeople obsessed with their commissions, sometimes discover easy money by planting fear or simply distorting facts. … when that happens, it is the customer who often loses.
The customer loses because they walk away with the impression that reinventing the wheel is a better and easier option. They end up spending a phenomenal amount of time engaged in system implementation, instead of their core business – in addition to paying thousands of dollars for consulting and support services that are redundant or available for free in the cloud world (see my InformationWeek post: How to Reduce IT Services Costs in the Cloud). But their frustration really peaks when, even after all the spending and distraction, they never get a system that meets their needs. They are then left with two difficult options:
a) changing course – switching to a pre-built product, which requires writing off the time/money spent on system implementation (it also requires someone willing to acknowledge their mistake, which is probably a bigger challenge)
b) continuing the reinvention process – assuming, somehow, that they are close to the finish line and finding a different consultant with the hope they can somehow salvage their investment (which inevitably requires throwing more good money after bad).
How to avoid getting into this situation? Read on.
So, should I reinvent the wheel?
Even though there will always be con-artists, having choices isn’t a bad thing. Customers need to be aware of some simple facts that can lead to an informed decision, when they choose between buy versus build, a standard IT industry concept. Build refers to buying some generic software or platform and then using it to build the functionality you need – you also then need to continue maintaining and supporting whatever you build. Companies usually go the build route when they believe their business processes are so unique that they cannot fit any packaged product – some large companies also choose to build since they are heavily invested in their IT organizations that like building systems. A company will buy commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software, instead of building, if they believe 75-80% of their needs can be met by it (read more about buy vs. build in this article). So, both buy and build are valid options, suited to different types of scenarios.
The cloud offers options between buy and build. For instance, Salesforce provides a top notch cloud (and CRM) platform, which is sold directly by them as well as by other resellers and OEM partners, through AppExchange and other channels. You can find so many products on AppExchange that can provide you what you need – if not, you can also try to build it yourself using the Salesforce platform (or other cloud platforms). Not every product can be replicated using the build process, but given time and money, quite a few of them can.
When it comes to build, there are plenty of available statistics around the value provided by software development projects. According to Standish Group (Chaos Report), 68% of all software development projects are unsuccessful. Mercer Consulting’s Firoz Dosani claims 80% of technology projects actually cost more than they return. In the cloud, the build success percentages may be better – but so are the number of buy options available to you.
The statistics notwithstanding, if you choose to build in a cloud environment, you have to be ready to spend (at a minimum) the next 6-12 months working with consultants (or IT staff) – and then hope your investment will pay off. All this time you will be spending your time thinking about what your system should be doing, how it should be modified, how to generate reports, etc – and if you do get a system that does what you want, you will also need to figure out how to support and maintain it.
That said, if reinventing the wheel still seems tempting, it’s most probably due to one (or more) of these reasons below:
1. You believe your business processes are very unique - you’re convinced, after careful analysis, that other businesses similar to yours operate in a very different way and no off-the-shelf product comes close to matching the way you do business.
2. You have to deal with complex integrations - you have to integrate the new system to several of your internal systems, before it can provide any value.
3. You are an IT person who loves to build - you are not scared of writing software or you find building to be a fun activity or you believe doing it yourself will make your job secure.
4. You have assumed that building is very straightforward - you have been told that building is simply a matter of a few mouse-clicks, while enjoying a couple of beers – or a consultant has convinced you that building can save you a lot of money.
5. You’re worried about the viability of the COTS provider - you like the off-the-shelf product but are concerned about the risks of the provider going out of business.
6. Someone with credibility has badmouthed the buy option - this is exactly what happened in the example above.
If your reason is #1 or #2, you may not have much choice but to build - the best option then may be to hire a good consulting firm who can provide proper guidance. But remember – good consultants don’t reinvent wheels. Stay away from the type that I described in the example above and hire a firm that has credibility in your industry.
If your reason is #3, you may have made your decision already. Assuming that your job will remain secure in case the build project doesn’t deliver as expected, at least you’ll have fun doing what you love.
If your reason is #4, you will do yourself a huge favor by assessing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of what you are about to do, to understand what it would really take to build and maintain the system. You will need to understand the time and money involved in requirement gathering, building, modifying, training, supporting etc, over a period of time (there are several simple TCO models available). It won’t take you more than 30 minutes to understand the TCO, if you can spare that time.
If your reason is #5, you have to understand that in the cloud world you’re not really buying software – you’re only paying for a year’s usage, so your real risk isn’t that of losing your investment; the only risk is the additional cost of migrating to another system, which is usually lower than that of reinventing the wheel. Generally speaking, if the provider has been around for more than 3 years and has more than 100 customers, you should be on solid ground.
If your reason is #6, you can test the credibility of whoever advises you against buying, by asking them to put their assertions in an email. If you never see that email, you will know that they are not acting in your interest.
It’s really about TCO
When it comes to choosing a cloud-based product, there are a number of factors to be considered (which I will cover in a later post). At a minimum, the product fit and the total cost of ownership (TCO) are important. Most customers are able to assess whether a product fits their needs – it’s their inability to estimate TCO upfront is what steers them away from their core business, into the messy world of systems integration. It shouldn’t be that way. As Robert X. Cringely observes:
“Unless you are operating a software company, software should not be central to the way you view your business. It’s just a means to an end. And to be classed as truly successful, the means should be quietly efficient and as close to invisible as you can get.”
According to a survey released today by M&A firm AdMedia Partners, an overwhelming majority (81 percent) of senior executives at leading content, marketing services and marketing technology companies believe mergers and acquisitions by strategic buyers in the industry will rise in the coming year.
We are beginning to see it unfold. Just a few days ago, Atlanta based Cox Media sold three Connecticut radio stations to Connoisseur Media in Westport, CT. Inside Radio reports on FCC filings that show Cox is also selling stations in Alabama, South Carolina, Hawaii and Virginia to Summit Media and private equity firm High Point Summit.
Cox Media also started using Navatar Corporate Development CRM service last July, after the company announced a new strategy focused on larger markets, cross market collaboration and heightened impact in fewer markets. They are clearly executing that strategy.
Susan Wright of Investment Underground interviewed me about the rapid increase in the adoption of cloud computing on Wall Street. Yes, it’s happening. It’s not surprising since financial firms have never been afraid of new technologies. What has also helped us is the fact that traditional software providers tend to be cloud-averse. As I said in the interview:
Our competitors are mostly on premise software providers, who charge insane amounts of money for software from 2 generations ago. Their products were not created for today’s interactive internet and social media world – in fact, it is very hard to modify them. If a user wants a report, you cannot just quickly generate it – you have to pay the vendor $15000 to $20000 in services fees to develop a report for you. There are very high implementation and support fees involved.
The other set of competitors we have are consultants that convince financial firms that their problem is very unique and no off-the-shelf product will fit their needs. They make tons of money reinventing the wheel at the customer’s expense.
However, it’s our value proposition that is compelling for these firms. To quote from the interview:
Our customers love our products because they’re out-of-the-box, based on a pay-as-you-go model and are fully supported by industry experts. They are very flexible, reporting is easy, and the products can be used from mobile devices. And, they are built on Salesforce, the cloud computing leader, so the customer data doesn’t sit on the servers of some local provider. It is as secure as it gets.
Even more importantly, cloud computing and multitenancy enables continuous improvement of the products. Customers get free upgrades as the products improve.
In addition, I think salesforce.com has done a fantastic job of eliminating most of the apprehensions around data security – they have made our job much easier.
To read the full interview, please click on the link below:
Not everyone agrees, though. An increasing number of dealmakers today are taking a very different approach to relationship building. These savvy private equity or strategic buyers approach intermediary relationships as more of a science than art. They are investing their efforts in building much larger and efficient networks, to compete for deals in the fast-paced age of cloud computing and social media.
The “old way” of doing business, for private equity buyers/sellers, was centered around maintaining 100-200 closely held relationships with intermediaries. A lot of nurturing went into these relationships – frequent phone calls, meetings & lunches required a significant investment of time. ”Word of mouth” was usually the way to learn about and be introduced to new intermediaries.
In the new online world, “quantity” is the key to success. Today’s dealmakers maintain 5,000 – 10,000 intermediary relationships that they can easily initiate using online deal marketplaces (such as Navatar Deal Connect). The time they spend on each relationship is really minimal – some of them only make 5 minute phone calls to each intermediary 2-3 times a year. Instead, they use email blasts and social media tools such as twitter and linkedin to communicate regularly and use cloud-based CRM such as Navatar Private Equity or Navatar M&A to manage the communication, relationships and the resulting deal flow.
At the end, intermediary relationships are still critical. What is changing is the efficiency needed to manage a much larger number of these relationships, to increase the deal flow correspondingly. Maybe it’s not as important for some of the larger players, who have their own worldwide networks – but for smaller firms, the new order is a necessity.
Ask Martin Stein, Managing Director of Blackford Capital, who has been one of the pioneers of this new approach. In this recorded webinar, The New Rules of Private Equity, Martin provides a lot of metrics around these efficiencies and how a firm’s deal sourcing efforts can benefit from them. According to him, one big advantage of this approach is that a smaller firm, with limited resources, can have the ability to compete with much larger players, for similar deals.
Intermediaries are also taking notice. After all, they are the ones that may be able to push this change faster.
Distractions can be plenty. Martin Stein, Managing Director of Blackford Capital, who is one of the most tech-savvy private equity professionals, discusses some of these issues in a new video. He outlines why focus is so critical in the private equity world.
Martin has been one of the early adopters of cloud technologies and social media, deploying Navatar Private Equity CRM, which is built on the Salesforce platform, at Blackford Capital 3-4 years ago. Blackford Capital is a private investment firm that acquires, manages, and grows middle-market manufacturing, distribution, and service companies. Blackford also uses Navatar Deal Connect for deal sourcing and building intermediary relationships.
According to Martin, the cloud has helped Blackford Capital focus their time and efforts a lot less on deal sourcing, so they can allocate more time towards their portfolio companies. He adds:
“In the end, it is finding a good deal and managing that deal effectively that allows us to drive higher returns for our LPs.”
In addition to the video, do not miss the recorded webinar, The New Rules of Private Equity, with Martin Stein, to learn about the detailed metrics that Blackford uses to improve operating performance. When it comes to focus, Martin is one of the pros in the business.
Meg Bear of Oracle, who manages their Cloud Social Platform, hammered multitenancy in her post “Multitenancy and Other Useless Discussions,” on Oracle’s blog. She says “multitenancy doesn’t matter … in the same way that your VHS player having progressive scan doesn’t matter.” Saying that I disagree with Meg would be an understatement. I casually responded to the post but the Oracle moderators didn’t approve my response (seems like they only allow their own marketing people to comment on their blogs), so let me try to provide a more cogent argument here.
When (prominent) people make claims such as this one, it may either be because they’re old school (and haven’t yet grasped the realities of the cloud) or they’re just making a self-serving statement. Since Oracle has historically taken a consistent stand against multitenancy (see my article O Multitenancy: Will Thy Survive Oracle), I would guess it’s the latter.
So, first let me just say it bluntly. If you’re buying a product which is labeled “cloud” but is not multitenant, you’re simply buying on-premise software. It may still be good software but it is not cloud software. The entire concept of the cloud is based on sharing resources, which is accomplished through multitenancy. My InformationWeek article, “Why Multitenancy Matters in the Cloud,” highlights why a buyer should care about multitenancy.
You cannot compare multitenancy in the cloud to a feature in a VHS player. An apt comparison would be with the concept of an assembly line in manufacturing. What Henry Ford, with the assembly line, gave to the world was a radically efficient way of producing vehicles. The other automakers at that time, who didn’t switch to this model, claimed that it didn’t matter to the car buyer how the operations of a car manufacturing plant were structured, as long as the car had all the desired features (technically, they were correct). In due course, however, each of the automakers was either forced to switch to the assembly line or go out of business, because of all the reasons now apparent to everyone.
Marc Benioff and salesforce.com demonstrated to the world what multitenancy can do – they did to software what Henry Ford did to manufacturing (or Steve Jobs did to mobile computing). If their tremendous success isn’t evidence, wait for a few more years to witness the gradual demise of the traditional software delivery model (that doesn’t mean the traditional vendors won’t fight tooth and nail to convince the world that the cloud and multitenancy don’t matter).
In fact, multitenancy operates at several levels in the cloud world. Salesforce is multitenant and Navatar, another layer of cloud software used by financial firms, which sits on top of Salesforce, is also multitenant. Which means that as and when either Salesforce or Navatar improves, all customers automatically benefit. As more customers sign up, they share the cost, so both Salesforce and Navatar benefit.
So getting back to the Oracle platform, Meg does say that it is also multitenant, but according to her, what really matters is business value, not multitenancy. That’s stating the obvious – of course, no product (even it is a photocopier) can survive if it doesn’t deliver business value. But why the stand against multitenancy?
As, I wrote in my InformationWeek article, “Those who say multitenancy isn’t necessary to making the cloud model work are typically companies that have long made money from on-premise software and don’t want to cannibalize their existing revenues. They might offer a subscription for their single-tenant application, but this could simply be the software license, maintenance, and hosting fees divided into monthly payments which almost certainly would be much higher than a comparable multi-tenant application.”
That may be one explanation – Oracle may prefer to install boxes at every client site, so naturally, they find multitenancy to be a thorn in their side. Another explanantion, as David Linthicum offers in his Infoworld post, “The Silly Debate About Multitenancy,” is that vendors often “find that building multitenant architectures is a much bigger nut to crack than they thought.” Either way, Linthicum agrees, there should be no debate here: “Cloud computing, both private and public, requires the concept of multitenancy. The traditional providers are welcome in the cloud as long as they can provide multitenancy. If you can’t do it, then don’t try to argue that it’s not needed. Get to work!”
As Denis Pombriant observes, IT is over. As a buyer of a cloud product be aware: If you’re buying a cloud product that isn’t multitenant, you’re buying it from someone who really wants to sell you boxes or consulting or something else – there is a high probability that that product won’t survive the next few years.