Tag Archives | Navatar

Alternative Asset Managers Heads Up! An ESG Wave is Headed to Your Mid-Market

Navatar Helps Meet Investors' ESG Wants Despite Donald Trump’s climate change skepticism and deregulation promises, one of our major predictions for 2017 is that mid-market private fund managers are going to have to pay much more attention to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues.

Let me explain why. For one, ESG is a trend with a ton of inertia behind it. These types of things tend to start at the top of the market, where resources and specialists are in plentiful supply, and work their way down. KKR for instance publishes a detailed ESG report annually, and has a section on its website dedicated to responsible investment. You would be hard pressed to find anything similar at a firm managing south of $1 billion, but it’s becoming a point of conversation in mid-market circles. In fact, a new PwC study found that more than two-thirds (70 percent) of managers have now made a public commitment to investing responsibly. In 2013, the comparative figure was 57 percent. But elevating responsible investment from a do-good side show into a core element of your firm culture means putting action behind those words.

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Three (Very Basic) Things Private Equity Firms Should Do More to Win Deals in 2017

Financial Services Cloud Helps Win DealsA new Deloitte survey found that three out of four M&A professionals expect deal activity to continue rebounding into 2017. But this optimism comes with a caveat for private equity firms: the pressure is on to strike good deals. 

That’s partly because corporate strategics have the benefit of sitting on the sidelines without having to answer to impatient stakeholders, partly because money continues flowing into the sector at such a rate that we’re calling it private equity’s greatest test yet to come, and partly because investors still expect private equity shops to deliver outsized returns.

In fact, a Coller Capital LP survey found that 77 percent of investors plan to make US mid-market funds their main focus in 2017; and about the same expect private equity bets to deliver 11 percent annual returns in the medium-term. Yet that same survey found 64 percent of investors fear “too much money [is] pursuing too few attractive opportunities”. So investors seem to be aware of their own herd mentality, but trust the private equity sector enough to continue delivering satisfying returns during this anticipated M&A uptick.

Can private equity deliver? That depends on a number of factors, but private equity firms must fully leverage their core strengths of relationship building and due diligence if they want to win the best deals. Not every firm accomplishes this. Or at least isn’t accomplishing this to a sufficient enough degree. Below, we list three of those under-leveraged deal strategies.

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In 2017, Private Equity Faces its Greatest Test Yet

Navatar Helps Private Equity Professionals Win DelasIf you factor in co-investments, separate accounts and direct investments – three channels investors are increasingly using to pump money into the private equity sector – 2017 is shaping up to be a record year for the asset class. The industry is on pace to raise a wallet-busting $691 billion in commitments this year, about 10 percent more than the previous high mark. That’s on top of an estimated $1 trillion in dry powder already waiting to be deployed.

All this capital raising is good news, right? Maybe, because at the same time that cash is flooding into the sector private equity deals are getting smaller. Deals under the $25 million mark accounted for nearly half of activity thus far in 2016, representing the highest proportion since 2009. Observers chalk this up to a number of reasons, including rich stock prices and increased regulatory scrutiny, but our guess is that private equity firms are seeing better opportunity for returns at the smaller end of the market, where greater growth and operational wins are to be had.

Which takes us to a bigger point: it’s getting tougher these days for private equity firms to source the types of deals they want. The problem is that flood of capital chasing smaller deals combined with more competition. During the 15-year period from 2000 to 2014, the number of active private equity firms globally exploded 143 percent to 3,530. Intensifying competition further is a migration of large buyout shops moving down market in search of yield amid today’s low interest rate environment, and other kinds of entities with access to cheap debt, including sovereign wealth funds and pension funds with direct investment capabilities, entering the field.

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Vishal Sikka Says Trump, Not Cloud, Will Hurt Infosys Margins

Indian IT Industry - Donald Trump

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. Continue Reading →

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The Trump Effect: Questions Swirl on Private Equity Broker Dealer Registration

Private Equity Feel Regulatory Uncertainty Because of Trump Trump is in. The SEC’s Mary Jo White is on her way out. And amidst the power transitions in Washington are private equity firms, who still face the unsettling question of whether to register as broker-dealers.

On that last point, Navatar sought answers, gathering four of the brightest legal minds on broker-dealer registration as part of a roundtable designed to provide private equity firms some regulatory certainty. The issue exploded to the forefront in June when the SEC charged Blackstreet Capital, a private equity firm, for acting as an unregistered broker. The thinking is that because private equity shops routinely solicit investors, charge transaction fees or provide investment bank-like services, and oftentimes collect fees for those services, they should register. But private equity managers, who transact maybe once a quarter, certainly don’t look and feel like your everyday broker. So many choose not to register and avoid all the compliance hassle that comes with it. In light of Blackstreet, is that a mistake?

Our roundtable, reading the tea leaves stirred by Blackstreet, at times suggested that registration was an inevitable reality.

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The SEC Answers Five Lingering Questions On Private Equity Exams

CCOs Use Navatar To Help With Business Continuity Planning

Even four years on from Dodd-Frank pushing most of the industry under the SEC’s spotlight in 2012, private fund managers still have plenty of questions about what it takes to clear the exam process. The SEC has developed a deeper understanding of the industry’s workings, leading to more nuanced, targeted exams.

So in light of clients’ compliance challenges, Navatar teamed up with the Association for Corporate Growth, a mid-market trade body that helps private fund managers monitor emerging regulatory issues, and took the conversation to a SEC funds examiner for more perspective as part of a roundtable discussion.

Watch and read transcript: “The SEC Staff Answers Your Burning Questions on Examinations.”

Five of our clients’ exam-related questions stood out to us in particular. Below, we paraphrase responses from Maryellen Maurer, a SEC funds examiner:

1. Can a CCO wear multiple hats?

Large firms have the resources to hire dedicated compliance chiefs. That’s less true for smaller outfits, who often double the CFO as CCO. Is that a problem? No, so long as the person juggling multiple roles can handle it. But often dual hatted CCOs spend less than 50 percent of their time on compliance, Maryellen warned during the roundtable. That can lead to problems if the CCO only pays lip service to compliance. Maryellen said these CCOs can discuss in detail trading rules, a familiar area for CFOs, but struggle to apply the same specificity to other compliance areas. Meanwhile CCOs that understand all the firm’s processes, and don’t need to schedule many meeting to answer follow-up questions, provide examiners assurance.

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Three Basic Mistakes That Can Derail Cloud Software Adoption

Cloud Computing Best Practices for Salesforce for Financial Services Industry

The great news for customers of a Software-as-a Service (SaaS) product is that the vendor is incentivized for your success, since you pay as you go. A good SaaS provider backs their product with a solid customer success program to make sure their customers use the product. That doesn’t mean customers will always be able to successfully use the product. Sometimes, lack of enthusiasm from the customers’ side can become a stubborn barrier to adoption.

I manage the Success Team at Navatar and I can proudly say that 95% of our clients are successfully on-boarded to our cloud platform. We see some common themes across the ones that don’t. Here are some of them:

1. Lack of leadership buy-in:

Change is difficult. If senior leadership is fully behind the rollout, they can generally push through the message to the entire team. We have seen scenarios in which adoption never occurred as it was not mandated. Most people continued to do their day-to-day tasks as a new product meant additional workload.

If senior leadership shows interest in the new product, everyone pays attention. It really works when management can set usage targets for employees. I have also seen quite a few of our customers give out usage awards, based on employee activity in the new system. The goal is for employees to recognize that the rollout is important to management.

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The Easily Avoidable Mistake That Private Equity Managers Break When Engaging M&A Advisors

How to Improve Private Equity Deal Sourcing

You would be forgiven for believing that most private equity deals are sourced independently given the amount of time fund managers spend describing their “proprietary deal flow”, a persistent industry catchphrase. In fact, it is intermediaries that are the biggest deal flow spigot. That’s truer now than ever – a trend not lost on investors, who now pepper managers with questions about their relationships with investment bankers and brokers during marketing meetings. Managers not very good at engaging intermediaries not only risk losing out on prize deals, but increasingly so capital commitments too.

So how can managers improve their outreach and relationship with M&A bankers?

It’s a question we posed to four of the best intermediaries in the field as part of a wider roundtable on deal sourcing strategies, a conversation co-moderated by Blackford Capital’s Martin Stein, who provided the conversation crucial buy-side perspective.

One key lesson emerging from the roundtable discussion is the importance of being responsive.   Continue Reading →

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Eight Questions That Alternative Asset Fund Managers Must Ask Before Hiring a Placement Agent

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.

What Private Equity & Real Estate Funds Should Look For in a Placement Agent

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.

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How Cascade Financial Advisors Became a Leader in Client Service Using RIA Cloud Technology

Salesforce for Financial Advisors and Wealth Management RIAToday’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.

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The Future of The IT Bubble And CIO In The Age Of Cloud And Mobile

Salesforce for Financial ServicesThere’s something wrong with IT.

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.” Continue Reading →

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Multitenancy – The Odd Sounding Cloud Tech Term that Changes Everything for Financial Services Firms

Private Equity CRM

“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. Continue Reading →

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Public Cloud Provides Most Data Security For Financial Services Firms

Salesforce for Financial Services, Financial Services Cloud

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.

Look at the recent hackings of Ashley Madison, Hilton and plenty of others. I’m sure they all deployed IT security specialists and spent a lot in managing security. But it wasn’t enough.

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. Continue Reading →

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How Financial Advisors Can Avoid Blowing Client Meetings

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.

Here’s why:

-   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.

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Allegiance Capital Gears Up For Strongest M&A Year

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. Continue Reading →

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Technorati: Navatar’s Cloud Computing “Disrupting” Financial Services Industry

Salesforce for Financial ServicesAs Technorati reports, Navatar Group has produced some “groundbreaking” technology that “has all the markings of being a disruptive, game changing one” for the financial industry.

How is Navatar’s technology disrupting Wall Street? By providing CRM systems with built-in connectivity that give financial professionals new avenues of access to people, information, and services. Previous generations of CRM systems were self-enclosed, isolated, and static.

The new generation of cloud-connected CRM systems enable financial services firms to do business in ways that were not previously possible. For example, connected CRM systems turn the deal-making process on its head by bringing deal opportunities directly to dealmakers—literally at their fingertips. Traditionally, finding deals and investors required a lot of research and legwork.

Creating new ways of doing business through cloud-based connectivity is what Wired describes as “one of the most exciting and transformative ball games in the history of modern IT.” Cloud-connected systems, Wired explains, not only reduce the total cost of ownership for the software systems we have today, but enable “entirely new systems — powerful, game-changing systems — that simply were not possible before.”

Cloud-connected CRM systems open up new business opportunities to all areas of the financial services industry—including wealth management, asset management, corporate development, investment banking, hedge funds, real estate, and venture capital.

Disrupting through connectivity is only part of the story, however. To be successful, cloud CRM vendors must also be committed to helping their customers succeed. This requires a new model of customer care that ensures that clients are successful in their use of the cloud-based systems.

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Is Cloud Computing Secure for Financial Services Industry?

Cloud Computing for Financial ServicesMy 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.

Alok Misra

 

 

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Are Private Equity Deal Makers Seeing Increased Competition?

“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.

Alok Misra

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Vertical Cloud Computing Providers Arrive for Financial Services Industry

Salesforce For Financial Services

Cloud Computing Predictions for 2014

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.

Alok Misra

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Are You Using an Older Version of Salesforce.com’s Service?

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.” 

Alok Misra

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Strategic Buyers Increase Media M&A Activity On Navatar Deal Connect

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.

Continue Reading →

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Cloud Computing & Salesforce Expands Into Financial Services Firms

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:

Cloud Computing Takes Shape Over Wall Street

Alok Misra

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Private Equity Deal Sourcing & M&A Relationships Are About Quantity in a Cloud Computing World

My investment banker buddy at Morgan Stanley insists that dealmaking has always been about fewer quality relationships, and will remain so.

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.

Alok Misra

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How Salesforce CRM Helps Private Equity Funds Improve Deal Sourcing & Portfolio Performance

The private equity business requires a lot of focus – focus on fundraising, on finding the right deals, on company performance – before it can deliver successful returns for its limited partners.

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.

Alok Misra

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Is Oracle’s Cloud Multitenant? Does It Matter?

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.

Alok Misra

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