Oiling the wheels for long-lasting change
By A Paris – 2020 may have been a rude introduction to the world of remote working, but the months of travel restrictions and the shift to virtual working have proved to the fund management industry that alternatives to traditional full-time office set-ups can indeed work. Technology oiled the wheels for changing the way organisations operate and continues to play a significant role in their strategy going forward.
This transition has also broadened the scope for how international alternative asset managers recruit staff. Geographical location is no longer a barrier for some, meaning the pool of potential professionals to choose from has grown larger.
Technology is the lynchpin which ensures that workflow is smooth and that colleagues dialogue and collaborate harmoniously in the current environment.
“With all employees now working virtually, collaboration tools and business information management systems are critical for any organisation to weather the Covid-19 storm. At LaSalle, we have provided our employees with Cisco Webex and Microsoft TEAMs collaboration tools, in addition to our secure cloud-based CRM system, file transfer tools, global intranet and Matterport for property tours and re-entry to our offices.
“Our business information management system is also leveraging cloud technologies, and hence we have a much-needed infrastructure-scaling agility and flexibility needed when all our business operations are operating virtually,” explains Sarin Thampy, Global Head of Digital Technology, LaSalle Investment Management.
Thampy believes the firm’s processes, across key activities like capital raising and asset management, will be transformed as it embraces new digital technologies. This transformation refers to the use of immersive virtual or augmented reality systems for site visits and due diligence presentations and the continued acceleration of PropTech tools that help more efficiently manage properties. “We are at an exciting stage of digital transformation at LaSalle and the industry as a whole,” he comments.
In a report outlining the impact of Covid-19 on the investment management industry, Cary Stier, Investment Management Leader at Deloitte, says: “Challenging times can be a catalyst for future innovation and growth. Organisational resiliency plans and overall operating models will be re-examined to advance digital transformation and agility. Work, workforce, and workplace experiences will be forever changed, supported by an ecosystem of virtual resources, technology and behavioural norms that define work as a thing we do, not a place we go.”
Technology in overdrive
At Bluesky Capital, this review has led to the creation of a robust digital infrastructure which sets the firm up well for the future. Andrea Leccese, founder of Bluesky Capital, elaborates: “Before Covid, we were rarely using remote working technologies. But once the pandemic hit in March this year, we had to accelerate the development of this kind of infrastructure. To ensure business continuity in our operations, we set up VPN technology for people to work from home. We also put proper additional security in place to mitigate the potential of any cyber security attacks.”
In a report outlining the pathway beyond Covid, PwC notes: “Digital transformation has been gathering pace within asset and wealth management for some time, but the lockdown has catapulted efforts forwards by several years. Firms now recognise digital capabilities as essential in sustaining distribution and customer support. The crisis has also dispelled much of the lingering resistance to remote working.”
Thampy at La Salle remarks: “Covid-19 has caused us to accelerate several key technology projects within LaSalle. More specifically, our focus is now to leverage the power of digital technologies to empower our employees, who are working virtually, to have easier and faster access to data to better inform our investment decisions, while serving our clients’ information needs.”
Katy Huberty, head of North American technology hardware equity research at Morgan Stanley observes: “These technology themes were under way before the pandemic, but the need to digitally connect with employees and customers has now fast-tracked adoption to a point of no return –especially in e-commerce and public cloud usage.
“This digital disruption will likely expand to more segments of the market, broadening stock market performance to more digital leaders, and driving structurally higher levels of technology investment.”
Discussing the steps Man Group took, from a technology perspective, Tom Price, CTO, Core Technology, outlines: “Technology has been a critical component in Man Group’s global response to the threat of Covid-19. At the time of writing, 99% of Man Group’s employees are working from home, with only a limited number of infrastructure staff maintaining on-site facilities and technology services.”
He notes how the technology team at Man was scheduled to roll out a number of new tools in 2020 to support flexible working and collaboration across the firm’s global offices. As part of the Covid-19 response plan, the firm decided to fast-track the roll-out of four main products: Slack, Cisco WebEx, Cisco Jabber and Adobe Sign.
Firms set up in the past few years are more likely to already have been using certain tools, even in pre-Covid times.
One example is Epsilon Asset Management. Set up in 2017, the firm uses a cloud-based infrastructure, where every part of the firm is set up remotely. “Although there were changes in our workflow, they were made to get the best out of our performance rather than shifts we had to make because we couldn’t work in the office any longer,” comments Michael Perlow, the founder of the firm.
Breaking recruitment borders
The proliferation to technology tools is also changing the way some managers recruit staff.
Leccese at Bluesky Capital explains: “We effectively managed to set up a very robust technology infrastructure for people to work from any location. In fact, we’re looking to hire more professionals abroad especially in Asia and in Europe to better serve our global clientele. The transition to remote work has broadened our potential talent pool because we are not restricted by geography when looking to hire.”
The progress and development of communication technology like Zoom and other messaging video conferencing applications have buoyed businesses that have shifted to a remote working model. As the world accepts this way of working, managers can set up a global operation at a minimal cost.
According to Adam Kahn, managing partner at executive-search firm Odyssey Search Partners, the pandemic has also led to more willingness on behalf of potential candidates to consider making a change: “There is less friction in taking an interview over Zoom or some other video-conferencing platform. The logistical struggle of physically leaving your office to get to the interview has been eliminated.
“We can also observe lower levels of firm loyalty. There is more of a disconnect among colleagues working remotely and since that bond has been weakened, professionals are more likely to consider their options.”
In Perlow’s view, the pandemic has led to professionals questioning whether they need an office presence. However, he concludes: “This time has been a robust proof of concept and has show us we can be nearly as effective remotely as we are in person. We may be more flexible in our arrangements going forward but I think there is still value in having the team all in one location, as long as the office set-up is conducive to productivity.”