Over the course of the last few months, we have been sitting down with some of the leading figures in alternative asset management software to get their outlook on current and future industry hotspots, to discover what they find to be driving product sales and development, and to obtain their overall view of the market – where the benefits of their products are able to gain them a competitive advantage, and their advice for firms looking to invest in a new system.
Simon Koziel is the President and Founder of ProTrak International. He has over 30 years of experience in the investment management, investment banking and consulting industries, having held senior roles at firms including J.P. Morgan, and Arthur D. Little. Prior to founding ProTrak, Simon was the President of a software consulting company serving the investment management community. Simon holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science from the City College of New York – School of Engineering.
What is your outlook for expansion, sales, people and clients? What are the perceived hotspots (e.g. geography, sector)?
When I founded ProTrak almost 28 years ago, we were predominantly focussed on the institutional investment management space. Years later, non-traditional investment strategies, such as hedge funds, private equity and funds of funds, began to enter the industry. Many of our clients began to evolve into alternative techniques, and we were quickly able to adapt our solutions to fit. As a result, ProTrak is not limited to any one asset class. Our clients are split across traditional investment management, hedge funds and private equity, with 45% still in the traditional investment management space.
London and New York are our most active sources of business, but we have started to see more interest from Asia. This is primarily from Hong Kong and Singapore. We used to have a stronger pipeline from South America, and particularly Brazil, but the depreciation of the local currency has made it more difficult recently for funds to invest in asset management technology, like ours.
Our most recent expansion effort has been focussed on the start-up sector, which has historically been outside of the scope of our client base. Initially, we found that the pricing of our solution was out of reach of most start-ups, so we reorganised our fee structure whilst developing what we refer to as a hybrid solution. This gives our lower tier clients the option to design a license that fits their specific needs. So, for example, we have an administrator license, a standard full user license, a view only license, and an email only license. These options offer start-ups a high value client touch system platform in a more economical solution, and have driven our expansion in the start-up sector.
What benefits do your clients most often see from implementing your product?
One of the key benefits of the ProTrak solution is that it has an open architecture. This means that our clients can easily import and export practically any data without having to write any kind of script. This is a significant benefit for those who are used to working with Excel spreadsheets. Especially for those that have their investor data coming from a portfolio accounting system or third party administrator, this ease of import and export is of significant value.
Another key benefit for our clients is the ProTrak platform’s unparalleled security matrix. When it comes to security, firms have a number of choices. There are benefits to having all of your data in the cloud, but the safest possible option is to have it on premise. ProTrak offers an entirely on premise solution, which is very attractive to many of our clients. In our experience, security tends to be one of the most pressing client concerns. Most would prefer to keep their data on premise, as they are still wary of data integrity with the cloud.
How do you differentiate your product from others when speaking to potential new clients?
The key thing that sets ProTrak apart is that it is not just a CRM. It is a strategic tool built on a strong CRM foundation. We designed and built it as one would build a house. If the foundation is strong enough, then it is easy to add more floors. Unlike a standard CRM tool, ProTrak doesn’t only provide support for sales, marketing, and investor relations. Our solution is actually three CRMs in one. There are three user-defined databases, and each interacts with the others. As an example, for private equity, one is for the deal side, one is for managing limited partner relationships, and the third is for investment banks and other intermediaries.
Another ProTrak differentiator is its versatility. Because of our experience across multiple sectors, the ProTrak platform can easily adapt if a client wants to expand into another investment strategy. For example, if a private equity firm were to decide to get into hedge funds, or vice versa.
You can configure the ProTrak platform however you like, and given that we have been in the industry for over 25 years, developing and evolving with our clients’ needs, our ‘out of the box’ solution has everything that most of our clients will need.
What features have you introduced recently and what features are to come?
Our next release in early 2017 adds a new functionality based on email tracking. For example, if one of our clients were to run a mass email marketing campaign, this tool will allow them to easily track the number of people that open the email, click on links, open the email multiple times, those who opt out, and those who respond positively. All of this data can be organised by company, by individual contacts or campaign.
The key benefit of this new feature will be the analytical potential. For example, if you were to send each of your clients a series of emails over a period of six months, you could track the exact stage at which you piqued their interest. This could be hugely beneficial in terms of planning future campaigns to be as economically efficient as possible. If you introduced a series of products, you could see which one a potential client clicked on, and target future emails accordingly.
Another scenario in which this new functionality will be useful is in event management. We saw a gap in the market for a tool to elegantly manage and analyse the end-to-end invitation process. Our email tracking tool will allow a firm to easily manage invitations and responses, as well as the people who are attending certain events, the cost of the event per person, and so forth. Our clients will also be able to automate follow up emails. For example, if a client responded positively to an invitation, ProTrak could automatically send a reminder in the weeks prior to the event. Overall, it is going to be a fantastic new feature, with multiple benefits for our clients.
What forum/s do you currently have to obtain feedback from your clients?
Our users are continually providing us with feedback through our client services initiatives. We have a very low staff turnover in our client services team, with each member having spent an average of 10 years with ProTrak. This means that they have truly, ‘heard everything,’ and have deep experience to fully understand any of our clients’ concerns.
It is the skill of this team that really drives the ongoing development of the ProTrak solution. They know how to identify an opportunity for improvement from client feedback. Over 85% of ProTrak’s enhancements stem directly from client feedback. Our core users are active, focussed and very smart, and their feedback contributes to a huge amount of our product development.
What advice would you give a C-Level customer thinking about purchasing software or embarking on an implementation project?
The key piece of advice I would give is to task somebody in the business to clearly set out the requirements before beginning the software selection process. As a firm, you need to think about exactly how you want to work. For example, how you want to communicate and share data, how you want to work in terms of security, and so on. When embarking on this task, there has to be a distinction between a need and a want. That is very important, because no system will be able to give everyone in your firm all that they could wish for. So firstly, set out your clear business needs, then document a wish list.
I believe that this is where a consultancy, such as Holland Mountain, could be very useful. I can advocate for the benefits of partnering with a consultancy when embarking on an implementation project. They know exactly what questions ought to be asked, and what ought to be prioritised. They understand what is essential, and what can be put off to potentially revisit later. They will also be able to benchmark your requirements and wishes against those of other firms running similar projects. The most efficient implementations I have seen have been those with the help of a specialised advisor, particularly in the case of the bigger firms.
The final piece of advice I would give is to factor in the time and resource for effective data migration. Data migration is probably the most time consuming part of any implementation process, because the process is like moving a house. When you try and pack up your basement, there will be loads of rubbish that you will end up throwing away. It makes far more sense to sort through this now, rather than packing up everything and taking it to the new house. Likewise, with a data migration project, firms ought to clean up the data first, rather than migrate a bulk of flawed data into a brand new system. Your employees are far more likely to buy into the new system if it begins with a base of clean data. Ineffective or rushed data migration is where most implementations fail.