While financial technology for alternative investments is a niche industry, there are a substantial and diverse number of companies operating within this space. One of my responsibilities at Netage is regularly reviewing the latest developments from our competitors, to further ensure that we are aware of the industry trends that are most relevant to our clients.
My favorite tech competitors to read about are the industry giants, Salesforce and Microsoft’s Dynamics platform. These companies are always hosting gigantic events such as Dreamforce and Convergence, building new offices in major cities, and rolling out the hype for their offerings. One of Salesforce’s latest new products exemplifies a key difference between a globally prominent, one-size-fits-all vendor and a dedicated, industry-specific provider.
Anticipating the enormous hoopla around the Apple Watch’s release, Salesforce ensured they were first to market with an Apple Watch app, supporting this release with significant PR promotion and digital advertising. Blair Hanley Frank’s article on Geekwire notes that Salesforce’s “super early adopter” approach “is a good way to score publicity” and “means Salesforce can do things like take part in the press around the Apple Watch launch and drive greater interest in its products.” Frank’s article also includes a quote from Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris, who notes that “we do a lot of outbound work where we’re talking about the future… as we get involved with these new products, it helps us have a platform to talk about where the future is going.”
This outbound approach is a sound strategy for retaining Salesforce’s reputation as a market leader in the CRM industry, and enhances the company’s valuation amidst constantly evolving rumors of a potential acquisition. Wearable tech may in fact become as “game-changing” as smartphones were in the late 2000s, a sentiment supported by Salesforce’s press release. While the potential long-term benefits for Salesforce are enormous, does this application benefit the end user now?
The Apple Watch is the first version of a product from a company that historically does not optimize their product until later releases, and the level of adoption is uncertain since Apple has not disclosed definitive sales figures. Apple itself has positioned the Apple Watch as a fashion accessory rather than a tool for productivity.
The actual product design is also suspect for in-depth front and middle office management – the largest Apple Watch screen size is 390px by 312px, compared to 1920px by 1080px for the smaller iPhone 6. Phones are always in a person’s possession, and even basic front office tasks would be far easier to manage on a smartphone than on a far smaller watch screen.
A CRM app on an Apple Watch in 2015 is a gimmick and an early-stage version of a gimmick that is far more likely to benefit a multi-national company’s bottom line years down the road rather than the customer base now. Industry-specific technology providers, conversely, are completely invested in developing features that improve the core user experience for clients.
I also assist the client service and product development teams at Netage by conducting post-implementation surveys. These surveys help define our product and service roadmap for the next year. While not as glamorous as Dreamforce or Convergence, Netage also holds client roundtables throughout the year in multiple cities, with company executives personally soliciting feedback from clients.
Requested features that are now in Dynamo™ include as a result of these feedback initiatives include direct data integration with PitchBook and BarclayHedge, and a hedge fund-specific module for research management. Netage also recently completed a comprehensive user-facing overhaul of the DynaMobile™ application for iOSv8.0, which incorporated input from clients across multiple verticals.
Alternative investment-specific financial technology providers also take steps to ensure the user is maximizing their productivity with the platform. Large generic providers that offer an out-of-the-box product which often requires external consultants to customize and continuously update the software for a client’s specific needs, increasing the long-term cost of adoption. Industry-specific, boutique providers leverage client-specific implementation contacts to configure the software, empowering a firm to directly define their desired software solution. The open architecture of these industry-specific platforms ensures the platform will smoothly incorporate unique configurations with the latest updates.
Leading generic providers provide the comfort of a top brand, but these companies will strive to innovate and drive headlines at the expense of the core customer experience. While Bruno Mars will likely never play a Netage client roundtable, our clients will benefit from a team that delivers the most relevant product features for alternative investment firms in 2015, and not 2022. We also think we’re more of a Pierce the Veil company anyway.