Transfer Agency (TA) services often have been, and still are, seen as a bolt-on, loss-leading part of a wider outsourcing arrangement. Now, however, Asset Managers are expecting more – they’re not only looking to address common operational pain points and challenges, but are looking beyond a commoditized service to provide value to their funds and the entire investor journey. In both the immediate and longer-term future, there needs to be a pivotal move towards a value-add product.
Where Are We Now? Frustrations with Legacy Systems and Technology are Commonplace
In the current age of outsourced TA operations, we consistently see the same themes underpinning frustrations:
- No Global Platform
Historically, TAs have shaped their operations to jurisdictional regulation and distribution norms, thus creating region-specific TA platforms. The vast majority of Global Asset Managers with global distribution models are either serviced by regional TAs or are shoehorned into a “mixed” TA approach.
- No Sophisticated Digital Offering
Legacy interfaces are commonplace and the progression to mobile access continues to lag, diminishing investor experience. Digital offerings are becoming a “must have” by Asset Managers in seeking a TA.
- Reliance on Manual Processes
Throughout the investor journey there is a continued reliance on white paper instructions. This, in turn, leads to a continued reliance on human intervention and checks, further bloating TA teams. White paper instructions add minimal value to the Asset Manager and their funds – how much longer will lengthy onboarding processes be the norm?
- Broader Margin Pressure
Whilst not unique to TAs, pressures on margins and therefore costs will continue whilst Asset Managers expect consistent innovation to improve their Client Experience to match how customers interact with businesses in other industries.
Where Next in the Immediate Future? Time to Put Thought into Action; Where TA Investment Should be Now
Investor Self Service
Investors expect the ability to initiate onboarding and progress through to dealing through a digital interface, independent of an investors service team support. The removal of human intervention will lead to opportunities to reduce cost inefficiencies and operational risks.
Next Generation Digital Channels
More advanced digital interfaces and applications for client communications, akin to banking apps, are a short time priority. A single online view and a move away from antiquated, “read-only” web portals will be embraced. Successful development and a clear pipeline will be a quick win for TAs looking to stand out in the market.
The introduction of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to replace repetitive, low value processes (such as reconciliations or sample QC generation) will also ultimately lead to a reduction in team size. This will further drive down costs and allow providers to focus on the value-add services.
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) Enhanced Regional Platforms
DLT has been heavily invested in by TAs, but the transformation which was once promised by DLT has not yet materialized. DLT will continue to be an area of focussed investment, allowing for faster processing and transparent oversight of TA, however it may not be the silver bullet once promised.
What About Medium- and Longer-Term Opportunities? What Was Once Considered Blue Sky Thinking Looks Set to Become Reality
Technology advancements run in direct synergy with the advance of future-state TA capability. To maximise return on investment, TAs need to seek out areas with the broadest and deepest impact.
Single, Global Platform (with support of Blockchain)
A single, global platform is constantly discussed by Asset Managers and TAs. With this comes several granular enhancements as part of the journey to a global platform offering being ‘industry standard’. These include:
- The ability to invest across jurisdictions
- Real time updating of individual fund registers
- Reduced processing time
- Ability to safely satisfy and appropriately prioritize, sometimes conflicting, regulatory and tax regulations
- Ability to satisfy multiple dealing and servicing requirements across language, currency, time-zones, entities, product, and structure
What underpins all of this will be the widespread introduction of Blockchain. Although predicted to be 5-10 years away from widespread implementation, it remains the key to platform enhancement. Whilst conversations are not yet leading to actionable plans, TA’s must start developing plans now.
Photo recognition technology and video-based identity checks, AI enabled call routing and advanced chat bot systems capable of issue resolution will drastically improve the investor experience. Some TAs are already deploying versions of this, leveraging off technology used in other industries. AI-suggested dealing based on investor behaviour has been tabled as an opportunity to pay dividends for Asset Managers. However, regulatory and safeguarding complexities could pose too large a hurdle for some.
Advanced Data Capability
Advances in AI will bring with it the opportunity to consume and disseminate granular data more efficiently. Better connectivity between the numerous parties involved in daily and periodic processes will reduce timing lags on data files passing to and from the TA, Fund Accountant, Depositary, OMS/PMS platforms and Market Data vendors. Even in large Asset Servicers who provide Middle-to-Back, or even Front-to-Back solutions, the passing of data is typically running on fairly basic file transfer protocols and sweeps.
Data-centric approaches will continue to be at the forefront of success. Ingestion of TA data can provide considerable insights to support Distribution and Product teams. Whilst such drive needs to come from the Asset Managers, TAs need to ensure future data investment is not just looking “in” at their own needs and processes, but also at the needs of their clients.
It is time for the market and TAs to truly prioritise what is value-additive, and what can provide competitive advantage for both themselves and the Asset Manager. Appropriate investment will pay dividends in the near future, while the TAs flagging in this space run a real risk of being left behind their competitors. With the rise of technology companies entering the TA platform market, Asset Managers are also beginning to understand the alternatives to traditional TAs should they fail to adapt.
How Alpha Can Help
Alpha has deep experience across Transfer Agency operations. Our specialist team of consultants bring extensive capabilities and knowledge to working with clients to achieve their TA strategic goals. We have an in-depth understanding of TA services, how TA works effectively in an outsourced environment and the importance of it being seen as an extension of the Manager to Investors. If you would like to get in touch, please reach out to us here.
US – Annelle Kemp: firstname.lastname@example.org
UK – Caoimhe Munif: email@example.com
Europe – Alex Abrahams: firstname.lastname@example.org
APAC – Olya Nesterenko: email@example.com