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Imagining the Next Generation of the Back Office

By Bob Ward, CEO, QUODD

Bob Ward, CEO, QUODD

If you want to get an idea about how the digitally native generation operates when confronted by unintuitive technology, consider this scenario from our intern’s business school class exercise.

He’s enrolled in a fixed income class in a master’s degree program at a local Boston-area college that uses mainstay or mainstream “terminals” to find information for class assignments. During a recent assignment, the class groups struggled to use these terminals to find the information needed to complete the task. They struggled to use the application to source specific market data on bonds because the technology was not intuitive for these digital-first students. The point of the exercise was twofold – to educate these students on the types of data they would encounter in a typical finance job in the field, and to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of a manual command-based platform they’d likely be using to extract that data in their day-to-day duties.

To our intern’s credit, he sought an alternative option and found a more modern platform that provides the same data, but with an intuitive interface and a straightforward process for querying, downloading, and sharing data. As a result, he was able to easily and quickly find the information needed for him to complete the assignment.

Our intern’s experience shows how critical it is for consumer-oriented businesses to cater to the digitally native generation. That also extends to the corporate world and B2B environments.

As I think about where my company sits at the intersection of the financial markets, seeing the world through the eyes of the digitally native generation has made me realize that many organizations in our world are staring down a real talent recruitment and retention crisis that threatens the foundations of those businesses.

Some may read this article and think it’s hyperbole. The imminent threat of complete disruption and sounding the alarm for digital laggards is a narrative that all too many may be tired of hearing. Blackberry thought the same thing. For the most part, among the systems and software that power financial services, the front office applications have received the message and adjusted accordingly.

But for many of the various players in the asset and wealth management ecosystem, the real risk is coming for those that have not turned their attention to reengineering their back offices to align with the workforce of tomorrow. Centralization and accessibility of data are at the heart of the issue. Firms thinking about the long-term success of their businesses and creating an environment for their employees to thrive and be fulfilled need to rethink how their data is accessed, consumed, and shared. While there are upfront costs associated with implementing a new system and investing in the time needed to achieve success, such an investment will benefit a company’s business goals for years to come.

To be sure, the platforms those employees use need to evolve as well to keep pace with the modern workforce. While our business is focused on market data, this challenge is agnostic as to the type of data we’re talking about. It could be CRM data, some type of internal proprietary data, third party content or other. No matter what it is, the fact is that for the new generation to be more effective in their roles, and be a more valuable asset to their organizations, the data needs to be centralized, accurate, timely and above all else, easily accessible with intuitive tools and interfaces.

Digital Natives Becoming the Heart of the (Back Office) Workforce

Much has been written about digital natives and their impact on the workforce.

The influences of their day-to-day experiences with technology manifest in their work lives as well. We’re now conditioned to have all the information we will ever need in our pocket, ready to access at a moment’s notice. The remote work movement played a big part in that. To be sure, this isn’t exclusive to the next generation, but they’re coming up now in a time where remote work is here to stay. It’s a movement that most are behind. A recent McKinsey survey found 58 percent of 13,896 employed respondents say they can work remotely at least part time. And among the respondents given the option to work remotely, 87 percent take their employers up on that offer.

The next generation of employees are more critical than ever when it comes to the tools that their employers provide to them to do their jobs. A survey run by David Stillman in his recent book “Gen Z at Work” found that 91 percent of digital natives claim that technological sophistication is a determining factor when deciding to work for a company. Comparing this with a survey of one (our intern), I can absolutely vouch for this.

The Back Office of the Future – Accessible, Consumable, Shareable

When plotting out a back-office transformation to adapt to these major forces, there are three main considerations that emerge when it comes to how to take action.

Accessibility. The decentralized workforce is here to stay, meaning remote, cloud-based tools must become the norm.

User experience. Because of the modern influences, how employees interact with technology has changed forever. Today’s workforce is accustomed to point-and-click interfaces. Legacy command-based market data systems that require extensive training are running on borrowed time. I see a parallel to when MS-DOS gave way to Windows 95. Yes, some people had an affinity for MS-DOS, but by and large in the professional world, nobody ever looked back. Point-and-click environments have replaced those archaic computer languages.

Collaboration. Checking with five different people before deciding on trying a new restaurant is the norm. The same thing can be said about sharing data and insights within an organization, especially in financial services, where there are also reporting and compliance considerations that need to be adhered to. This goes hand in hand with the point about accessibility.

The next generation of the back office is going to force the hand of many organizations that have clung to legacy systems, especially when it comes to how these firms access, consume and share market data.

The fact is that people remain at the core of the success of any business, financial services notwithstanding. To ignore the realities of what the modern employee now requires to be successful in your organization is to ignore them at your own peril potentially.

What it comes down to is centralizing critical data, such as market data, and generating consistency and reliability as it feeds through to all downstream applications. All facilitated by a modern infrastructure that allows your employees to access, consume and share data from that same place.

The good news is that the tools to make this happen exist today. You have to ask yourself – will your organization be a leader in this movement, dragged along, or left behind altogether?