Investment operations teams take a new shape in technology-driven era

New cultural challenges and the technological nature of the business has led to different personnel within buy-side operations teams.

By John Brazier

Asset management operations teams are facing up to a new era of automation and technology innovations by changing their recruitment patterns, according to a panel, where one speaker claimed “the operational specialist is a dying breed”.

Speaking at InvestOps Europe, panellists highlighted new cultural challenges when it comes to fostering innovation, while the technological nature of the business has also led to different personnel within buy-side operations teams.

“Certainly in my organisation, the classic operational specialist is a dying breed,” said Jordan O’Neill, head of operations and treasury, Aspect Capital. “If I look at my team they are more business analysts and process engineers, they need to be able to sit and talk with the technologists. What we’ve seen work best is whereby the business user and developer are away in a room.

“We tend to not hire too many operational specialists these days, we look more for generalists with broader skill sets who can lend their hand well to taking a process and condensing it down.

“The old school operationalist that deals with recs [reconciliations] and break chasing is a dying breed.”

With technology and data becoming such essential components in the investment operations processes at asset management firms, being able to understand the business alongside the technology is becoming crucial.

While automation is slowly creeping into the formerly-manual processes of investment managers, people remain crucial to their business, however, it’s the skillset of those individuals that is changing according to experts.

“One of the two best employees I ever had came out of the ninth grade of public school and was so tremendously good at coping with the processes,” said Jacob Elsborg, director of pension and investment operations at ATP.

“Today I can see the business process management people are engineers and economics [specialists] that are moving in that direction. To be quite honest, if I was asked would I employ people with limited skills from school, I would say they would have to prove they could handle technology.”

Meanwhile, in the keynote opening to the InvestOps conference, Marcel Prins, chief operating officer at APG Asset Management, emphasised the importance of addressing cultural challenges in order to successfully innovate.

“Throwing money at an innovation lab and not going anywhere is not helping. Don’t confuse movement with progress,” said Prins.

“The challenge of the mastery of technology is not a technology challenge… it is a people and a cultural challenge. If you master the people and culture by being open in your ecosystem approach, relentlessly driving value in the sense that you have people thinking that they are contributing to the bottom line of an asset management company.

“It’s all about empowerment, the responsibility of us in this room is to make sure that people feel empowered. It’s our job to create the circumstance that people can do their job.”