Capital Raising Through Crowdfunding

Nicholas Doyle of DST gave a presentation on crowdfunding: an interesting topic to cover at a conference attended primarily by old-school financial services companies, who are the ones most likely to be radically disrupted by crowdfunding, but likely don’t see it coming. He started with a video from CraftFund — crowdsourced capital investment focused on the craft beer and food industry — then talked about the state of the market, the different business models, and the US securities regulations that apply to private securities that include crowdfunding. He also included a good timeline of crowdfunding from the 1983 startup of Grameen Bank‘s microfinancing operations, plus some of the regulations that govern microlending and microequity in the US:

Crowdfunding Timeline

I covered a bit about crowdfunding at the 2012 Technicity event, including the UK crowdfunding platform CrowdCube and a discussion on the legality of equity crowdfunding in Ontario (where I live). Equity crowdfunding really only started in the US in 2011 with MicroVentures, and the recently passed JOBS Act includes a number of regulations that apply to crowdfunding and other small-scale equity investments, including who can participate and how it can be promoted and sold. In particular, Title III of the JOBS Act applies to crowdfunding; it’s not finalized yet but Doyle was able to give us a review of what is expected there, as well as some of the state regulations that will impact crowdfunding.

The landscape positions the crowdfunding platforms between issuers and investors; that platform needs to include compliance, distribution, reporting and enabling technologies. Crowdfunding is only 0.6% of the world’s capital markets, but that’s still $1.6B and the industry has grown 1000% in the last five years, and will undoubtedly continue to grow. Debt financing is growing at a much higher rate than equity investing, in part due to the limits placed by the applicable titles of the JOBS Act. Donation models are also growing, and the biggest growth is in reward models, which are typical on sites such as Kickstarter. There are obvious challenges to work out with crowdfunding, such as secondary market liquidity and investor accreditation, but it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay and will continue to grow.

Crowdfunding Growth By Model

DST does not currently offer any products in this area, but it’s interesting to see that they are keeping a close eye on it to see how they can fit in the market, whether as a recordkeeper, clearinghouse or other role.

The sun is high and I’m all done with my presentation and videography commitments, so this will be the end of my blogging from DST ADVANCE 2015 as I head out to enjoy a bit of the Phoenix weather.

AXA And The Digital Enterprise

Day 2 at DST ADVANCE 2015, and I’m attending a panel of three people from AXA on how their journey to becoming a digital insurance business. They define digital business as new ways of engaging with their customers: customers that are increasingly more demanding with respect to online and mobile modes of interaction. This is also driven by their need to reduce and simplify paper requirements, internally in their opertions and field sales force, and with their customers. The mandate for their digital enterprise transformation came from top management as an initiative both for better customer engagement and operational efficiencies.

There was a big cultural and change management component here to encourage their field agents and advisor channel to take advantage of the new digital tools, which in turn improves back office effectiveness by, for example, reducing NIGO rates because of rules-driven application forms. In their operations center, this resulted in shifts in resources, and changes to the type of people that they needed to hire and train: less heads-down data entry, and more tech-savvy knowledge workers. They also needed to effect internal cultural changes to become more flexible, and to have closer collaboration between business and IT.

Becoming a digital insurance business has changed a lot in how AXA’s products are created and rolled out, and also in their IT operations: they introduced the role of chief data scientist, and shifted from a waterfall software development methodology to Agile development and integrated business-technical SCRUM teams. Like many insurance and financial services, they have a lot of legacy systems that run their business, and a big challenge ahead of them is to upgrade those to more agile platforms such as their upcoming migration to AWD 10. They’re using Salesforce in some areas, and want to be able to leverage that further in order to reduce the reliance on internal legacy CRM, as well as introducing emerging technologies such as speech analytics that are piloted successfully in a regional center before being rolled out across the broader enterprise. Within IT, they are changing their methods to more of a DevOps model, with a particular focus on quality engineering. They have created some entirely new teams, such as mobile testing, to accommodate emerging technologies, and be proactive with external forces such as mobile OS upgrades.

One area where they have seen success is in offering incentives to drive adoption by the advisors, such as competitions between regions on adoption levels; some of the incentives for adoption and suggesting new digital enterprise ideas include financial and travel benefits. New advisors are required to use the digital services, and existing advisors are becoming sold on the benefits of using the new tools; in the future, they are considering a negative financial incentive for continuing to use paper in order to further drive adoption. In rolling out a new version of an advisor portal, they included a feedback option, then gave priority to implementing the feedback suggested by the advisors; when the advisors realized that they were directly impacting the development of their day-to-day tools, their participation increased even more.

Audience members in the insurance industry also talked about a shift to digital enterprise causing an increase in top-line revenue by expanding markets, not just retaining existing customers and reducing costs. The AXA team echoed this, and the need to envision and evangelize completely new business models rather than just working on incremental improvement.

Key success factors that AXA identified include the merging of business and IT, and engaging the field sales force in defining and developing the digital services in order to create the right things at the right time. It took about a year from the point of their first rollout to widespread adoption, but now the new capabilities and tools are adopted more quickly since the advisors know that this is going to help them sell more and reduce problems in the sales and policy issue cycle.

Innovations In AWD User Experience

To finish off the first morning at DST ADVANCE 2015, I attended the session on customer and work experience, which was presented as a case study of background investigations on a security-sensitive hiring process, such as for a government immigration and border control agency. This is a relatively straightforward case management scenario: create a case, uploading and indexing the initiating documents using a form; then case management from a case worker’s viewpoint, including tasks assigned to them or other people on the team, and an activity stream view of all case activity. They demonstrated a number of the new widget capabilities, including grid views of case tasks and investigation team members, and Google Maps integration with case data overlaid on the map. We also saw a field investigator’s portal view that limits the view to that user’s active case progress and the details of their assignments. The data entry forms regarding the person being investigated are reused from other parts of the process, plus forms specific to the investigator such as travel expenses.

This shows quite different interfaces depending on the user persona: the simple forms-based view for the case initiator; the full case management interface for the knowledge worker; a worklist-oriented case portal view for the field investigator; and a traditional internal worklist view for internal workers who are assigned specific tasks without visibility onto the entire case.

We didn’t see anything on how these interfaces are built, although there was some discussion of that; I think that there’s a more technical session on building interfaces using the widgets tomorrow.

Unfortunately, this session was in conflict with the Solutions for Tomorrow’s Workforce presentation about goal-driven design and some of the customer research that they’ve done; difficult to get to all of the sessions of interest here.

AWD 2015 Product Strategy

Roy Brackett and Mike Lovell from DST’s BPS (Business Process Solutions) product management gave us a review of what happened in 2014 and an update on their 2015 product strategy, following on from the bits that we heard from John Vaughn in the opening session.

DST has a ton of experience with the back office, since they run a huge outsourcing operation, but their current push is to also improve front office and customer-facing functionality. They are accelerating their release cycles, and providing detailed information via web conferences and technical briefings with customers. They’ve also mapped out a value journey for their customers for complex implementations: from defining outcomes and performance metrics to a solution design, proof of concept and production implementation.

With a large portfolio of products, including quite a bit of legacy still running at client locations, they have some product management challenges both in refactoring and modernizing platforms, and implementing newer technologies to keep up with the competition. Over three releases from June 2014 to January 2015, they added a number of capabilities:

  • UI widgets that use their RESTful services, including messaging between the widgets and with other applications
  • Advanced comments that allow threading and an activity feed view, bringing a more collaborative, social feel to authenticated comments within AWD
  • Variable timers that can be set at runtime
  • Multiple recipients on outbound letters, such as sending a broker or advisor a copy of a letter sent to a client
  • RESTful authentication
  • Security upgrades, including enforcing trusted sources for server data, and prohibiting JavaScript in comments
  • Separating out batch actions to improve performance

With their next releases, scheduled for April and beyond, they are adding or enhancing the following functionality:

  • Consume SAML-based web services
  • Communications editor for creating outbound correspondence
  • Updated platform support for WebSphere, Jbox, WebLogic, Oracle, WinSQL and IE 11
  • Updates to case management functionality including date functions, such as basing a date on the completion of dependencies, and adding case end dates
  • Early release of their Processing Workspace, which will mark the beginning of the end of their current portal UI; this improves real estate and navigation, and adds personalization for the primary workspace, worklists, search and attachment handling
  • Process analytics
  • Advanced workgroup management, rather than just a simple supervisor-worker hierarchy
  • Quality metrics and related analytics
  • Enhanced data transfer from AWD to the BI warehouse — there will be a session following this on the entire BI roadmap

There’s also some work being done on creating robust data centers under their Project Rainforest, which will be covered in sessions later today.

We pulled back from the details to look at the business problems that are front of mind for organizations: enhanced customer experience, process efficiency, targeted marketing (via analytics) and cost reduction top the list. Broken down by industry, DST’s big three customer verticals of banking/investments, insurance and healthcare are definitely focused on enhanced customer experience, but also concerned with risk and compliance more than the overall average. To address this, DST is doing significant product development in the vertical application solutions and accelerators that can help their target customers achieve value sooner.

DST has never been seen as an innovator in the BPMS market in terms of features, and their current roadmap isn’t going to change that view. However, what they do provide is a deep pool of domain expertise in their core markets, and solid products that solve the real business problems for those customers. This has allowed them to create extremely strong relationships with their customers, who rely on them to support existing practices while modernizing their technology.

Kicking Off #DSTAdvance15 – DST Update From @JCV816

Conference season always brings some decisions and conflicts, and this year’s first one (for me) came down to a decision between DST‘s ADVANCE in Phoenix, and IBM InterConnect in Las Vegas. DST had booked me to speak at this year’s conference right after last year, and when IBM combined Impact into InterConnect, the date moved from their usual March or April event to February, directly in conflict with DST. Also: Phoenix over Vegas? No competition.

DST has combined some of their smaller financial services events into ADVANCE this year, giving this a stronger than ever focus on financial services especially in the area of asset/fund management. This is a big chunk of their customer base, along with insurance, although many of the solutions that they offer — including their BPMS — cn apply to other verticals. I’ll be presenting later today about the challenges of onboarding, and how BPM, case management, smart process applications and other technologies can be applied to solve some of the business problems associated with these unpredictable, complex and risk-laden processes.

There were hands-on labs for customers yesterday, but the main conference started this morning with an opening session hosted by John Vaughn and featuring three of the senior management team, focused on the four key things that DST has been focusing on in the past year in order to help their customers with business growth and retention: transforming the customer experience, optimizing distribution, staying ahead of compliance risks, and providing smarter business process solutions. We heard a quick overview about their advances in customer experience; advanced analytics applied to distribution solutions leveraged by their acquisition of kasina; GRC solutions that extend into the distribution chain; and business process solutions including their onboarding, claims processing and AML/KYC frameworks, plus their upcoming AltServe offering for managing alternative investments.

Since DST has an outsourcing operation that processes a huge portion of the mutual fund and similar transactions in the US, and they are their own first and best customer, they know what they’re doing in creating technology solutions for managing the tough problems in financial services. As Vaughn pointed out during the keynote, a lot of the “easy” transactions are now being done outside your back office, either further up in the distribution channel or through customer self-service, meaning that the work being done internally includes more of the difficult, unpredictable business problems; their frameworks and solution accelerators are focused on many of those.

Lots of great sessions on the agenda today; I’m going to head to the BPM product strategy breakout to see what’s coming up