International Financial Data Services Builds Customer Equity With WebFOCUS

Based in Toronto, International Financial Data Services (IFDS) Canada provides outsourcing administration services and technology to the mutual fund, insurance, and banking industries in Canada and internationally. Commonly known as a transfer agency, IFDS owns and operates its own record-keeping system, called iFAST, which is used by more than 150 organizations, mostly mutual fund companies. In Canada, as the largest net settlement user over the FundSERV network, IFDS processes an average of 100,000 transactions each day.

“Because the Canadian mutual fund industry requires complete transparency into every transaction, right down to the advisor level, we have a mountain of data to contend with,” says David Bullock, executive vice president at IFDS. “Part of our competitive edge comes from transforming data into useful information that our clients can use to make fact-based decisions. We recognize that decision-makers at all levels of an organization should be able to more easily access, understand, analyze, collaborate, and act on information, anytime and anywhere, so we set out to create technology solutions that make it very easy for them to achieve these goals.”

Bullock speaks from experience. In his former position at a large mutual fund company, he often struggled to get the data he needed to run his business. In many instances he had to hire a third-party firm to translate raw transaction data into a format that was useful for reporting and analysis. He joined IFDS to help the company rectify this situation.

“We especially needed to deliver better sales and marketing data and analyses for the executive sales teams to drive sales, lower operational costs, and provide metrics to improve marketing,” he notes. “While IFDS maintains a lot of information, previously our clients had to know a lot about our systems in order to use the data, as well as have some basic knowledge of report writing. They often had great ideas, but no easy way to get the data they needed to bring those ideas to fruition.”

The Right Technology for the Job

IFDS set out to eliminate the need for third-party solution providers by providing business intelligence (BI) tools that its clients can use themselves. To achieve this transformation and create a dashboard-driven environment for reporting and analysis, IFDS used technology and services from Information Builders.

“Information Builders supplied superior technology along with solution architects that collaborated with our IT staff to help us structure the data, build a data mart, and create a high-performing, user-friendly BI system,” Bullock says. “We initially thought this solution would mainly appeal to smaller companies. However, we have had overwhelming interest from some of the largest mutual fund companies in the business.”

IFDS’s selection criteria for BI tools centered on four primary factors: total cost of ownership, licensing, architecture, and feature set. In addition to Information Builders, IFDS considered BusinessObjects, Cognos, and MicroStrategy.

“We had very specific ideas for how to provide broad access to our data,” explains Sara Hilliard, vice president of product management at IFDS. “Information Builders’ licensing model worked well for us. They also had good tools for customer-facing analytics, which makes it easy for our customers to qualify or drill down into the data.”

Exceptional service sealed the deal. “Information Builders worked closely with us during the pre-sales cycle to mock up a dashboard, which remains largely intact to this day,” adds Hilliard. “From the beginning, they treated us as an important client. Having local support was important to us, and we could tell Information Builders would be there when we needed them.”

Assistance From the Pros

IFDS retained Information Builders Professional Services to help construct IFDS Insight, a BI dashboard and associated reports based on the WebFOCUS BI platform. Their foremost objective was to emulate the client experience through user-friendly reports and dashboards. The team also created a mobile version of the solution for smartphones and tablets.

The internal IT group at IFDS collaborated closely throughout the development cycle to create the solution and build a business intelligence competency center. Information Builders spearheaded the development work and up-front testing while IFDS helped integrate the new BI environment with its surrounding infrastructure. Information Builders also helped construct the back-end database. This involved extracting data related to funds, categories, share classes, dealers, and advisors from the iFAST record-keeping system and loading it into a repository optimized for reporting.

IFDS Insight for Mobile Users

IFDS Insight is now live, in production, and quickly gaining adherents. For example, one of IFDS’s largest clients is conducting a pilot with the new tools. Business users at this company find it very easy to get the data they need with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen.

Senior managers use the dashboard to examine their wealth management business, while product managers use it to consider how to add, extend, or collapse their mutual fund offerings.

“The dashboard provides a capsule summary of the previous day’s activity, such as top trade tickets and top dealers,” says Hilliard. “WebFOCUS Active Technologies let them sort and manipulate statistics on selected fund products. Other reports permit them to analyze trends and dimensions over time. Access is secured, encrypted, and password-protected.”

Alert-Driven Capabilities for iPad Users

From the start, Information Builders helped IFDS design a mobile solution that works on tablets, such as Apple’s iPad. “We knew we needed to address accessibility,” says Hilliard. “Our target user base is not sitting in the office. They are traveling or in meetings all the time. They want to access their metrics from wherever they are.”

Hilliard also knew that these people wouldn’t spend a lot of time looking for information. Instead, IFDS decided to deliver information to them in the context of their day-to-day activities. Developers used the event-notification capabilities of WebFOCUS to devise a subscription-based alerting system that permits people to receive information and reports as critical events occur or when stated business conditions are met, such as when total trading volume reaches a preset threshold. Automatic scheduling, publishing, e-mail distribution, and archiving functions through WebFOCUS ReportCaster ensure that the right information always gets to the right person at the right time.

IFDS Insight Benefits

  • It can be accessed from the Internet 24/7, or you can schedule delivery to your mobile device
  • Access is secured, encrypted, and password-protected
  • Information is delivered via interactive dashboards, portable analytics, and ad hoc reports
  • Intuitive dashboards feature colorful charts and graphs that make it easy to obtain the insight you need
  • You can drill down to access detailed transaction information
  • Rich graphics and reports are ideal for boardroom-quality corporate presentations
  • It can be tailored to meet your unique needs, including customizable reports based on distinct specifications
  • You can set up alerts to notify you automatically when key metrics change, making it easy to monitor your business
  • A flexible interface lets you choose the reporting formats you need, including output to Excel
  • A native interface to Apple iPad and iPhone devices gives you insight wherever you go

Hilliard says these real-time status updates are especially important to C-level users. “If a million-dollar ticket drops, they want to be aware of it,” she emphasizes. “WebFOCUS lets us interact with these users by delivering relevant information about critical events as they occur. The dashboard is very dynamic,” she adds. “People can address the big picture and drill down to underlying details very quickly.”

Positive Feedback From Loyal Customers

IFDS expects that 75 percent of its customers will adopt the IFDS Insight solution. As a value-added service, the purchase price subsidizes ongoing advancements to the data set and enables IFDS to continue to enhance the environment. For example, while the first version focused on sales and marketing professionals, upcoming versions will add capabilities for operational teams. They will also feature an interface to popular CRM systems and a predictive modeling module.

Early adopters are enthusiastic about this evolving BI system. “The feedback from our entire client base has been phenomenal,” says Hilliard. “Many of our customers currently get their information from Excel spreadsheets. Until now, they have not had an easy way to roll up the data and present it in an interactive way.”

IFDS does the hard work, combining relationship data with transactional data and applying the power of BI to create effective business solutions, including boardroom-quality reports. IFDS also offers professional services to customize the solution to each client’s requirements. Not only do these clients gain a new way to access the data, but they also have access to a team of professional consultants who can teach them how to obtain the information they need.

For example, a client might want to graphically depict account and advisor penetration on a digital map, or create a graphical report that illustrates whether redemption rates are trending up or down.

“If assets go up for a fund company, is it because the market moved, the company brought in new business, or the value of its combined assets have increased in price?” Bullock asks. “How does that translate into profitability for the company? These are the kinds of questions that our clients must answer all the time.

“One of our largest customers told us that IFDS Insight will transform his business,” Bullock concludes. “We’re giving business users greater transparency into what’s happening each day so they can determine how a huge range of data-driven variables impact their strategies and goals.”

Category: Financial services

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