• Blog
  • 3 Min Read
  • June 30, 2017

Communication is Key in Data Debates: Lessons from TSAM

Have you ever found yourself in an awkward position at a board meeting, where you spend the entire presentation trying to explain why some of the slides — prepared by different departments — have conflicting data?

If you have, you’re not alone. Data governance is an issue found in firms of all sizes.

On June 21 at The Summit for Asset Management (TSAM) in New York City, investment professionals discussed how a firm can handle conflict over the classification and quality of data. I was pleased to be one of the panelists on the forum, titled Internal Data Debates — Finding Solutions for Colleagues’ Pain Points. The other panelists were Sanjay Bery, Managing Director of Data Management at TIAA; and Jon Julian, SVP, Head of Data Integrity Group at Voya Asset Management. The conversation was moderated by Accenture Director Mick Cartwright.

The basic consensus of the panelists was that organizations need to build a culture around the importance of data management. Various departments need to come together to realize the importance of integrity and completeness of data the firm uses to operate day-to-day.

Speaking the Same Language

Every firm is made up of people with varying backgrounds and areas of expertise. Communication across all levels is key, as is understanding what is important to each person. Think of these variances as different “data dialects.”

Half the challenge of operating a successful investment firm is getting all interested parties, from portfolio managers down to back office operations, to communicate at the same level about the same type of data. Depending on their perspective in the trade process, someone might argue that a security should be classified one way, while someone else might push for it to be classified completely different. And, how a data point is defined might influence how a trade is executed or a portfolio is managed.

Some helpful points:

  • Promote consistency by applying a set of standards for your firm. Some panelists noted their organization established a committee of stakeholders who gather to discuss conflicting data and work toward a determination. If they cannot, someone in upper management has the final say.
  • Things change across the market daily — mergers, acquisitions, etc. You need to constantly watch your data, as it is constantly changing. The standards you put in place for data governance should be reviewed and revised periodically to reflect market changes.

Finding Flexibility

Sometimes it simply comes down to terminology because people think and act differently. To speak broadly, people in certain areas of the US say “soda,” while people in other parts of the US generally say “pop.” Both refer to the same thing, but have a different name and perhaps slightly different connotation.

The same principle can apply to data governance in an investment management firm.

Utilizing a third-party software system should provide flexibility in areas where you need it most. With the proper middle office solution integrated with a robust reporting platform, the data can be input in a variety of ways and shown to the client side-by-side, allowing the client to see differing views of their investments. In the end, it is the client’s money, and they deserve to see the information in multiple ways to facilitate an insightful discussion with their portfolio managers.

Such flexibility in reporting also allows you to model a firm’s risk. In this way, differing opinions about data governance are really important.

Whenever there is a pain point in your organization about data governance — and there always will be — consider the benefits of open communication and flexibility to ensure your firm’s continued success.

I had a great time at TSAM New York. I met some wonderful people with great insights into the investment management industry whom I hope to see again soon. Additionally, it is always a pleasure to catch up with acquaintances and attend the educational speeches and panels at this annual event.