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Vertical Spotlight: Financial Services

Vertical Spotlight: Financial Services

We’re excited to share our second blog in the Financial Services Vertical Spotlight Series. This month’s blog will feature Tim Kennedy, Vice President of Financial Services at Thrive and focus on automation.

Tim is responsible for combining extensive resources and technical capabilities with a dedicated team of highly trained engineers to assist our enterprise clients with established and emerging technology solutions. Tim’s focus involves onboarding private equity firms, hedge funds, pension funds and endowments, family offices and commercial banks.

Here are his insights on how Thrive’s tailored IT platform helps financial firms automate the entire lifecycle of their workflows to ensure future success.

What are the biggest automation challenges facing Thrive’s financial industry customers?

One of the challenges that I see working with prospects is that IT can be a very manual process. When I say manual I’m referring to the beginning of a ticket entry, or into a help desk, it can be very labor driven. Also, there’s not a lot of oversight of those tickets or the help desk.

For example, when a new employee comes into the company, the IT firm, internal IT or outsourced IT has to endure a very manual process to get that person onboarded. There’s paperwork that has to be filled out and IT backend work required to set that employee up on internal systems and networks as well as ordering the appropriate computer/equipment, etc. One of the things that Thrive has been able to improve on from an IT perspective is offering a platform that streamlines the entire process.

Using our ServiceNow-powered platform, we’re able to automate that workflow from the beginning to the end of the onboarding process, including the arrival and unboxing of the PC and the automatic configuration of the machine with the right software, monitoring tools, and cyber applications. Typically, this process could take weeks to complete for a new employee, and Thrive can automate the entire lifecycle of that process.

Why is digital automation so important to the financial industry and for customers in that space? Do they understand that this is something they need to tackle, or is there a little bit of complacency?

I’d say it’s a little bit of both. Some are embracing it and some are looking to automate things not only internally on the IT side, but also from the business side. For the most part, I would say, depending on the chief information officer or the chief technical officer at these firms, it can vary. I think obviously with people working from home and not in offices, digital transformation is becoming more and more part of the conversation than it was before the pandemic.

What does that do? It makes it easier for the employees to work anywhere they need to. For instance, employees no longer need to share individual documents from person to person. They can collaborate via Microsoft Teams within specific groups and set up parameters around privacy and who has access control. This is encompassed within Thrive’s offering, not just providing Teams to the business, but we have the oversight to make sure files are encrypted and data privacy covered. Those are the things that, in today’s world in the financial market, are critical.

Why are Thrive’s services essential to financial customers, and can you explain the services that are currently available? Moreover, why are these solutions particularly important for the financial industry?

I think everything’s important that we sell to them, but one of the things we do really well at Thrive is the solution and design we’re able to put in place for companies. A lot of firms can set you up on a public cloud and let the company manage it on their own, but at Thrive, we make the effort to keep the companies compliant by utilizing SEC, FINRA, and SIPC guidelines when developing an IT plan.
We ask the questions – What are the cyber initiatives are you looking at? What are you doing for remote user’s access? What about backups? For instance, we recently earned a partnership, a $12B hedge fund that has 65 users. We’re doing 3 different backups for them. Years ago, that was not the norm or easy to do, but the world of technology has changed a lot. The Hedge Fund also wanted to protect the companies data and at the same time make the end user employees experience easier. We designed and implemented all 65 Users with Virtual Desktops in Azure which has handled both needs they wanted to address. This is an example, how Thrive was able to design a solution with a tailored approach that made the CFO and COO feel comfortable. This all comes out of consulting with our clients and explaining to them that we do have the platform and toolset to automate their IT, but, at the same time, we’re able to follow the SEC and FINRA guidelines

What would be the dire consequences to financial firms and businesses if they don’t take these steps proactively to troubleshoot and reach out to Thrive? What are the ramifications to them if they don’t take action in automating their services (For instance, in regards to being competitive, relevant, compliance, etc.)?

Many of these firms are always looking for a competitive edge. That’s what they do for a living. Therefore, when you look at automation in this space, whether it’s sharing information with an investor or raising capital for a new fund, these firms want to be able to get information quickly and efficiently, not only from a business standpoint but also from a technology standpoint.

Having The Thrive platform, we’re able to go to an investor that is fundraising, conduct their day-to-day monitoring and tackle what we do for them when they outsource. Additionally, we give them visibility into the information they need securely, normalizing that data in a clear, precise fashion. This can be a very manual process when you’re working with an integrator or an MSP to get that information. So, therefore, having digital IT automation at your fingertips through The Thrive platform is critical. It doesn’t slow the investor down from a business standpoint, and I think that’s something Thrive does well.

We are a differentiator in this space because when we onboard new clients onto our platform, we can show them all the feature sets and data and then customize reports to their specific needs.

That was my next question, competitive advantage, which you’ve covered the holistic consulting Thrive offers for the entire business. You highlighted the benefits and also time to market and the speed that a business would lose if the automation was manual. Is that how you look at the competitive advantage Thrive provides clients?

Yes, completely. We see clients that are frustrated with not being able to access that information easily or automatically. A lot of integrators do the initial setup for their clients, but they’re not forthcoming with sharing information with them. This allows our platform to stand out as the client can go in and pull that information they need on-demand. This is not just helpful from an investor standpoint, but this option is also available if an inquiry comes in from the SEC or FINRA, which can happen as well.

A lot of these regulatory bodies will look, if they’re going to do an audit, at policies and procedures that the firm has set up around compliance and cybersecurity to see if the firm is following those. With Thrive, in taking the consultative approach, we sit with our clients and work with them in that compliance manual to make sure their data is backed up and they know how that’s been accomplished by us. We also follow through with reporting and monitoring the firm’s activities through our platform.

Thrive is there for the entire automation journey for financial clients and is there to make sure that all the firm’s bases are covered and systems are optimized. Is there a step that financial firms commonly overlook when they’re looking to automate processes?

Now it’s more around the collaboration for automation. When we talked to prospects, they might be using Teams or they might be using Sharepoint. This just happened the other day, and this firm was smaller (23 people). You might wonder how much collaboration can happen there. Believe it or not, this firm was set up on Teams, but using it for instant chat internally. They’re not using the full potential Sharepoint, just using it for file structure. They’re not sharing documents internally via Teams.

Therefore, when we start talking to clients, we realize the full use of these collaboration tools is often missed across the board in the industry by most MSPs. This typically happens because they don’t have a team to help guide them in that aspect of the business. This tends to be an immediate red flag as they’re not using all the potential offerings that Office 365 can provide. And, at Thrive, as we start to ask the firm more questions, we realize they’re using maybe 25% of the potential the Microsoft stack can help them with. This is where the automation conversations come into play and we can identify the client’s immediate needs in regards to automation in the Microsoft stack. We can be a consultant for our clients to ensure they’re getting the full use out of their tools and therefore, seeing that return on investment as a result.

Here’s an example – There’s a family office that we brought on, it was probably about a year and a half ago now. They’ve grown a tremendous amount working with high-net families and manage about $35B of AUM (assets under management). This company is managing the back office for these high-net families (approximately 50 families). Thrive took over their IT and automated sharing tickets with their internal staff through ServiceNow. We provided them with the full stack of offerings from A to Z in our portfolio.

We talked about their current frustrations in onboarding new families and how they wanted to share documents easier externally. They explained they were using a third-party application to encrypt those files. As a result, we pulled our collaboration team in and asked them to review the whole process of onboarding a family, including the amount of paperwork involved for compliance and regulatory reasons. Thrive was able to automate that entire workflow with the help of our collaboration team and it’s been a huge success for the company. We were able to save a significant amount of employee hours conducted daily through automation.

Let’s briefly touch on the experience Thrive provides its financial clients. Can you tell me how the onboarding process is handled?

The onboarding process that we have here at Thrive is detailed based on the project. Look, there are plenty of integrators out there that will get it done by brute force, but at Thrive, we map out our projects in phases.

I’ll give you an example with a firm that we brought on 6 months ago and are still working on the project today. The firm is well-established and has been in business for 15 years. They were leaving their current integrator and there was a lot of data. Phasing the integrator out was a process and being a financial firm, they have a tremendous amount of sensitive current data and historical data that they reference for trades.

We went the extra mile in onboarding this client. For instance, we reached out to Bloomberg and Reuters on behalf of the firm. We have the expertise, working within the financial vertical, with engineers that are familiar with this industry. Thrive has also built relationships with other trusted vendors outside your typical IT providers that our clients can leverage. The onboarding process can be difficult, but what Thrive does well is we take the time to execute a well-thought-out plan with different phases or checkpoints along the way. It’s not the norm for the MSPs in the financial vertical, so that’s a differentiator.

Additionally, another key element of Thrive is how we manage the client account. We have a pod structure, where there’s a group of highly skilled engineers that focus solely on our financial vertical. So, again, they know the applications, they know the trading software clients use. They have relationships with vendors like Bloomberg if need be, or others as well. They are also familiar with the applications that firms are using. This part is critical because when these financial firms outsource their IT, they don’t want to be involved in dealing with other vendors. They’re relying on us.

In our pod structure, these skilled engineers not only understand the business and their business needs, but they’re grouped with a virtual CTO to help the client, guide them in strategy, understand their budgets and other applications they might use. They’re able to help them from a business side and a technical side, which is different from most MSPs. Moreover, from a service standpoint, you now have the same faces talking to the client regularly and can build familiarity with them.

Finally, what’s fascinating and different for us is the end-user response time because that’s where it can break in this space. We’ve all heard stories, people didn’t get back to them for two hours. The next day they called back and said, “Hey, we noticed you put a ticket in this space,” which typically ends in a negative experience for that user.

One thing we do differently is the end-user calls are routed to that pod structure and we’re the only ones that do that today in this space. Typically, there’s a desk of 30 or 40 people, most of the time outside the U.S. In this situation, the person handling the user’s request is just entering the issue as a ticket and then pushing it onto someone else. There are a lot of frustrations with that in this space. People want to talk directly to the individual that can get the problem fixed immediately. So what is great about routing the calls into this pod structure is they get someone not only from the top-level, who’s managing the account but down to the help desk that knows the account and can fix the problems. These engineers are certified and can fix the problem with the end-user whenever the phone call happens.

Are you interested in learning more about Thrive’s NextGen IT for Financial Services? Click here!

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