Why Asian asset management must adopt a unified platform

Real-time data improves investment decision-making, so to capitalize on the shift in investor appetite in Asia, a single system covering all front-to-back operations is key

Oliver Johnson
Oliver Johnson

If there is one market that has continued to withstand disruption, it is Asian asset management. Growing at 9% per annum for the last decade, it is the world’s fastest growing asset management market. Much of this growth comes from the domestic shift in investor risk appetite, from low-yielding fixed income, to more rewarding global, multi-asset class strategies. Having grown rapidly across the Western Hemisphere, these strategies are now taking over Asia by storm, overtaking traditional equity and fixed income assets. In 2017 alone, 70% of Asian institutional mandates were for multi-asset and alternatives investments and this trend continues.

But while Asian buyside firms have enjoyed steady growth in profit margins, cost margins have also risen, with absolute cost pools rising by 13% in 2017. Compared to that of North America (24.9 bps) and Western Europe (21.6 bps), Asian asset management incur the highest operating costs at 29.3 bps. Currently, these costs have been absorbed by high revenue margins, but as the market establishes and as revenue margins plateau, firms will no longer be able to justify high operating costs and inefficient operations, or the damaging impact to profitability.

As Asian institutional investors pour into new sources of alpha, including alternative investments, an alarming truth is coming to light. While multi-asset investment strategies may have soared in recent decades, much of the operations of many Asian buyside firms are simply unable to handle the increasing scale and demand in this new landscape. Compromising legacy architectures, outdated point solutions and complex outsourced models now stand in the way, posing a threat to the success of global multi-asset investing. Much of this can be addressed by a simplified system landscape and consolidating all asset classes onto one platform, with real-time data for decision-making. With the right integrated infrastructure, firms will reap the long-term benefits of this changing tide.

Curing the buyside headache  

The changing investment landscape is further compounded by the sheer volume of data that buyside firms now need to handle, including the nuances of data for alternatives such as real estate and private debt.  This presents serious problems for a firm’s agility, impacting the launch of new investment products ahead of the competition, to accessing new asset classes to meet client demand, or empowering the front office with the real-time data for optimal investment decisions.

Assessing the optimal target operating model

One approach to tackling the current challenge, is to operate an insourced “golden master” or single source of data, an operating model adopted by many asset managers and pension funds globally. Using an investment system that has an integrated Investment Book of Record at its core since inception provides these firms with the highest degree of integration and automation for their workflows. The operational benefits address much of the current challenge, including increased control and cost efficiency, while also reducing operational risk. While in changing market conditions, insourced operating models enable quicker responses to market movements. The front office can capitalize on new investment and trading strategies swiftly, without unforeseen costs and additional manpower.

With the recent spell of vendor acquisitions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the integration achieved in a single system can also be achieved by an outsourcer or vendor acquiring and combining systems. There is, however, a big difference between a single system covering the full gamut of front-to-back operations, and one that comprises multiple systems, to cover a front-to-back scope. Signing up to the latter, may take away some of the initial burden, but in the long term, it won’t fully overcome the complexity and costs that will eventually outweigh returns, or increase opportunities for alpha.

Scale & Agility

Adopting a core, multi-asset system provides the most efficient foundation for scalable operations. For one, a 24/7 follow the sun model enables firms with integrated operations across the world to have the same set of data from the start of business. This eliminates arduous manual reconciliation in those crucial opening hours, or worse, using stale data, endangering a firm’s exposure.

Secondly, with multi-asset class coverage, in a unified platform, operations teams can be relieved from lengthy procurement processes for niche solutions. This means firms can operate nimbly and significantly reduce the time to market, for new products. If we turn to outsourcing, much of the buy side’s frustrations focus on the lengthy responses to new functionality and service requests. With many outsourcers reining in costs, anything deviating from a standardized solution is either put in a long queue or considered too customized to fulfil. And for those outsourcers battling with complex legacy architecture, it is often down to a sheer technological inability to fulfil client requests. The impact on the investment manager, is a potential loss of alpha, through either missed opportunities or being late to market.

Real time, real decisions

The availability of accurate, real-time cash and positions data provides the front office with optimized investment decision-making and enhances risk management. Often it is the lack of available data, buried deep in siloed systems, that results in firms having trouble calculating their firm-wide exposure during market events. In a recent SimCorp commissioned surveys, accurately measuring firm-wide limits and counterparty exposures continues