Category: Training


Dad_Vero_ClippedQuarter end reporting for Q4 2011 was a grueling task – one that still wasn’t completed for some firms in February of 2012. I am in touch with the operations staff of representative investment firms of varied disciplines and sizes. That quarter I heard it from just about everybody. Firms were transferring accounts to different custodians, embracing new trading platforms, contemplating portfolio management system changes and enhancements to client-facing reporting as well as more robust outsourcing options … but the show must go on.

The operations staff rarely gets a break. They must deal with new initiatives as they come and still manage to get their regular work done. The act of balancing the two responsibilities can be difficult and exhausting for those faced with these demands. To quote one of my clients, “Every time you turn around its quarter end.”

As a consultant to many of these firms, I have a unique view of the daily grind of typical investment professionals. In the past, they could take reasonable breaks for lunch, etc., but more and more of the people I work with are going without the niceties of lunches out and a little down-time during the day. An illness in the family can be particularly troublesome for those working in investment operations to deal with. Illnesses are seldom convenient or negotiable.

In addition to the normal challenges that I face in any given quarter, that quarter I had to deal with one that I had no control over – the death of a loved one. My father, who, at age 73, seemed to be in outstanding health had a sudden and unexpected heart attack on the evening of January 23rd, 2012. There is never a good time for something like that to happen, but the 23rd was better than the 8th would have been for me. I was on the phone with him when it happened, and heard him utter his last words, “I feel so dizzy.” Then he collapsed.

It was so quick. I could hardly comprehend it. Over the course of the next few hours my brother and sister traveled home to New York to be with my mother as quickly as possible, while I tried to think about what I needed to do to wrap up any loose ends related to my clients’ quarter end reporting, and get home as soon as possible. After a day and half of chipping away at various tasks and setting things in motion, I needed to go home and grieve our loss with my family.

Dennis_shaking_hands_DR003My father had a successful career as a financial officer in the retail and financial service industries acting as consultant to many banks and fortune 500 companies. He kept his financial dealings fairly close to the vest, and though he had shared some of what he had done with me, I was not familiar with everything. His record-keeping was meticulous and nearly perfect in all respects but one – planning for his unexpected death. He had a joint will with my mother, but we couldn’t find it. He had assets and regular income, but getting my mother access to all of their assets would take time.

Over the next week, I went over his records, which included 22 years of tax returns and similar detailed records of my parent’s finances to lend what help I could in assessing the situation for my mother. I am no stranger to investment reports, so I winced when I saw my father’s Morgan Stanley Smith Barney statements. The production of statements as meaningless as these should be a criminal offense. I first saw statements like these back in 1987. In twenty-five years very little has changed. The statements are as dull and drab as possible. The only color afforded is the dark blue line that runs along the top. These statements are difficult for people who know what they are looking for to read – never mind those less familiar. At best, these statements are an inventory of holdings.

After looking through more of the investment statements, I eventually found summary statements that get sent out about a month after each quarter end. These statements were better, but not as good as most of what we create for our clients. Given their ability to produce better statements, firms like Morgan Stanley Smith Barney should be held to a higher reporting standard.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, my brother and I stoically exchanged quips like “Good will hunting” and “Where there is a will there’s a way” in humor that my father would have appreciated. Eventually, we found the will. It was perhaps the only thing improperly filed in his office. Throughout the ordeal, I couldn’t help thinking about how my father could have made things much easier for us by leaving us a list of the top ten things to do if he died. It might have taken him twenty minutes to put together if he had ever thought about it. I half expected to find such a list, but it was nowhere to be found – apparently, my Dad wasn’t planning to die. Here is what the list might have said:

Sorry to leave you all so suddenly, but here is what you need to do:

1. Call my attorney _______________ at _______________ , and have him execute my will. For some reason, I have the original copy of my will in the file marked _________________ at our home in ________________.

2. I have three whole life insurance policies that should provide a total non-taxable death benefit of approximately ___________________ .

They are:
a. _______________________________
b. _______________________________
c. _______________________________

Call my good friend _______________________ in the insurance business at ______________ and have him help you get the forms and file them. The proceeds from my life insurance should help with the transition period.

3. In the event of my passing, Mom should have access to the following regular income sources totaling about ________ per month:
a. ________ Pension.
b. My social security not hers.
c. The annuity.

4. All of the bank accounts are jointly held and your mother is listed as the primary beneficiary.

5. My retirement account will need to be transferred to her and she is listed as the primary beneficiary.

6. There is no money hidden anywhere. It was already raining.

7. Put the funeral on the Amex and the meal afterwards on the Underhill tab.

8. Yes. I want the cheapest casket.

9. Psalm 23.

10. Swing easy.

Love,
Dad

Using my personal experience with my father as an example, we can hopefully learn something.  First and foremost, we should make sure to acknowledge our own mortality and take the steps necessary to make our passing easier on those we would leave behind.  And, of course, since this blog is about investment operations and technology, ensure that your firm has the contingency planning, documentation, staff redundancy and training necessary to survive the loss of key personnel, whether that loss is through a sudden career change, a long-term illness, or an unexpected tragedy.

The impetus for some of the best client relationships I have ever had has been the vacuum created by the loss of personnel.  I have helped firms that experienced 100% turnover in their investment operations department rebuild, assisted those trying to make sense of cryptic documentation left behind by co-workers who left abruptly, and managed to get things running again when the person who “did everything” was severely injured in an automobile accident.

Understanding your firm’s dependancy on key personnel is very important.  Even when systems are documented, that documentation’s usefulness may be questionable.  Documentation that hasn’t been reviewed and tested might be meaningful to those who created it, but not to those trying to use it to complete a process in the author’s absence.

Some of my clients have actually drafted letters to be delivered to their investors in the event of their deaths. Those letters are in their contingency plan – what’s in yours?

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide.

For details, please visit isitc.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

For me, scheduling a lab of my choice at an Advent Conference has been an elusive goal.  I have gone to a number of Advent conferences since 1993, five years after I started using Advent products.  Though I have been interested in attending one, I had never managed to go to a lab at an Advent conference.

I signed up for the conference the week before, and immediately started reviewing the sessions and labs I might attend. There were a wide variety of general sessions that I was interested in, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed – or surprised – to see that the labs I wanted to go to were full.

Determined that I would finally attend a lab – any lab – this year, I settled on one that I didn’t exactly have high hopes for.  The name sounded dull.  Other labs went by the name of “Taking Command of Axys/APX Macros” or “Building Custom SSRS Reports”, and my lab was “Pathways to Proficiency: Security-Level Performance in APX.”  The lab was hosted by Advent’s Trent Berry, whose enduring eloquence could no doubt make a blow-by-blow description of paint drying interesting. 

With twenty plus years of experience using, implementing, integrating, enhancing, and consulting on Advent products, I was probably not a typical lab attendee, but I was determined to learn what there is to learn in a lab session. 

I was impressed by Advent’s level of preparation, which included four classrooms with 48 PCs each and two more classrooms with 24 PCs each.  Every one of the systems was running Windows Server 2008 Standard and VMWare with 8GB RAM to host an insulated, fully functional copy of Advent’s primary applications.  Advent provided booklets for all of the labs that detailed the lessons, and appeared to have at least three Advent employees in attendance at each lab: one to speak, one to navigate the primary lab PC, and another to assist those in the lab with any individual issues they ran into.

You never know until you try. 

I also learned that attending a lab really isn’t that difficult after all. Though the hallways near thelab rooms were packed on Monday and Tuesday, it was very quiet when I headed for my 7:45am lab Wednesday.  Because of this, that morning I could go to any lab I wanted to.  Many extra PCs were available in each of the labs I attended.  In addition, there were a couple rows of chairs in the back where you could sit and watch without following the exercises on the PCs provided.  With that encouraging experience, I hopped into “Report Writer Pro in Axys and APX II: Building Upon a Foundation”, “Taking Command of Axys/APX Macros”, and “Building Custom SSRS Reports”, but what I really wanted to learn was what can they possibly teach users in an hour?

What can you learn in an hour?

The labs are so short that substantial learning is severely limited.  They are focused on empowering users by acquainting them with conceptual building blocks, but users will likely need to take the next steps on their own.  In my opinion, any attendant who applies him – or herself during the lab should gain a surface understanding of the fundamentals involved.

This type of basic training is a necessary starting point for many novice users, but intermediate and advanced users can see greater benefits from attending interactive sessions with panelists that share specific detailed experiences.  After sitting in on a few labs, I wished the names of the labs had been preceded by the phrase “Intro to.”

I saw more value in the “Building Custom SSRS Reports” lab, because using Visual Studio to build custom SSRS reports for APX is a non-intuitive process for most.  The labs on automation via macros/scripts and use of Report Writer Pro seemed less useful, because these are relatively intuitive processes that also happen to have sufficient documentation from Advent detailing how they work.

In the end, I walked away with a better understanding of Advent’s labs – they simply and effectively introduce concepts to users as they apply them firsthand.  Those interested in attending these labs should register for the conference as early as possible and show up even if the lab appears to be full.

About the Author:
Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide. For details, please visit isitc.com or contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.