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NICSA 2012: Connecting to the Hyper-Connected Customer

The 30th Annual National Investment Company Service Association Conference and Expo opens today, with the intent of helping fund companies learn how to be "Engaging Investors in a Hyper-Connected World.''

At press time, 470 attendees had signed up for the event, being held in Miami. That puts it on track to reach 2010's attendance of 500.

There will be 44 service providers in NICSA's 9,400 square foot exhibit hall, including 7 new-to-NICSA exhibitors, mostly in technology and compliance.

Which underscores the backdrop of this year's conference. As NICSA President Theresa Hamacher puts it, what's happening behind the scenes in the investment management industry is in the spotlight.

"In an environment where returns are low, but regulatory and consumer demands are increasing, operating effectively and efficiently is key to keeping costs down for investors,'' she told Money Management Executive last week.

For fund services firms, she said the two key industry trends are increasing regulation and the constant advance of technology, particularly for communications.

All of the agencies monitoring the industry are still working through the very full regulatory agendas developed during the credit crisis, she notes. The state of enactment and the impact of new rules will be covered in panels ranging from Monday's "Retirement's Hazy Maze: The Regulatory Puzzle," which examines the plethora of proposed, interim and final regulations that make retirement plans difficult to navigate, to Tuesday's "Regulatory Hot Topics: Operations and Distribution" on how organizations have adapted, strategically changed or reorganized to address the new regulatory landscape.

As for technology, in a hyper-connected world, "more and more investors have come to expect 24/7 access to information in whatever format is most convenient to them,'' Hamacher said.

The investment management industry has to incorporate technology and social media into their interactions with customers-to meet their demands, she said.

Which is the subject of a Monday panel called "Using Technology to Enhance the Client Experience.'' In a hyper-connected world, the web, telephony, workflow, back office processes all must work together, after all, to deliver a great experience to customers on smartphones, tablets and any device they choose.

"And while hyper-connectivity poses challenges-most visibly in the form of increased risk of data breaches-it also creates opportunity for greater process streamlining,'' she said.

NICSA itself is engaging in hyper-connectivity, keeping members up to date on industry developments and NICSA events through a blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter feed. Hamacher said a new "24/7 member benefit" will be announced at the expo, as well.

The opening keynote will come from Neeraj Sahai, global head of securities and fund services at Citigroup.

In a worldwide rivalry with State Street and Bank of New York Mellon, Citi's fund services operate in 60 markets that account for roughly 98% of the capitalization of public companies. And the company is rolling out securities services in two to three more markets every year.

The challenge now, by Sahai's account, is to marry "bespoke" service with large-scale technology that runs on common systems and processes, worldwide.

"In a way our business is an institutional business on one side of the fence. And our clients tend to be large by nature. They are big sophisticated buyers of our services,'' he told Money Management Executive, in September.

"On the other hand, it is a high-volume technology, scale-driven business,'' the international fund services executive said. "So it is trying to marry an institutional boutique kind of business on one side with the scale activity on the other'' that Citi hopes will set itself apart.

Sahai's been at the intersection of both improving technology and service to fund firms since he became head of Transaction Services for India and a Senior Country Operations Officer, nearly two decades ago.

Last year's show also gave a glimpse of the kind of hyper-connected world that can give you fits.

Let's get straight to the point, Internet entrepreneur Scott Klososky said at the closing session of the 29th NICSA conference and expo:

If you think your 17-year-old daughter is taking plastic sandwich bags out of a kitchen cabinet to hide a cocaine habit, you're wrong.

She's probably using it to text friends on her iPhone, while taking a shower, he said.

If you're trying to get up to speed in taking advantage of social technologies that allow you to reach 2 billion people, aka would-be customers, worldwide at no distribution cost, here's the quick layout of what you need to worry about:


You, individually, and your company, jointly, need to become experts in your expertises and lines of business, first. This is the starting point for any widespread use of social technologies. Blog, eletters, dedicated sites, live messaging, in a concerted, long-standing effort. 


This will differ by industry, to some degree. But good broad starting points-for any industry-are creating channels or continuing presences on Youtube, for video; Slideshare, for presentations; Scribd, for documents; and Flickr, for photos. "Everyone should have a channel on every one of those things,'' he said. 


Here are the names to get started with or on: Ng, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. Most of the tools are free. Use the power.


Bond your customer relationship system to the World Wide Web. So that, every time you enter a new name into your Customer Relationship Management System, you automatically harvest everything that is already known about or disclosed by the party, online. You can, should and must scour LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and what comes next, systematically.

Then, you can begin to set up your socially-directed sales strategy and get started.