October 18, 2013

For Advisor Platform, Pershing Crunches Big Data Into Friendlier Size

Now serving as Pershing’s sole CIO, Ram Nagappan looks to offer more user-friendly products to advisors and their clients

At Pershing, your call may be recorded not only for quality assurance purposes, but for a voice analysis of expressed empathy, silent time on call and a range of behavioral factors expressed in phrases such as “I’m so frustrated” and “I can’t believe this takes so long.”

“We’re able to detect the words that agents are using in every single call,” says Jim Halloran, vice president and manager of the Jersey City, N.J.-based RIA custodian’s service excellence program, where the firm maintains its voice analytics unit.

Welcome to the brave new world of big consumer data, where technological advances allow companies to track employee-customer conversations using quality-monitoring metrics. Approximately 300 call center agents receive a weekly performance evaluation scorecard that their managers use for “targeted coaching” as well as a gauge of customer satisfaction, Halloran says.

Apple, Google and Even Starbucks Serve Up Inspiration

(click to enlarge) Pershing storyboard for the NetX360 user experienceTo be sure, Pershing, a Bank of New York Mellon affiliate, is able to leverage the deep pockets of its corporate parent – to the tune of a $2 billion annual tech budget. And Pershing CIO Ram Nagappan is using a significant portion of that budget to focus on the end-user experience – much as Apple, Google and even Starbucks do now.

“A big strategic focus for us is on the investor experience,” Nagappan says, adding that greater mobility on devices is especially important. “It should have been like this from the start, but now the user interface has become key.”

Pershing’s CIO post has looked like a game of musical chairs in the past two years as BNY Mellon ramps up its end-user game.

Earlier in 2013, Nagappan took over as Pershing’s sole CIO when his co-CIO, Lucille Mayer, moved on to become CIO at BNY Mellon, leaving Nagappan free to act more independently at Pershing.

“I meet with a lot of clients now," Nagappan says. "Because I do, the changes come faster and it’s easier for me to release them.”

Mayer, meanwhile, is now responsible for bringing all of BNY Mellon’s access touchpoints into a converged, common technology product and service experience for customers. She shares BNY Mellon CIO duties with Suresh Kumar, who in 2012 left ther Pershing CIO position, which he held for 10 years, for the BNY Mellon post.

NetXInvestor Sharpens Focus on End User

Nagappan’s big focus these days is an update of NetXInvestor, the end-user application that lets advisors and their clients exchange information on Pershing’s NetX360 platform for investment professionals and RIAs. NetXInvestor is now being tested in a beta pre-release and is scheduled to be formally launched in January.

As Pershing prepares for NetXInvestor to go live, it’s receiving the same R&D treatment that NetX360 for professionals gets: namely, the creation of “personas” that drive product design and help Pershing’s developers better understand their customers and individualize their user experience.

About five years ago, Pershing’s User Experience (UX) Group created nine personas based on nine different types of professionals who use NetX360. In the course of that creation, the group interviewed and observed several hundred individuals about their experience with the platform. To keep up with industry changes, the UX Group also has formed three advisory boards of about 10 users each, who meet on a quarterly basis to share their experiences on the platform.

The UX Group has invented a name for each persona along with a visual image and a job description. They’ve also printed up posters and a deck of cards that outline the professional lives of the nine personas, who range from advisors to administrators to compliance officers, to remind Pershing’s UX Group about who their customers really are.

‘What Would Walter Do?’

For example, after interviewing approximately 50 RIAs with more than 10 years of experience, the group created a fictional wealth manager named Walter Steward, an RIA who describes himself as his clients’ “financial quarterback.”

“I look to establish myself as my client’s trusted advisor both financially and beyond,” Walter says in a text block that summarizes his tech needs and goals. “My fiduciary responsibilities and independence from a broker-dealer give me a broad canvas on which I can create the right picture for each client.”

Michael Maternaghan, manager of the UX Group, says that the personas have become so real to NetX360’s designers that they’ve become “subliminally implanted” on people’s minds as they work on platform upgrades.

“We talk about Walt as if he were a real person,” Maternaghan says. “’What would Walter do?’ That’s the slogan for the persona campaign.”

Now, Pershing is bringing personas to its development of the NetXInvestor user experience. Ramiya Ramanathan, a UX designer, said the group has studied market research on user trends while tracking the behaviors, wants, needs and devices of both professionals and investors who will share data via NetXInvestor.

“We want to instill delight in our customers’ lives and simplify their day,” Ramanathan says, adding that NetXInvestor’s developers are working to make the platform feel both personal and seamless across devices, from PCs to tablets to smartphones. “Starbucks will give you a cup of coffee exactly as you want it. This is what we’re trying to do with the user experience.”

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