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Considerations For Implementing Systems in Financial Service Organizations

INTRODUCTION

The confluence of SOA and SOX has had unexpected consequences, making software development more efficient and system failures rarer.

There are a number of reasons why new systems fail. But thanks to developments in service-oriented architecture (SOA)-which reduces interdependencies between applications-and the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which has led to more firms outsourcing development to independent software vendors, the likelihood of all-out failure has been reduced.

There are two types of major systems in financial services firms, with vastly different success rates and implementation challenges. The first type-client-facing systems-are outwardly focused. They connect bankers, financial planners, hedge fund managers, stockbrokers, and their ilk with customers. Examples include banking and bill payment, 401(k) management, remote deposits, derivatives trading, and position monitoring. While these systems have many different objectives, they have two overriding commonalities-they link customers and investors with their financial institutions and generate revenue in the process.

Not all systems in a financial firm are client-facing. Organizations’ back-office systems are inwardly focused on internal employees and daily operations. Customers never use or even see these applications. Examples include supply chain management, accounting, human resources, and payroll. Back-office applications-typically called enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems-record sales and purchase transactions, update inventory, and cut employee and vendor paychecks. Invoices, receipts, and reports can also be produced by back-office systems. Unlike their client-facing brethren, back-office systems generate no revenue; they support cost centers.

The different scopes and audiences of these applications result in different rates of success. Client-facing systems fail much less often than back-office applications. By and large, the challenges faced by financial firms with respect to enterprise systems are not materially different than those faced by retail, health care, or government organizations.

Back-office systems support the entire enterprise, not simply one function. ERPs have to handle a number of disparate tasks, the vast majority of which tie back to the general ledger (GL). ERP systems are tightly coupled with one another. A problem in one area will almost always affect another.

On the other hand, client-facing applications can be considered “best of breed” and often do not need to integrate with other applications. They typically are designed to accomplish one or a limited number of specific objectives: transferring funds, buying and selling stocks, and the like. Handling stock trades or dividends, for example, is much less exhaustive than managing an entire supply chain or paying employees in 48 states and seven countries. As a result of this limited integration, their development cycles are much shorter and their failure rates much lower.

SOA AND SOX

Two recent and seemingly unrelated events have coalesced, resulting in more efficient software development and fewer system failures. The first is the advent of SOA, which provides methods for systems development and integration in which systems group functionality around business processes and package these as interoperable services. SOA also describes IT infrastructure that allows different applications to exchange data with one another as they participate in business processes. Service-orientation aims at a loose coupling of services with operating systems, programming languages, and other technologies which underlie applications.

On the regulatory front, due to SOX requirements, many financial firms no longer attempt to create their own internal systems. SOX’s increased audit requirements have resulted in many financial services firms using independent software vendors (ISVs) to build proprietary systems. Firms such as Infosys specialize in making or selling software, designed for mass marketing or for niche markets.

Due to the arrival of both SOA and SOX, many financial firms have abandoned internal application development and now deal almost exclusively with ISVs, who observe the following cardinal rules with regard to software development: Issues found later in an application’s development cycle are exponentially more time-consuming and expensive to fix than issues found at the beginning of the cycle. Unlike off-the-shelf applications, software developers can essentially build anything. Software engineers and coders do best with pristine development specifications, allowing them to accurately build the applications and functionality desired.

This second point is critical. Management at financial firms typically realizes that ISVs require comprehensive development specifications. Equipped with them, ISVs are able more rapidly to build-and modify-applications to better meet the needs of firms and their clients. This minimizes the traditional back-and-forth and decreases the amount of time required for financial firms to realize a return-on-investment (ROI) on their new applications. These successes build upon each other. The bank that successfully rolls out an ISV-created application is encouraged to develop more applications.

From a systems’ development perspective, the cumulative effects of SOA and SOX have been largely positive. Many financial firms that had historically created their own systems often failed for one simple reason. The best programmers and developers tend to work for software companies, not financial firms.

Financial firms that contract ISVs to create specific, client-facing applications typically realize a number of significant benefits.

LESS RISK WITH ISVs

Weinrib Partners, a fictitious hedge fund, wants to create an application allowing its investors to wire money from banks directly to the fund. Weinrib’s managers decide to outsource development to an ISV. The application has one very specific purpose and the managers can very clearly articulate the application’s requirements to an ISV which, in turn, expedites development. Testing should manifest any and all issues because of the application’s singular purpose.

Weinrib launches its application to clients who no longer have to write and mail checks to deposit funds. It is important to note that Weinrib owns the application created by the ISV. As a result, Weinrib can control the application’s customizations and enhancements. If Weinrib’s customers request that the application integrates with QuickBooks and Microsoft Money, for example, then Weinrib can approach its ISV immediately about making this change.

Contrast the system ownership model with traditional ERP purchase and support model. Organizations that utilize SAP or Oracle as an enterprise system have no control over its delivered functionality. End-users can always submit vendor “enhancement requests,” but there is no guarantee that they will be adopted in future releases of the application. What’s more, IT departments that customize ERPs face a number of significant obstacles. For one, customizations typically invalidate vendor support agreements. Second, making a tweak to a general ledger program, for example, may break something else. Enterprise systems are very involved and contain many interdependencies. Finally, even a successfully implemented customization may go by the wayside after an upgrade or service patch.

In April of 2008, PNC completed its acquisition of Sterling Financial Corp. While there were many reasons for the merger, one of the more overlooked ones involved technology. Specifically, Sterling’s internal systems had become antiquated. Its senior management realized that the necessary investment to upgrade them would be cost-prohibitive.

Sterling is not alone in this regard. Many financial institutions have realized that the old maxim applies: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Organizations with antiquated client-facing systems cannot re-tool by simply making a few, relatively inexpensive enhancements. More often than not, a complete overhaul is necessary. At a minimum, most financial systems today must comply with SOX requirements, integrate with external banks, offer customers a powerful and user-friendly experience, and ward off increasing security threats. Beyond these requirements, applications often need to do more. Rather than merely transfer funds, many applications offer data mining and business intelligence (BI) capability and allow agents, bankers, and other personnel the ability to customize offerings based on the individual customer’s financial situation. Added to this, organizations’ IT budgets are under a microscope.

CONCLUSION

While there is no secret sauce to building and implementing client-facing systems, financial firms tend to minimize failure rates by utilizing ISVs and extensively documenting business requirements. Seasoned ISVs allow firms to quickly create and roll out custom applications that can increase firm revenue, profitability, and ROI. With respect to enterprise and back office systems, however, financial firms should not try to build from scratch. They realize no competitive advantage from payroll vendors or employees. In this sense, financial firms tend to have many of the same issues as the rest of the corporate world.

College Financial Services for Prospective Scholars of Tomorrow

College education for higher studies is like a project for students and parents alike that should be pursued with a systematic plan successfully culminating in the completion of the course that necessitates a stay in the college campus.

During this course at college, one of the major hurdles is the financing that is required by the student to complete his education with the appropriate grades finishing his/her goal of obtaining a appropriate job after college.

Now, after passing his/her term exams every time the student’s requirement is usually the term fees to continue to the next semester and if his parents are unable to pay the same his alternative is to look for financial services from good financial consulting services.

Again, such a financial firm, handling the College financial services scheme, usually has elaborate models with different instruments for implementation of the financial options for students based on the individual’s merit.

Among the numerous options that are available for students, some of the schemes are for those that are good at their studies (the ones whose funding is in the interest of the Federal agencies), then those that are financially better-off (that is they can repay the loan over a period of time) and finally those, that are poor and that may take a while!

While, all of them need assistance the above criteria is the first prescribed to disseminate the loans to students and their parents!

However, in the long run all qualifiers manage to get the aid and get the eligibility for financial assistance to take up and complete their college study.

In most cases, there are special government aided packages that will be put in front of the students in the order of priority stated above and that will again be drafted for the convenience of the respective students and they will be able to accordingly apply for the respective financial assistance from the state or the central government.

Thus in the final analysis, students going for education in college manage to study and pay their fees with the help their own selves first, i.e. by getting good grades which solve half of the problem – qualifying them for a good college and the aid packages that come with the respective college and score.

Subsequently, it is the financial assistance rendered by good financial services firms that work and research their links with both federal and state funding authorities to enable the possibilities for students and render them free and or nominal aid for completing their studies at college.

How to Write a Winning Financial Services Business Proposal

Do you need to write a proposal to promote your financial services business to a prospective client? It doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. The goals for any business proposal are: introduce yourself, highlight your services and/or products, describe the costs, and convince the client that you are the right choice for the job or you are worthy of entrusting with their finances. To speed up the proposal writing process, you can use pre-designed templates and get ideas from sample proposals.

Whether you are describing an accounting, payroll, insurance or broker service, opening a franchise or even asking for funding to start up or expand your business, the proposal structure will be similar. Here’s the basic structure to follow: introduce yourself, then summarize the prospective client’s needs, describe your services and costs, and finally, provide information about your organization, your credentials, and your capabilities.

For a financial services business, you will also need to include some detailed information about your services or products that are of interest to the specific client. For example, an accounting firm might need to include a range of options based on the size of the client’s business (services for a one-person firm will differ from services for a 10-person firm if you are also doing things like payroll services). An insurance broker might need to explain different kinds of policies for a wide variety of situations.

Always keep in mind that the purpose of a proposal is to persuade your potential clients to give you their business or manage their hard-earned money. You must prove that you can deliver the products or services they need. A simple price list can never substitute for a real proposal.

Proposals should be targeted to a specific client. This means you need to gather information about your client so that you can present a proposal tailored to that individual client’s needs. It’s never a good idea to send all prospective clients the same sales letter. Clients are much more likely to accept a proposal tailored just for them.

So, let’s get back to the order described above. Start your proposal with a Cover Letter and a Title Page. The Cover Letter should deliver a brief personal introduction and contain your company contact information. The Title Page is just what it sounds like: the name of your specific proposal (for example, “Accounting and Payroll Services,” “Prepare for Financial Freedom,” “Insurance Policy Options for Westbridge, LLC.,” or “Refinancing Your Mortgage”).

After the introduction section, add topics that describe the needs of your client. If you are presenting a proposal for a detailed suite of services, you may need to write a summary to precede the detail pages. In a proposal for a corporate client, this is normally called an Executive Summary. For a less formal but still complex proposal, it’s more often called a Client Summary. In this summary and the following detail pages, you should demonstrate your understanding of the client’s needs, goals, and desires, as well as discussing any disclaimers or risks that need to be disclosed. This section should be all about the client.

Next is your chance to advertise yourself. Follow your introduction section and the client section with pages that describe what you are offering. These pages might have general headings like Services Provided, Policies, Benefits, Services Cost Summary, and Product Cost Summary as well as more specific pages that detail the products and/or services you can provide and explain the associated costs.

Your specific business will determine the specialized topics and pages you need to include in your proposal.

An accounting and payroll service might need to include pages with titles like Specialization (to highlight a specific niche you excel in), Services Provided, Accounting, Reporting, Taxes, Project Management, Administration, Auditing, Options, Cost Summary, Policies, Billing, as well as Contract and Terms pages.

An insurance broker may include topics such as Needs Analysis, Client Background, Insurance, Coverage, Policies, Risk Analysis, Recommendations, Comparison Chart, and Options, in addition to the standard services topics. Since proposals in some areas may be binding with the contract, make sure any limitations, coverage exclusions and time limits are covered in your disclaimers, and consult your local attorney to ensure your proposals and contracts conform to local laws.

A finance company may include topics such as Financing, Repayment Plan, Options, Consolidation, Collateral and Guarantees, Payment Options, Payment Schedule and so on.

A company selling investment or brokerage services will need to include information not only about their products and services but in these times, such a company should provide impeccable credentials as well. Consider adding information about your Services Provided, Products, Policies, Disclaimers, Risk Analysis, Risk Management, Industry Trends, Recommendations, Return on Investment, Commissions, Assets, Clients Served, References, Experience, Qualifications, Reputation, Customer Service, Company History, and so on.

If you’re asking for funding to start a financial services business (anything from a small accounting firm to an insurance franchise), you’ll want to add pages such as a Competitive Analysis, Industry Trends, Market and Audience, Marketing Plan, Insurance, Liability, Time Line, Funding Request, Services Provided, Products, Company Operations, Balance Sheet, Income Projection, Sources of Funds, Uses of Funds, Personnel, Legal Structure and any other topics required by the lender.

In your last proposal section, provide your company details, including pages such as Company History or About Us, Qualifications, Certifications, Memberships, Testimonials, Our Clients, or References. Your goal in this section is to convince the prospective client that you can be trusted to deliver the goods and/or services they need and want and responsibly manage their money.

Those are the basic steps for organizing and writing the proposal. But you’re not quite finished yet. After you have all the information down on the pages, focus on ensuring that your proposal is visually appealing. Incorporate your company logo, use colored page borders, and/or select interesting fonts and custom bullets to add color and flair. Just be sure to match your company style when making these selections.

To finalize your proposal, it’s essential to proofread and spell-check every page. It’s always a good idea to get someone other than the proposal writer to do a final proof, because it’s very common to overlook mistakes in your own work.

When the final touches have been completed, print it or save it as a PDF file, and then deliver it to the client. The delivery method you should use will depend on your relationship with your potential client. While it’s common to email PDF files to clients, a nicely printed, personally signed, and hand-delivered proposal may make more of an impression and demonstrate that you’re willing to make an extra effort for the client.

So, to sum up, a financial services proposal can vary widely in content depending on the business and the size and needs of the client. Each company’s proposal contents will need to be a bit different. But all these proposals will have a similar format and follow a similar structure.

If you’d like to get a jump start using pre-designed templates with simple instructions and extensive suggestions for content, you can use Proposal Pack, which includes all of the material mentioned above. It also includes samples of completed financial services proposals that will give you great ideas and help you easily create your own successful proposal.