In 2016, Tom Secaur wrote on the growing trend of vendor M&A in our annual prospective. At the time, acquisitions had hit fever pitch and asset managers were dealing with a shrinking landscape of options. In the nearly eight years since, vendor M&A continues to impact operations teams as a regular occurrence—and as barriers between the front, middle, and back office continue to shift, these impacts are spanning across the organization.
Advent. PORTIA. SunGard. DST. Equipos. CADIS. Wall Street Office. thinkFolio. Varden. QED. Bonaire. What do these names have in common? The answer should be pretty easy if you are a regular reader of our blog pieces or a student of the FinTech space. They were all once formidable companies and/or software products in the buyside asset management technology world, prior to being targeted and acquired by their new, respective parent companies. In some cases, the acquirer has invested back into the product, and the current version of the product continues to gain market share and move aggressively forward in their target market(s). In other cases, the acquisitions were blatant market share grabs of software products that had long since moved into the “cash cow” phase of their existence. Regardless of how you view these acquisitions, it’s hard to make the case that the run on vendors in our space is a positive development. The consolidation over the past 3-5 years has left the industry with precious few choices with which to entrust functions vital to their business—OMS, portfolio accounting, middle office outsourcing, and client reporting have all been impacted.
As Tom suggested years ago, vendor M&A impacts stretch beyond the organization level, affecting the industry as a whole by narrowing provider options, creating (or alleviating) competitive pressures, and influencing market-wide product strategies. For managers directly impacted by a vendor undergoing M&A activity, the impact can span a spectrum ranging from major product enhancement to no change to product retirement.
At Citisoft, we continue to see vendor M&A meaningfully impact our clients and our projects and with almost a decade of experience since Tom last opined on this topic, I wanted to revisit some of the benefits, challenges, and realities of vendor consolidation.
The Impact on Investment Managers
From a client's perspective, the drivers behind vendor consolidation can present exciting opportunities for investment managers. However, the path to reaping these benefits is filled with obstacles that demand skillful handling. If not managed effectively, these challenges have the potential to jeopardize investment managers' capacity to meet their operational commitments.
Some of the prevailing challenges include:
Lack of Organizational Integration: A primary challenge arises from inadequate integration of the platforms within a vendor’s portfolio, a fundamental aspect of successful vendor M&A. When integration falters, a multitude of issues can disrupt the client-vendor relationship, including disjointed services, communication silos, disparate client relationship experiences, and delayed issue resolution.
Delayed Benefits: Investment managers may anticipate benefits from M&A, but these benefits might not materialize as swiftly as expected. Delays in product enhancements, unrealized cost savings, and unclear value propositions can all influence the perceived value of the consolidation.
Product Retirement and Transition Challenges: The discontinuation of products due to consolidation can pose significant challenges for investment managers. The halt in product development and the complexities of transitioning to new solutions can lead to uncertainty and disruption.
Loss of Intellectual Capital: Among the most significant challenges resulting from vendor consolidation is the potential loss of intellectual capital. Key personnel departing due to the merger can result in the departure of institutional knowledge and expertise, impacting the quality of interactions and services provided to clients.
Diverse Management Styles and Cultures: Consolidation often unites vendors with distinct management styles and organizational cultures. This can trigger shifts in vendor-client dynamics and challenges in effectively managing client relationships.
Limited Product Knowledge: Sales and relationship management teams are often integrated or staffed by those from the acquiring vendor, leading to challenges in interacting with clients due to a lack of expertise about the acquired product. Clients expect comprehensive details about products and services, but with reduced staff and incomplete knowledge, this limitation can be frustrating for both clients and vendor teams.
To address these challenges and restore client confidence, vendors can implement strategies:
Resource Collaboration: Facilitate collaboration between the restructured teams and individuals with deep product knowledge to ensure swift and accurate information exchange during client interactions.
Transparent Communication: Communicate clearly with clients about consolidation changes, potential challenges, and commitment to exceptional client experiences to rebuild trust. That said, it’s worth understanding that transparency may be elusive…once the M&A honeymoon is over, clients are seldom truly in the know as to what the future holds for legacy solutions.
Tailored Engagement: Tailor engagements to understand each client's unique needs, providing pertinent information that addresses their concerns.
Invest in Internal Training: Recognize the knowledge gap and provide targeted training to empower relationship management and sales teams with insights for meaningful client discussions.
The Promise of Near-Term Benefits and the Reality
In an ideal scenario, an acquisition leads to immediate or near-term benefits to clients stemming from leveraging existing strengths and complementary resources:
Complementary Capabilities: An acquired platform that seamlessly enhances the acquiring organization's offerings can lead to rapid expansion of product portfolios and elevated services, resulting in a more robust suite of solutions catering to a broader range of client needs.
Synergies and Efficiencies: If the acquired and acquiring vendor share operational similarities, integration can quickly lead to streamlined processes, cost efficiencies, and optimized resource allocation. This can contribute to enhanced operational performance and an improved client experience.
Despite the appeal of immediate benefits, the path to integration success is often obstructed by challenges that demand strategic solutions:
Cultural Clash: A significant barrier to successful integration is the clash of organizational cultures. Merging vendors often bring together employees with distinct values, practices, and work approaches. This cultural misalignment can hinder effective collaboration, slow down decision-making, and create internal conflict.
Technical Challenges: Integrating disparate technology platforms, systems, and data sources is complex. Compatibility issues can arise, leading to disruptions, data discrepancies, and delays in realizing anticipated synergies.
Talent Transition: Retaining key talent from the acquired vendor is crucial for a smooth transition. The departure of skilled individuals due to uncertainty or cultural misalignment can hinder the organization's ability to leverage the expertise that prompted the acquisition.
Operational Disruption: The integration process itself can disrupt ongoing operations. Changes in workflows, roles, and responsibilities can result in temporary inefficiencies and potential client dissatisfaction if services are interrupted.
Strategies for Mitigating Risks
Investment managers should assess the potential short-term consequences and advantages that may arise if they are directly impacted by vendor M&A. This evaluation should concentrate on the pivotal indicators of success in their vendors' strategic approaches.
Well Prepared Integration Plan: A carefully prepared integration plan covering sales, client service, product, technology, and support functions that outlines clear steps, responsibilities, and timelines is essential. A structured approach can facilitate smooth execution and minimize disruptions.
Cultural Alignment: Understanding the alignment of vendor organizational cultures is paramount. Changing culture can have a positive or negative impact on an operating model and requires proactive communication, leadership involvement, and additional rigor related to executing active initiatives whether implementation, upgrade, enhancement, or maintenance related.
Agile Decision Making: Evaluating the pace of decision-making is crucial during vendor integration. Delays in assimilation can degrade support, impact operations, slow down progress, create uncertainty, and hinder the realization of any future benefits.
Client-Centric Approach: Assessing whether the vendor is keeping clients at the forefront of integration decisions to ensure that changes do not compromise the quality of service they receive is vital.
Navigating the Balance of Ambition and Reality
While the potential for immediate or near-term benefits from acquisitions is compelling, reality often strikes a delicate balance between ambition and practicality. The strength of the integration process, and how smoothly the acquired platform integrates into the acquiring organization, largely determines whether these benefits materialize as envisioned. The complexities of aligning people, technology, processes, and culture cannot be underestimated.
Avoiding the risks posed by vendor M&A demands a strategic approach, meticulous planning, and a commitment to navigating challenges with agility and foresight. In a landscape marked by transformation, the pursuit of swift and successful integration remains an ever-present challenge demanding both vision and execution proficiency. As stewards of their clients' interests, investment managers' ability to navigate this intricate terrain will define their success in nurturing enduring partnerships, fostering trust, and steering the course of transformation with confidence.