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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
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Solving Real-World Business Problems with SOA: Case Study
The wealth management industry

The financial services industry is well suited to application solutions based on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) due to the heterogeneity across front-, mid-, and back-office systems and different business lines.

Many financial services firms, particularly those that have undergone mergers or acquisitions, can benefit from SOA as they are burdened with legacy data silos, redundant applications, overlapping functionality, brittle proprietary systems, and steep integration costs.

As financial services firms investigate the merits of SOA adoption, wealth management stands out as an example where SOA is having a positive effect. The wealth management business, including banks, broker-dealers, and insurance companies that service high net worth (HNW) clients, has demonstrated how SOA can improve firm efficiencies through improved advisory productivity, decreased IT costs, and increased revenues.

The Wealth Management Challenge
For a wealth services firm to differentiate itself from its competitors, it needs to improve client service while at the same time growing new business. On both counts, wealth advisors face several information challenges. In the last two years, the time advisors spend on administrative tasks has increased by 31%, according to the BusinessEdge research group, reducing their client-facing time for acquisition and retention.

Administrative time has increased for several reasons. First, the number and complexity of investment products available to HNW investors has expanded dramatically in the past few years, complicating the advisor's task of getting clients invested. Second, compliance burdens have grown, requiring advisors to document and maintain additional client information. And third, many wealth management firms haven't been able to offer their advisors streamlined and automated systems to simplify and reduce their administrative tasks.

To do their jobs, advisors require continuous access to a wide variety of information and tools, including up-to-date client data, multiple disparate legacy applications, decentralized or non-existent investment product catalogs, indicative data, and compliance documentation. To conform to client-directed investment policies and compliance regulations, client data needs to be housed in a centralized client profile to eliminate potential errors due to re-keying data at various points in the advisory workflow process.

Wealth managers, many of whom are licensed to sell only certain investment vehicles, also need an integrated desktop environment with embedded best practices to ensure that the advisory team operates within the client investment constraints and compliance environment. Multiple disparate applications can't provide this holistic and conformant approach to the wealth management discipline.

An SOA Approach
SOA dramatically simplifies the wealth management challenge. The wealth management discipline is primarily a front-office endeavor, so the challenge is consolidating information across multiple, disparate mid- and back-office applications and data silos. Financial advisors demand a single consolidated view of all client and product information as well as application workflows that use this consolidated data view.

There are two options to provide this consolidated view. The data can be replicated into a single database, an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, or firms can build their data model around SOA, which allows mapping individual portions of the data model directly onto back-office systems. SOA leverages data from existing systems of record to avoid data replication and discrepancies. For example, CRM-stored information such as client information, client service events, entitlements, and security policies can be seamlessly passed into advisory workflows.

Another benefit of SOA in wealth management is distribution. Distribution in SOA takes a portion of the data model and exposes it to more loosely coupled systems in the enterprise. SOA provides an enabling technology for consolidation of data, essential for the wealth management discipline, and provides a mechanism for distribution, making for a more open enterprise.

SOA also allows firms to purchase and deploy only the modules they need, rather than buying a complete system that may replicate data and applications they already have. The isolation of specific application functionality into services provides the ability to deploy not only the portion of the desktop appropriate for the client, but also the portion of the underlying application architecture needed for the desktop.

The multi-service integration framework of SOA can integrate all types of services into the advisory workflow - from granular services like calculators to full-blown investment planning applications. This lets companies leverage their own front-office portal with applications and services already purchased or built in-house.

For a wealth management firm, SOA can drastically reduce integration costs and have a direct impact on revenue generation. For instance, an XML import tool can integrate third-party wealth management products and schemas, creating a company-wide product catalog that expands the breadth of product information available to advisors, enhancing their ability to generate new business.

SOA for Client Services
Before service-oriented wealth management platforms existed, firms had to invest heavily in middleware to link back-office data and applications such as portfolio accounting systems, security masters, and ledger systems. Implementing middleware was complicated, very expensive, and challenging to maintain. Moreover, middleware didn't adequately address the growing number of unintegrated point applications that were springing up in the front office to serve financial advisors' needs.

The SOA-enabled enterprise eliminates redundant point applications and unnecessary middleware by leveraging existing systems and administrative staff. Moreover, the flexibility of the SOA-enabled enterprise allows for a flexible IT roadmap where legacy systems are systematically decommissioned, and data and application silos are opened up to other uses. As industry regulations continue to evolve, SOA is a flexible architecture more adaptive than a conventional architecture to new and changing compliance requirements.

SOA technology offers the promise of transforming how the front-, middle-, and back-office systems are connected. Advisors no longer need to access multiple separate applications. SOA facilitates a unified advisory desktop that reduces advisors' administrative time so they can spend more of it acquiring and servicing clients. In this way, SOA technology is a powerful and essential tool for transforming the wealth management business overall.

For the wealth advisor and client-service professionals in all industries, SOA means better customer service through increased transparency and better consolidation of data and functionality.

About Mark Eaton
Mark Eaton is vice president of engineering at NorthStar, a provider of wealth management software for financial services institutions. He brings 24 years of industry experience designing, developing and implementing mission-critical systems for the financial services and enterprise software markets to NorthStar. Mark holds three degrees in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley, including a PhD in Elementary Particle Physics.

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