Hedge Fund Mobility and How to Make it Count

Lessons in mobile IT from the classroom: junior schools, iPads and secure app experiences

In 2012 I was invited to visit a junior high school where iPads were provided to students as their primary learning resource. It was impressive. Not just because of the very early device adoption, but because of the use cases – the amount of mobile apps approved and available, the ease of accessibility and sharing of content and ideas, and the sheer rate of pupil engagement.

Fast-forward three years and I find myself visiting a hedge fund with firm-wide iPads. Something seemed amiss, and it wasn’t just the size of the chairs. Unlike at the school, efforts to improve the analyst experience, better manage security, and enable the research team to access or create information on the move remained high on the agenda.

Like so many funds with a mobile strategy, they were still reaching for that elusive goal of user experience and engagement. While you’ll be hard pressed to find a successful fund that hasn’t deployed smart devices, far fewer have realized the next step; enabling the business apps and experiences that employees need to be productive.

The majority of fund CTOs or PMs we meet advocate that a digital, mobile workforce should now be the norm. However, most still cite the regulatory environment and cybersecurity landscape as too big of a barrier.

Security and Compliance – Whose Barrier is it Anyway?

Of course security is a challenge, it’s one every industry battles in some shape or form when it comes to mobility. Whether you’re a highly regulated alternative investment firm or a 5,000 strong junior high, the privacy, security and data integrity risks are high, and guarding against them paramount.

Ensuring security policies and procedures are in place to satisfy a concerned parent, safeguard a child’s online activity, while also enabling the best learning experience possible is a careful balance, but one that is achieved by schools across the globe everyday. Yes, we operate in a different environment, but hedge funds have a similar path to tread; finding the right balance between user productivity and optimum security, and not compromising either.

Of course it’s not enough just to be secure in our industry, you’ve got to be able to prove and demonstrate it too. Globally, hedge funds face thousands of security and privacy-related standards and regulations and there is no room for error.

The demands will keep growing and evolving too. For example, The SEC has been in the investigative phase of its Cybersecurity Initiative for over two years, and what used to be considered best practice for the security of your fund, must now explicitly be built into your compliance program. Access Rights and Controls and Data Loss Prevention are just a few of the new elements, announced by the SEC in September, that will form part of cybersecurity examinations from here on in.

With cybersecurity and data management compliance regulations like these increasing in volume and complexity it’s absolutely imperative you make sure your mobile devices, and more critically the services your analysts are using on top of them, ensure seamless compliance with government mandates. But do this without a thought for supporting the user experience at your peril.

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Starting with Mobile Security is a Dead-end

Your mobility strategy may be dictated by security, but it is driven by the need for user productivity. User benefit is what it must deliver, and this is the best place to start. It’s a lot easier to ensure a great user experience is secure, than it is to make a secure service a great experience.

This is particularly relevant to your fund’s research management process. Analysts want to do the right thing for the security of the fund, but when an IT team repeatedly says no to the mobile productivity tools they ask for, or forces a compliance-approved application that doesn’t meet their needs, they find another way. And it won’t be secure or compliant.

The only way to ensure your secure and compliance-approved mobile applications and services are adopted by your team, is to offer a superior experience than the consumer tools they’re so compelled to use.

A successful fund mobile strategy is about giving your investment professionals the experience they need to be productive and build performance for the fund, but without losing control over security, policy and compliance. It is possible to find that balance.

According to a recent forecast by IDC, mobile workers will account for nearly 75% of the US workforce by 2020. You may think that’s plenty of time to optimize your mobile strategy, except when you stop and think who that workforce will be. Those junior high students I met back in 2012, the ones that spent their entire schooldays on iPads; that view connectivity as a right not a privilege, will be the employees of 2020. Well, only that is, if your IT can handle them.