Tech is key to solving work-life imbalance
eVestment has released its Work-Life Balance report, which in partnership with MJ Hudson surveyed more than 300 private funds professionals.
The findings are made far more interesting against the backdrop of recent events, whereby the majority of private market professionals are now working from home, giving rise to increasingly blurred lines between work and personal life.
The Drawdown spoke to Graeme Faulds, director of product, eVestment Private Markets to dig into some of the key findings most relevant to the finance and operational functions.
Switch off policies
Implementing strict switch off policies was a key discussion point at our Briefing Briefing event held back in February, which discussed some of the reports preliminary findings, and the panellists agreed this is something relatively easy to implement that can bring major benefits.
However, in light of recent events, is it now more difficult to separate work from home life? And what can firms do to encourage down time?
Said Faulds, “We’re a tech company and our systems are designed to work remotely. We’re ideally set up to work in this environment. What’s fascinating is the ability to switch off when working in this way is a challenge even for us. In some respects this will be tougher in private markets as they are less used to doing it, so it’s more important that they do focus on the balance.”
Very much inline with the increasingly blurred lines between work and home, another area the report picks up on is overworking. Charlene Cowen, head of people and wellbeing at MJ Hudson says working under high levels of stress, for extended periods of time, can lead to burnout. “This is a particularly potent risk when, as can often be the case in the private markets, the timetable is set by others.”
This is perhaps most acute for finance and operational professionals who are typically always ‘on’ and typically always working to other timetables (investment processes, fundraising expeditions, quarterly reporting, LP demands and so on).
Could it be that we’re facing a back office crunch? With the increased work loads and role stretch faced by finance and ops, is there an increased risk of burn-out?
Says Faulds, “I think there is a possibility of this. Many CFOs are typically managing everything outside of deals, and in this current environment we will see increased demands coming from LPs. It’s not as simple as throwing more people at this; adding people to the problem is a linear solution, whereas technology provides an exponential solution.”
Indeed, a key finding from our Breakfast Briefing was that implementing the right technology infrastructure is vital for firms looking to scale. However, because of their complex structures, private capital funds need specialist technology.
Says Faulds, “The private market is a very different asset class to the rest of financial services, I think that’s borne out by the fact that traditional fund management operations have a large number of tech solutions available to them that have been around a long time. But it wasn’t that long ago that sponsors were managing their portfolios via spreadsheets. Because private markets have different requirements, they’ve been slower to adapt to new technologies; it’s not as simple as taking a product from one sector and transferring it over. It needs specialist considerations to cope with complexities such as IRR calculations.”
Despite the unique technological needs of private markets, the industry is making good progress towards reaching a digital utopia. According to Faulds, over the last five years private funds largely put in accounting and administrative tech in place. “There’s been big progress in terms of adopting solutions for administration and accounting of portfolios,” he says. “The next stage of evolution is looking at these big accounting platforms, which are designed primarily to do that, but can’t be expected to be the best solution for every requirement. Now it’s about looking at specialist solutions for specific tasks; that takes you a huge step forward,” he adds.
Given the major upheaval of recent weeks, never has nimble and agile technology been more important. “This current situation highlights how SaaS solutions are very robust and flexible in extreme situations,” says Faulds.
But beyond current challenges, decent tech infrastructure has multiple benefits, looping back to overall employee work-life balance and job satisfaction. “Good tech frees up your staff from doing the mundane tasks so they can focus on more value-add aspects,” says Faulds.
The Work-Life study found that across all the private market roles, when asked what people most enjoy about their jobs, 13% said variety, while 9% like to be challenged. “The right technology has the ability to do both of these things,” says Faulds.