Founded in 1853, Washington University is a private research university in St. Louis, Missouri. The university’s total enrollment includes over 15,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Washington University Investment Management Company (WUIMC) manages a $13 billion endowment for the educational institution. This endowment is invested across all asset classes and geographies by a team of approximately 23 employees.
David Li is WUIMC’s Chief Technology Officer and manages the organization’s technology strategy, tech stack, configurations, relationships with vendors, in-house integrations, and data warehousing analytics. The role of the CTO is essential for any organization but became especially crucial after a strategy shift in 2017 from using a silo to a generalist model.
What brought Wash U to search for an RMS?
David: We wanted to rebuild the tech stack so it would be better suited for our shift to a generalist model in 2017. This new model requires a deeper due diligence style wherein the portfolio directors know and understand the underlying investments. Prior to Bipsync, we were on a monolithic CRM platform that covered almost everything: CRM, research, performance (IBOR and PBOR), documents, and more.
The advantage was that it covered all the bases and was easy to maintain. The disadvantage was that everyone was equally dissatisfied. It was a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. When focusing on deep due diligence and really knowing your investments became a core concept, we knew we needed to graduate from that single monolithic system.
How did you first discover Bipsync during your search for a best-of-breed system?
David: We looked at general industry consulting materials like the Gartners and Forresters of the world. We talked to people that we knew. Some Googling as well.
We didn’t start out specifically focused on a set of RMS options. We thought about the stack holistically and considered a bunch of options for how it would look. Would we have an RMS, or another monolith, or start with a generalized platform and then build on top of it? We ended up with several names in each category.
We narrowed those down and pitted them against each other to figure out which one fit our needs and resources the best. Bipsync had come as a recommendation from one of our peers which carries some weight, and it made it to that final round.
What was the most compelling feature that attracted you to ultimately sign up?
David: The number one feature was its consumer-grade interface. When I say “consumer-grade,” some people may interpret that negatively and think that “enterprise-grade” would be better. However, enterprise-grade is only better for the people who manage the software, not for the end-users. The end-users end up sacrificing their user experience for the sake of uniformity of management.
We wanted something that could really compete with the Evernotes and OneNotes of the world in ease of use. Something that was just seamless and desirable to use, but also had enterprise-grade features on the back-end. We also needed offline capabilities in a native iOS app to accommodate our team’s increased travel demands which our monolith lacked.
Do you foresee client-led product innovations such as the “Bipsync App-Engine” being relevant in other industries and other allocator spaces as well?
David: Let’s talk about hedge funds or other asset managers, as opposed to owners. My understanding is that system fragmentation is even worse for asset managers. I would say that it would probably be even more powerful for them. We have three or four systems that we have to manage, but we don’t manage trade flow on an everyday basis, so our lives are relatively simple.
How should the RMS space evolve in the next five years to better support the endowment space and beyond?
David: There’s this huge shift moving RMS away from being a dusty box of keepsakes that you just put there on the shelf into something that’s part of the everyday investment process that really adds value as opposed to being something that’s compliance-based. I think that trend is going to continue. And there’s going to be more of a focus on mobile-first. Mobile interfaces may even become more important than Windows ones, or perhaps mobile and web will be designed side-by-side with feature parity. That kind of approach is going to become more prevalent. And I certainly hope Bipsync continues investing on the mobile side because there’s a lot of opportunities there.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Bipsync empowers Washington University Investment Management Company – you can download the case study here.