Author: Dan Zambonini
- What is a research management solution?
- Why use a research management solution rather than a shared network drive?
- Why use a research management solution rather than consumer note-taking and file-sharing apps?
- Why Bipsync rather than another commercial research management solution?
What is a Research Management Solution?
Cast your mind back to the last time that you rented an apartment or bought a house. Did you come across the very first listing and think, “Great, there’s one that’s available, I can stop looking now.”?
Like most people, you probably research an important decision before you make it.
The amount and formality of research is usually proportional to the importance of the decision. To buy a new cell-phone, you might check out your friends’ phones and wander around a store or two. To buy a new car, you may spend a few evenings online comparing safety, performance and comfort before visiting some dealerships. Whereas to buy a new house, you’re likely to spend months researching your options, reading everything you can find on the location and talking to countless real-estate professionals.
Similarly, an individual investing $500 in a crowdsourced startup opportunity will be comfortable with less research than a professional investor responsible for a multi-million dollar trade.
The method that you use to record your research, and to later review the collected information before you make the decision, is your research management solution. It’s a topsy-turvy back-to-front name, but it’s any solution that helps you to manage your research. It can be paper and pen, a plain text file on your desktop, an online note taking tool, or something specific to the research task at hand.
For a cell-phone purchase, your memory is probably a good enough solution to store the one or two distinguishing features between similar options. An Excel spreadsheet might be a better solution for a house purchase, where ten or more comparable characteristics are important to your final decision. The research required for a major investment decision is more complicated.
Financial research comes in many forms, and from a wide range of sources: relentless data from the markets, fact-checking calls with experts, lengthy meetings with company executives, presentations at industry conferences, research from online and offline journals, and off-the-cuff remarks from colleagues at the bar.
There’s extra complexity for professional investors too. Industry regulations impose additional – but necessary – burden on the investor, to properly and securely store all of their research, and to be able to prove that any decision was made from legally sound information.
Whatever solution you choose to manage your research, as a professional investor you need to capture a wide range of information, edit it down to manageable pieces, incorporate previously discovered information, and compare it against your other potential investments.
If you work in a team, you’ll also want to make sure that your research is made available to anyone else who may find it useful. You’ll want to get the benefit of your team’s experience on your research, to reduce personal biases and ensure you don’t miss something important in the details. After all, it’s your responsibility to make the best possible decision with the information and expertise available to you, while complying with industry regulations.
It’s a difficult problem to solve, and every research management solution has advantages and disadvantages. But we’ve designed Bipsync specifically for professional investors who want to make the best possible decision from their research.
From here on, the capitalized version of the term Research Management Solution represents any commercial research management software designed specifically for the finance industry.
Research Management Solution vs Shared Network Drives
The original research management solution for many professional investors, and almost certainly still the most common, is a shared drive on an internal company network. A folder is created for each company or investment research project, sometimes under a higher-level folder for each person conducting research, and the relevant research is saved across numerous Excel, Word and other files in each folder.
It’s a common solution because the technology is decades old. It’s easy to control and trust, and people know how to use it. But for the size of investments that depend on this research, shared folders lack sophistication in many areas that could otherwise substantially improve the decisions being made.
Every investor knows how to save a file to a local file system, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the quickest or best way to record information. Typically you’ll open a new Word document, write your notes – or copy and paste them from an external source like a web browser – press a key to initiate the save, navigate to the correct folder in the growing shared sprawl, and save the file. While it’s not particularly time-consuming to save a single file, it adds up over time, especially as the number of potential destination folders increases.
A Research Management Solution provides you with a range of apps and plug-ins so that you can capture information at the source, in one or two clicks. A browser plug-in can save any web article at the click of a button, and organize it with simple auto-complete tags. The same goes for an Outlook plugin, an Excel plugin, a PDF plugin and a desktop application to capture any open file with a keystroke.
It’s easy to find research for a particular company when your local shared folders are named after them, but that system only supports the organization of research in one dimension – by a single company. It’s cumbersome if you need to find something more specific, like “all calls I had with Tesla Motors experts in the last year”, or more generic, like “all of our proprietary research about the Energy sector”.
Research Management Solutions don’t have the same constraint. Your notes and files can be virtually tagged and organized in as many ways as you need – by company, industry, geography, author, contact, date and custom organization schemes – and in any combination.
Whatever you need to find, whether specific or generic, you can search for a combination of tags to accurately narrow down your entire teams previous research efforts in seconds. And if you need to find a particular keyword or phrase, you can easily search every note and file from a single search box.
Investors often don’t have access to an internal network, with all the meetings, flights, events and other travel that takes them away from their desk, and sometimes away from any kind of data connection. Sure, notes can still be taken in a local Word file – and hopefully the investor will remember to put it in the shared drive when they get back – but it’s almost impossible to access previous research notes to double-check a fact or figure, unless they remembered to copy the relevant notes off the shared drive before they left.
A Research Management Solution like Bipsync gives you mobile and desktop apps with offline support, so that you can access your previous research on your cell-phone or laptop wherever you are, and add new notes that automatically sync the next time you’re online. You don’t need to worry about where you are or where you’re going, you just continue with your research as normal.
Compliance with regulations
When regulators ask for evidence about a particular investment, it’s in all parties best interest to provide the specific information they ask for – no more, and no less. The request may be for all of Sam Thomas’s research from the third quarter of last year. The rigid layout of the shared drive makes this query difficult to fulfil, but a Research Management Solution can identify and export the relevant research in minutes. You could even prove whether or not Sam accessed a particular note or file.
Regulators also have the power to check that investors have sufficient systems in place for the preservation and retention of research data, and that they can technically recover from a disaster.
Of course you can put your own backup systems in place, make sure that the backups are encrypted securely and stored in multiple locations, and you can monitor your shared files to make sure that nothing substantive is deleted. But is this really where you should spend your time as a team of expert researchers and investors?
A Research Management Solution will keep a log of all changes to notes, with a detailed audit trail of who made what change, and when. Deleted information will be retained for regulatory requests, and blacklists can be configured to prevent people or groups from working on particular companies if necessary – perhaps temporarily during an investigation. Secure backups are made automatically, stored in multiple physical locations, and are retained for the necessary length of time.
Working in a team
A shared drive doesn’t drive sharing. Everyone in the team may have access to the files, but there’s usually no reason for anyone to try to understand and navigate shared folders that aren’t theirs. It’s essentially a collection of individuals’ research, which just happens to be in the same place. They are still silos – they just don’t look like them.
Modern Research Management Solutions include collaboration features which recognize that investors working together, towards the same goal, produce better collective decisions than those same investors working individually. The software is designed to expose each investor to relevant research for their current projects, no matter who created it, and will keep everyone updated on the latest research for their chosen companies, with automatic real-time or daily summary emails. Duplicate research effort is reduced, and people can add useful feedback on their colleagues’ notes that they might not otherwise have seen.
It may conjure up an image of long lines at the DMV, but it’s important to follow some kind of process.
A professional investor doesn’t make a single investment decision. Time and time again, they are expected to perform thorough due diligence on a never-ending stream of potential investments.
As the research cycle repeats, it becomes apparent that certain tasks are important – perhaps reviewing the official financial filings for a company – but other tasks might not produce anything that’s ultimately useful. Even a loose process will help to guide you through the good steps and avoid the bad ones, so that you can focus future efforts on research that helps to make the right decision.
Additionally, if a team is working together to assess investments, there needs to be some way for everyone to produce research and recommendations that have underlying similarities, so that they can be fairly compared and the best chosen with confidence.
A Research Management Solution will help you to design and enforce the processes you need, from small nudges to lengthy workflows. Create checklists, define stages of diligence, set up rules, and identify problems with your research process from built-in reports.
Research Management Solution vs Consumer Note-Taking and File-Sharing Apps
Dropbox and Evernote are brilliantly designed software products. They hit the sweet spot for the mass-market in their price, features and ease-of-use. Within minutes of signing up, your notes and files are available on your computer, phone and tablet. What’s not to love?
Professional investors often progress to these tools to solve some of the problems of the shared drive, especially those looking for mobile access to their research and more flexible organization options. But these general-purposes tools are inherently designed to appeal to as many people and professions as possible, which can introduce problems for the specific challenges of those in the finance industry.
One of the biggest problems with generic consumer tools in finance is that they don’t support the specific compliance needs of the industry. They tend to fall far short of what regulators expect investors to consider for the retention, protection and logging of data, which can have logistical and legal repercussions.
A modern Research Management Solution, on the other hand, is designed to not only comply with current regulations, but to anticipate future regulatory needs, and to make the potential headache of a compliance request trivial to handle.
As evident from previous security breaches, these household name applications – with millions of accounts stored in a single location, including those from celebrities and political figures – are attractive targets for hackers.
A Research Management Solution will have the option for a completely separate system per customer, which reduces the visibility, impact and attractiveness for potential attackers. Crucially, a separate installation also means that you can configure the security to your specific needs: enforce Two Factor Authentication, implement custom strong password requirements, and even limit access to users from your internal network or VPN.
Once you get past the core features of the consumer products, there’s very little that adds value to the research process or contributes to better investment decisions. They fix the basic problems of a shared drive, but not much else.
Modern Research Management Solutions also solve these core problems, and increasingly offer the same simple user experience to help investors get up and running quickly. But they also include a variety of additional, specific features for analysts and funds to better work together on their investment research, from workflow and collaboration tools to market data and internal system integrations.
The high standard of user experience for consumer apps tends to stop at the product. Try to get in touch with someone about a problem or suggestion, and you’ll almost certainly find yourself in a never-ending cycle of online support FAQs. It can be frustrating for anyone, but is especially maddening – and costly – for time-sensitive professional investors.
There’s no denying that Research Management Solutions cost more than consumer apps, but a significant part of that cost is invested in personal support services, and a Service Level Agreement to back them up.
Most vendors give you access to online ticketing, support email addresses, and a direct email address and telephone number for an account manager or customer success manager. You’ll also benefit from personlized in-person training to get the most out of the software, and can configure the software to your preferences. You’ll even get to directly shape the future product features with close interactions with the product development teams.
Bipsync vs Other Research Management Solutions
Not all Research Management Solutions are created equal. The older products have grown into difficult and confused messes, to the point of being unusable. At the other end of the spectrum, many data providers try to bundle “lightweight” Research Management Solutions into their market-data-focused software as an after-thought, which lack the features and compliance support you need for your most important asset.
Bipsync was designed from the outset to be modern, easy and feature-rich, and to specifically solve the problems of research management in finance.
Usability and considered design
Simplicity is difficult. Most software in the finance industry looks like the designers listed every feature they could think of and physically threw them onto the screen. It may occasionally look good in a demo, where it seems you’re getting more for your money, but after weeks of use the complexity, inconsistencies and gimmicks take their toll.
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” – Blaise Pascal
Bipsync designers care about every detail, from the decision to add a particular feature or not, to where each element belongs in the interface, how consistent it is and how it’s used by different types of people in different contexts. Every word and pixel is given due consideration, because over time small problems with these details add up to frustration, and eventually cause mistakes for the people who use the software every day.
Bipsync is intentionally designed to look simple and familiar when you first use it. The features you need the most are accessible right away, with increasingly advanced functionality gradually layered into menus and secondary interfaces. You’ll find the same rich features as other Research Management Solutions, but in a product that’s designed for people, not for demos and marketing screenshots.
Security, privacy and compliance
As with design, you need to dig deeper than the surface to find out how much a Research Management Solution really cares about privacy, security, and adherence to regulation.
Some aspects of product security are a given, like the option for strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and encrypted data in transit and at rest. But look beyond these checklist items and you’ll find that many vendors use risky practices in order to deliver a feature and make a sale. These include:
- Single-tenant SaaS hosting. All customers exist on the same codebase and database. This not only exposes all customers in the event of a security breach, but severely limits how you can customize the network security around your data. For example, you may not able to limit access to your fund network and VPN.
Outsourced development. Some products outsource their entire development – or individual features – to third parties, with the obvious risks and regulatory complications that come from this additional exposure.
- Third party scripts. For web-based software, it’s tempting to cut corners and include code directly from third parties in order to provide a particular service or feature. The trouble is that by directly including code from a third party server into a product, you have no control over what it does. Your security exposure increases exponentially: even if the third party doesn’t purposefully include malicious code, your research could be entirely compromised if any of the third parties are hacked. Third party scripts we’ve seen included in modern products include: Google Analytics, Google Charts, Zendesk Support Widget, Intercom Support Widget, Twitter Widgets, and more. If your current solution includes any of these, be aware that these services – and anyone with authorized or unauthorized access to their servers – get to run any code they want on the same page as your proprietary research.
Bipsync takes your security and privacy seriously. Every customer has a separate database, and every plus and enterprise customer is hosted on a separate, completely configurable single-tenant private network. The product is developed 100% in-house, with zero direct references to code on third-party servers.
A technology company
Almost every research management company was founded entirely by people from finance. Bipsync was founded by a mix of finance and software professionals, and has grown from the first day as a software technology company, not as a business that happens to sell a product. And that shows in the quality of the product and the level of support.
The finance industry is fast-paced, as are the changes to regulation, so you need a product that keeps up. Bipsync has the team and technologies in place to develop the product at a faster pace than the competition, with a release approximately every two weeks. As a modern software company, the release notes are made public too.
The product moves quickly, so the company does too. Founded in 2012, Bipsync may not have as many customers as the established vendors, but it is growing rapidly. Think about it like investing in a company: would you rather invest in the larger established enterprise that is quickly losing dissatisfied customers, or the smaller growing company that’s repeatedly winning customers from the competition?
Genuinely valuable features
The Bipsync Research Management Solution is developed through a close relationship with investors and funds, to focus on creating features that really matter for everyday use. Many of the features have been mentioned in the preceding sections, and include:
- Flexible support for the organizational structures of funds, including funds with multiple internal groups, multiple teams that need to be kept separated, and external consultants who need to share research one-way into the system.
- Truly useful collaboration features, including comments, mentions, tasks, and subscriptions that let you stay on top of research updates – and add comments – from your inbox.
Advanced workflow support like Pipelines and Rules to enforce and automate your research process.
- A huge array of customizations to capture the information you need, including customizable tagging systems and data entry fields.
- Apps to support everyone in the fund, including offline-capable mobile and desktop apps for analysts, a user and group management app for IT, and a compliance app for the CCO.
If your research management solution isn’t doing everything it can to help you make better investment decisions, then why not get in touch to schedule a commitment-free demo and see how Bipsync is different.