Private equity firms have been slow to embrace outsourcing, but managing data and technology is more complex than ever. With increasing regulatory requirements and a growing urge to focus on core competencies, PE firms are shifting their views of the back office. In case you missed our recent webinar on 'The Transformation of Private Equity Operations', speakers from Citco Fund Services and Eze Castle Integration examined the changing tide for private equity operations and how CFOs, CTOs and fund managers alike can control operating costs, maximize efficiency and better perfect operational workflows.
Drivers for change.
The number one reason for managers to make the switch to an outsourced solution is the desire for managers to get back to their roots. The idea of back office transformation is really founded in that managers have found themselves spending much more time doing everything but raising money and investing money.
Beneath this layer, back office transformation is also driven by regulation, investor transparency, the lifecycle of a private equity firm, and global reach. Slow adoption, fast results. The private equity sector has been slow on the uptake when it comes to outsourcing, and we contribute this lag due to lack of education on the process and benefits of outsourcing. In the past three to five years, adoption in the PE space has increased because it is cost effective, secure and feature rich. Private equity firms that have made the switch wonder why others are not doing the same. The idea of leveraging an experienced managed service provider is one that private equity firms have really embraced because there is no burden for firms to hire and attract talent, which can be challenging and expensive.
Risk. Across the financial services industry, it’s a buzzword right now, and rightfully so. Perpetuated by mounting regulatory change, growing cybersecurity threats and a challenging market climate, the focus on risk is one that grows with each passing day.
As such, we are hosting a 6-week webinar series, Risk Outlook, wherein we’re interviewing industry experts on a host of risk-related topics. To kick off the series, last week we interviewed Mark Strachan, chief operating officer and compliance officer for BBL Commodities, a New York hedge fund. Read on for a recap of my conversation with Mark or scroll to the bottom to watch the webinar replay.
Question (Q): The last 5-10 years have been challenging for the investment management industry, looking back to the 2008 financial crisis as well as with increasing regulatory initiatives and changes across the investor due diligence process. How have your views on risk and the risk landscape evolved during this time? Or have they evolved?
Mark Strachan (MS): I think they’ve certainly evolved. The core features of non-investment risk – such as operational, counterparty, regulatory, security and business risk – have been constant, but they have evolved in terms of their complexity, our experiences with them, the tools available to help mitigate exposure and the focus by investors through their due diligence process.
The new Apple iOS version 10, that was released today, delivers some cool new features but before jumping in we recommend you review the following upgrade steps.
Here’s why. As with any major update, there can be risks associated with early adoption until issues are uncovered and Apple has the time to debug and fix them. Eze Castle Integration has learned of some significant potential issues including risk of data loss due to incompatibilities with mobile device management (MDM) applications.
So here’s a critical to-do list before starting the iOS 10 upgrade.
FIRST - BACKUP
Backup your device. Always take a backup before updating your device.
1. The best way to do this is via WiFi at night when the device is also plugged into a power source (computer or electrical outlet). iCloud will back up your device on its own if configured correctly and provided you have enough storage. To ensure this is occurring, launch the Settings App -> iCloud -> Backup and see what it says next to “Last Backup:”. If it only states a time, then it means it backed up today and no further action is needed. If it says a date, you can back up the device by clicking “Back Up Now”. (Note: WiFi is required to back up this way). If this fails, you can back up to iTunes (see next bullet) or clients can call ECI’s Help Desk for assistance.
2. Alternatively, you can backup using iTunes. Plug the device into a computer, launch iTunes, right-click on your device and click “Back Up.”
Manually backup passwords. Ensure you know your iCloud passwords, iTunes Store password, email passwords and any other critical passwords. Write them down and test them. Then safely and securely discard that information. As a best practice, there are secure password storage applications available through the App Store.
Copy anything you can’t live without. Backup anything (i.e. photos) that you cannot live without. Do so in a way that you can verify the backup easily. One option is enabling iCloud Photo Library so you can access copies of your photos on all your other iOS devices.
The day that many Apple users wait for every year finally came - the release of the newest Apple products. From the latest iPhone to the all-new Airpods, Apple had a lot to share with us yesterday afternoon. We’ve recapped some highlights below.
Watch Series 2
Unlike the Watch Series 1, the Watch Series 2 now has a built-in GPS and is water resistant. The new processor will now be in the Watch Series 1 and the Watch Series 2, but there will be a $100 price difference between the two models.
The new iPhone 7 introduces a new camera, better performance, longer battery life, stereo speakers, the brightest display yet, and it’s the first water resistant iPhone. iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are splash, water, and dust resistant and were tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard 60529. Battery life and charge cycles vary by use and settings, but the iPhone 7 and & 7 Plus have been tested to hold a charge up to one (7 Plus) or two (7) hours longer.
Strangely, Apple seemed quite excited to announce the introduction of two new colors - black and jet black.
The biggest change for iPhone users is the elimination of the audio port. Stepping in are AirPods, Apple’s version of wireless headphones. The iPhone 7 will come with traditional EarPods that are connected through the lighting connector (goodbye, headphone jack!), or you can use an old set of headphones using the provided adapter. AirPods are an additional cost ($159).
As we work with clients on completing due diligence questionnaires (DDQs), one increasingly common question is, “does your firm block access to data sharing sites such as DropBox or Google Drive?”
Generally the answer to this question should be ‘Yes,’ but that isn’t always the case because public file sharing services such as these are very convenient, and firms may overlook the security risk they pose. Additionally, employees accustomed to using Dropbox for personal use may be tempted to go for convenience over security when they need to share a large file or data set.
However, with security threats multiplying exponentially, hedge funds and alternative investment firms need to be proactive in protecting data and personally identifiable information (PII) from accidental and malicious insider risks. That’s why for secure file sharing Eze Castle Integration includes Varonis' DatAnywhere product as a standard feature within our Eze Managed Suite. Varonis' DatAnywhere offers users seamless and secure collaboration and file sharing across devices.
Beyond security, Varonis' DatAnywhere is easy to use. Users receive the same drag-n-drop experience as shared network drives or a cloud sync folder, which means no need for training on complex user interfaces and collaboration workflows. Additionally, data is automatically backed up and version controlled.
If you signed up to use Dropbox’s storage platform before mid-2012, you received an email last week requiring that you change your password. The notification was triggered after it was learned that both the quantity and quality of users affected during Dropbox’s 2012 hack had been significantly underestimated. Turns out back in 2012, more than 68 million email addresses and hashed passwords were stolen. Previous knowledge had indicated only usernames were affected.
The more concerning piece of news revealed this time around, however, is how hackers were able to access this information. It seems they accessed the account of a Dropbox employee (who seemingly had a file containing user information), using the employee’s own password, which they acquired from the details of the 2012 LinkedIn breach. The user was using the same password for both accounts – an error we often call attention to here on Hedge IT as a big, and potentially devastating, no-no.
The dangers of password reuse are coming to the forefront as other companies have recently alerted users to breach attempts at the hands of hackers armed with password information from other security breaches. Online backup firm Carbonite recently issued a warning to its customers about such an incident, as did Citrix GoToMyPC and code repository site GitHub.
The following article was written and contributed by James E. Grand, Esq. of The Securities Law Group, a specialized boutique law firm dedicated exclusively to representing investment advisers.
We are often asked by advisers who are switching firms whether they can use in their own performance presentation or the predecessor firm’s performance record at their new firm. There are two separate questions here: First; if Jill Doe moves from one firm to another, can Jill use her own performance record while she worked at the old firm in the new firm’s advertising? Second, can Jill use the old firm’s overall performance record in the new firm’s advertising?
A number of SEC staff no-action letters address these questions. These no-action letters generally take the position that an advertisement that includes prior performance of accounts managed by advisors at their prior place of employment will not, in and of itself, be deemed to be misleading so long as:
1. The advertisement is consistent with SEC staff interpretations with respect to the advertisement of performance results.
2. All accounts that were managed in a substantially similar manner are advertised unless the exclusion of any account would not result in materially higher performance. For example, in one case we know of the SEC allowed a newly registered adviser solely owned by an employee to use performance data of several accounts managed by the employee prior to registration. In other words, Jill could advertise the performance of some but not all of her prior client accounts so long as such performance is not materially higher than her accounts’ overall performance.
3. The accounts managed at the old firm are so similar to the accounts currently under management at the new firm that the performance record would provide relevant information to prospective clients.
4. The person(s) managing accounts at the new firm are also those primarily responsible for achieving the prior performance results at old firm. In other words, the individual(s) primarily responsible for achieving the prior performance results must also be the individual(s) primarily responsible for the accounts at the new firm. To put in another way, it would be misleading for an adviser to advertise the performance results of accounts managed at her prior place of employment when she was one of several persons responsible for selecting the securities for the adviser’s clients. The question is whether she was actually responsible for making investment decisions without the need for consensus from other advisers (e.g., an investment committee, etc.).
5. The advertisement includes all relevant disclosures, including that the performance results were from accounts managed at another firm.
In another airline-hedge fund technology parallel, United Airlines recently introduced a new two-factor authentication system for MileagePlus frequent flier program members. Great, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. The system has been receiving criticism of late from those who don’t consider United’s security practices as true two-factor authentication (2FA).
Here’s how it works.
When a member attempts to log into their account from a device that is not recognized by the airline, a user will be asked to answer two security questions. During account setup, the flyer’s answers must be chosen from a provided dropdown list, meaning the answers are predefined and, hence, not unique to each customer.
To dispel some of the concern, Ben Vaughn, United's director of IT security intelligence, has stated that the dropdown menu options stop hackers from being able to do keystroke logging and automated attacks to gain access to accounts.
Time will tell if United’s 2FA system is successful in preventing security breaches for airline customers, but in the meantime, let’s review the common types of two-factor authentication, since the kind United is using is actually the weakest:
The SEC and other financial regulatory bodies have increased transparency demands with regard to cybersecurity in recent years, and as such, registered investment advisers face a long list of requirements to meet on the technology and operational front. In each of its cybersecurity guidance updates, the SEC has called out the need for hedge funds and private equity firms to "indicate whether they conduct periodic risk assessments to identify cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities and potential business consequences", and if so, who conducts them and how often.
Risk and vulnerability assessments have not only become must-haves for financial firms due to these regulatory initiatives, but also as a result of growing investor calls for transparency. Side note: If you missed the news, Eze Castle Integration has expanded its cybersecurity consulting services to deliver comprehensive vulnerability assessments (as well as penetration testing and third party due diligence audits) across both internal and external networks. Click here to read more about Eze Vulnerability Assessments.
We field a lot of questions about what exactly a security vulnerability assessment is, so we thought it best to review what such a test entails.
Here’s a quick overview.
The type of risk assessment typically associated with information technology/security is an external vulnerability assessment. Essentially, this is the process of identifying and categorizing vulnerabilities related to a system or infrastructure. Typical steps associated with a vulnerability scan or assessment include:
Identifying all appropriate systems, networks and infrastructures;
Scanning networks to assess susceptibility to external hacks and threats;
Classifying vulnerabilities based on severity; and
Making tactical recommendations around how to eliminate or remediate threats at all levels.
Earlier this week Delta Airlines suffered a major system outage that resulted in more than 740 flight cancellations and thousands of flight delays.
Delta’s Chief Operating Officer Gil West explained that “Monday morning a critical power control module at [Delta’s] Technology Command Center malfunctioned, causing a surge to the transformer and a loss of power. The universal power was stabilized and power was restored quickly. But when this happened, critical systems and network equipment didn’t switch over to backups. Other systems did. [As a result, Delta saw] instability in these systems.”
As with any major “uh oh” moment, there are lessons that can be learned. So let’s take a look at what hedge funds can learn from Delta’s IT mishap.
1. Outdated technology can hurt in a big way. Airlines are saddled with legacy IT systems, complicated by mergers and acquisitions requiring complex integrations. Unlike airlines however, most asset management firms are not relying on technology from 80s or 90s. But that doesn’t give firms a pass when it comes to staying current with technology.
Outdated IT systems insert instability into a firm’s operations and provide holes for cyber hackers to exploit. The reality is that outdated systems will only continue to fall behind in the race of technology, trouble shooting will take longer, future applications will fail to run, or crash the server altogether, and the cost to migrate increases concurrently as the pool of experts shrinks.
2. You can’t ignore the IT industry’s transition to cloud computing. As noted in a ZDNet article, “the big question is why in 2016 airlines are being brought down by single points of failure when cloud services offer resiliency zones, backup options, and redundancy to keep critical systems running.”
Enterprise-grade clouds deliver significant resiliency in both the hardware and data centers, with cloud infrastructures spanning geographically diverse facilities. Beyond hardware, top tier cloud providers (Eze!) have teams of senior engineers managing and monitoring the infrastructure. Additionally systems are upgraded on a regular frequency.
In the investment management industry, it is common to hear investors state they are more comfortable with fund managers utilizing a private cloud rather than keeping IT on premise. At larger funds, the prevalence of cloud-based solutions provides Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) the opportunity to execute more strategic technology initiatives and focus on risk mitigation.