A Digital Journey Defined by Passion and Courage
Curo Fund Services is not only adopting a new automated platform that will transform its way of working, but also an evolved culture underpinned by two core values and a shift in the home-office paradigm
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Sam Love
The human-machine dynamic is constantly evolving.
Today, there are about as many connected devices as there are people on earth, the IoT market alone worth well over $400 billion – fast-forward to 2030, and 24 billion connected devices will be controlled by 8.5 billion people.
It is fair to say, then, that our lives are becoming exponentially digitised, not only at home, but also at work.
Once traditional industries have been forced to transform and embrace new ways of working, a clear example being the African finance sector which has seen an explosion in mobile banking start to plug the gaps that bricks and mortar branches have been unable to fill.
Banks are having to adapt to the modern consumer in order to remain relevant, and the same can be said of the investments sphere, especially during what are challenging economic times.
“The industry here in South Africa is grappling with similar challenges to the global investments industry,” comments Barri Maggott, CEO of Curo Fund Services, provider of outsourced fund administration services to asset managers.
“Returns are difficult to generate, margins are being squeezed, technology is disrupting – these are just some of the challenges. However, these create opportunities for businesses who can respond quickly and find creative ways to enhance their services to clients. Thus, it certainly is an exciting space to be working in.”
Maggott has spent almost all of his career in financial services. Training as a chartered accountant in the late 1990s, he has always held a passion for the investments sector, the opportunity to join Curo in 2016 and leverage his prior experience being too good to pass up.
And he joined a company which already carried a stellar reputation as a consistent and reliable service provider.
Indeed, from its base in Cape Town Curo offers investment administration to more than 30 percent of South Africa’s top asset managers, with aspirations to grow its cohort of 300 staff and venture into the global market.
“At the heart of Curo is our relentless drive to take care of, look after and effectively manage the investment administration of our clients,” Maggott explains. “We believe that by offering a frictionless, integrated, accurate service backed by domain expertise, we will allow our clients to focus their efforts on creating alpha for their clients.
“Our service experience is constructed in a way that enables clients to maintain and enhance their clients’ experience. We see client challenges as our challenges.”
Curo also stands out in that it is one of very few companies in the investment administration sector that is Level 1 B-BBEE accredited, the company very much an industry pioneer in black economic empowerment and determined to spearhead a wider transformation in the sector.
Transformation can also be framed in terms of technology, its disruptive impact already described by Maggott as both a challenge and source of tremendous excitement.
This is largely because Curo is engaged in what the CEO calls a significant programme of digitisation.
Centred around a new, automated platform from which it will manage its processes, the ultimate objective is to reduce risk and enhance the client experience, enabling it to focus more energy on its own core business and customers.
“Our business involves processing a huge number of transactions, information and accounting functions and reporting this back to clients,” Maggott says.
“That production cycle is made of inputs, processes and outputs, with different teams managing each stage, almost like a factory production line. The new platform operates on a much more end to end basis, with data seamlessly flowing straight through, requiring very little human intervention.
“This allows our people to focus on exceptions and value-added services, which essentially will allow us to offer a superior service to our clients. It is a fundamental shift in the way we run our business.”
The CEO reveals that the first batch of clients will be transferred to the new platform by the end of August, with all accounts being migrated over the next 12 months.
It is a huge project which will lay the foundation for more digital transformation at Curo in the future, and one which has highlighted the importance of fruitful partnerships.
“No business can be successful without partners and service providers,” Maggott says. “We have a limited number of key relationships which are integral to our fortunes. If the relationships are based on the objective of driving ours and our partners’ success, then we believe that alignment will result in the type of partnerships we are looking for.”
Passion and courage
Curo’s digitisation programme also carries a vital human element.
Adoption of new technologies and ways of working will not be successful without the buy-in and, in some cases, upskilling of employees, a task which is embodied by the company’s transition to a new working culture.
“We have revised our cultural message to just two simple values – passion and courage,” says Maggott. “Overturning the legacy way of doing things has been arguably the greatest challenge we have faced so far, and the culture shift is still ongoing.
“It also involves looking for slightly different talents and attitudes when we recruit. We need a combination of new skills that we were not looking for previously and a willingness to embrace change and challenge ideas. Data management and reporting is essential to what we do, and we must be able to present it in a way to clients that maximises its value.”
Maggott goes on to explain another element of the new Curo culture, one which has been accelerated by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic has naturally had an impact on revenues and forced us to adopt a work from home model,” he continues. “Through early decision making and careful management, the impact on our client service has been very limited – we have been able to maintain our high standard of service delivery to clients despite the adverse circumstances.
“We also believe that there are opportunities for improvement and new ways of doing things that have arisen out of the crisis, and are working on making sure that we capitalise on these opportunities.
“The switch has gone even better than we expected, so we’re now looking at a whole new definition of what the purpose of our office space is. The paradigm has shifted – work is now at home and the office is where you come to socialise with colleagues, have innovation sessions and be connected as a team.”
The resilience shown by Curo during an unprecedented 2020 neatly reflects the tumultuous circumstances in which the company was created.
In 2012, Sanlam and Old Mutual came together with a common problem after JP Morgan discontinued its provision of investment and asset management administration services. It was a disastrous situation for both enterprises and one that needed resolving in rapid time – hence Curo Fund Services was born, and in just eight years it has flourished into a 300-strong workforce administering more than R2 trillion of assets.
And looking ahead to the next chapter of the firm’s development, Maggott is excited by what the upcoming year has in store, despite all of the disruption and difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He concludes buoyantly: “The delivery of our new platform is the foundation of our success for the next number of years and starts in the coming year.
“Moving our existing clients to this platform will give them a significant improvement in client experience, and will ultimately provide us with the differentiated product that will enable us to attract new clients.”