Wrapping up NICSA's latest leadership event, the asset management trade organization's president, Jim Fitzpatrick says the conference was able to highlight key concerns industry professionals have about the disruption affecting mutual fund providers, and the best ways to overcome them.
An attitude change regarding technology is one key suggestion, Fitzpatrick says.
"People are embracing technology. If you think about it, I'm a 30-plus-year veteran, and a lot of the devices I use today were not even in existence when I started," he says. "At some point in the industry there was fear. People were afraid of new technology.
"But now there's no question, no matter what generation you are, people are embracing technology in every aspect of the industry. There's a lot of discussion around technology being deployed, gaining better returns for investors and better client service."
Adjusting to the challenges, NICSA made a key appointment at the conference, naming Dan Houlihan, head of global fund services at Northern Trust, to serve as the chairman of its Board of Directors. He previously served as vice chairman of the Board.
Houlihan will preside over the governing body of the association as well as NICSA's executive committee.
"Dan brings a comprehensive knowledge base and a strategic vision of the financial services industry to NICSA," said Jim Fitzpatrick, President of NICSA. "We are very pleased to have an individual of Dan's caliber lead our Association."
Houlihan has been a member of NICSA for three years, and has served on the Membership committee and chaired the Strategy committee.
"Throughout my career I've viewed my role as helping make the financial services industry more transparent, innovative, and client-focused," Houlihan said. "I'm proud to be leading the talented group of professionals at NICSA as we look for ways to make the industry work better for everyone."
Another standout session at NICSA brought together a cross-section of younger professionals to talk about their needs and how best can firms integrate them into their practices.
"People recognize the differences. What boomers bring table, what Gen X and millennials bring to the table. We do things differently, so how do we create the most effective work force?"
Fitzpatrick says the issue of managing a multi-generational workforce is important to NICSA, and to himself.
It was his daughter's experiences upon joining an asset management firm, Fitzpatrick says, that made him aware of a pressing issue for younger employees in asset management: a lack of ready educational resources.
"She had just finished graduate school and joined a very well-known firm. She received very good training, but she was calling me two or three times a week, asking me about working with certain securities. She is very smart and knew what to do, but she didn't understand how it fit all together."
Fitzpatrick says that's why NICSA is now contemplating an effort to bring a broader focus on providing education about the industry to members — to not only introduce the organization to younger asset management professionals, but to also become an organization that can set industry standards.
"People get training to do the jobs they are hired to do, but sometimes they need to take a step back and get a bigger picture perspective on how the pieces fit together."
Fitzpatrick says NICSA will leave the asset management policy to the Investment Company Institute.
"The lobbying and rulemaking side is something we'll never get involved in. NICSA is focused on education," he says.
But he still indulged in some market speculation fueled by current market conditions. Active management, which has suffered mightily in a market shift toward passive, will have its moment again due to global uncertainty, he says.
"If you listen to forecasts, analysts are projecting low single-digit returns in euqity markets," Fitzpatrick says.
"The environment for active investing is now. There is huge opportunity for active managers to show their performance and generate alpha based on research and selection."
Given the industry's changes are being driven by technological innovation, who better than an astronaut to address NICSA's Strategic Leadership Forum?
But the message NASA Captain Scott Kelly gave to the audience in gathered in Ft. Lauderdale had little to do with gadgetry or computers. Instead, Kelly spoke about the value of perseverance, ingenuity and optimism.
NICSA President Jim Fitzpatrick was moved by the upbeat tone, and took from it inspiration for the industry.
"They had real leadership challenges, considering what they faced," Fitzpatrick says.
"But from the space station, he gained his view that the sky is not the limit, that people can really achieve things when they set their minds to it."