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Wealth platform wins - how to optimise your back end

Article by WealthOS from the UK WealthTech Landscape Report 2023

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The operating system for digital wealth management

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by WealthOS
| 22/11/2023 11:00:00

Sameera Udayanga, Head of Engineering at WealthOS, looks at the optimal features of back end architecture.

Technological change in wealth management has taken a dramatic turn over the past few years, with solutions and apps flooding the market. It finally feels like digital transformation in wealth management has arrived, although it is by no means yesterday’s news!

Indeed, from automating basic processes to using data to offer personalised solutions or quickly adapting to changing market conditions - digital transformation needs to be an ongoing process.

But as revolutionary technologies like AI break through, we see front-end technology evolving at breakneck speed. But that has meant that back-end infrastructure is starting to get left behind.

So, how can you bake in an ongoing, future-ready digital transformation process into your back-end technology stack?

Five things to consider:

1. Is it scalable, flexible, and agile?
Modular, microservices-based, Cloud-native architecture
A back-end system should allow for the deployment of high-priority feature(s) quickly and cost-efficiently. For example, if the account funding flow needs adjusting, it should be done automatically. The optimal back end should have the agility and flexibility to go live fast with this feature in isolation.

The ideal back end should also allow for the addition of extra features, such as investor onboarding or tax-wrapped products, at a time that suits the user. Having a modular microservices-based architecture is key to supporting an incremental build approach.

With the global democratisation of wealth, providers face pressure to scale up. To do this Cloud-native architecture is the unparalleled option available. It leverages the elasticity within cloud computing, allowing seamless scaling of infrastructure and resources to expand reach. By using on-demand computing power and storage, wealth management platforms can accommodate growing volumes of data, increasing client bases, and complex computational tasks efficiently at significantly lower operational costs than on-premise deployments.

And growth means a constant need to build and deploy new features, which requires maintaining additional test and staging environments. Without buying dedicated servers and spending upfront, using Cloud-native Infrastructure-as-a-Code (IaC) within a back-end system facilitates the provisioning, configuration, deployment, and decommissioning of environments within minutes. You only pay for what you use. Automating this process eliminates manual tasks, reduces human errors, and ensures consistency across multiple environments.

2. Is it safe and secure?
Enhanced security and data protection
When dealing with highly sensitive personal information, security and data protection are paramount to building trust with clients. To be the ‘Fort Knox’ of client data, a future-ready back end should offer robust security measures like multi-factor authentication, encryption, secure data storage, and regular security audits. These also need to comply with GDPR and financial industry standards.

While significant resources may have been invested in securing core enterprise platforms from external threats, what happens with internal threats? Indeed, any firm will have various internal users (business operators, system operators, database administrators, etc.) who can access sensitive, personally identifiable information (PII) data and confidential financial information. That is why any architecture should be enriched with advanced mechanisms like data anonymisation and tamper-proofing.

Data anonymisation removes or obfuscates PII from datasets, which protects client identities while allowing valuable insights to be extracted from the data. Anonymisation also makes sure that in the event of a security breach, the compromised data is useless to all unauthorised individuals.

Tamper-proofing ensures the integrity and immutability of data by using mechanisms that prevent unauthorised modification or data tampering. This also strengthens the auditability and compliance aspects of wealth management operations.

3. Is it reliable?
Automated self-testing
With digital services becoming a part of everyday life, users demand high availability and reliability, with little tolerance for interruptions, especially during peak events. Every tax year, when traffic and trading volumes peak amidst the flurry of customers maximising their annual tax-advantaged allowances, providers that miss the mark lose out.

Traditionally, this level of reliability involved significant investments in infrastructure and monitoring tools upfront - including provisioning resources to handle two and a half times normal activity. However, an optimised wealth platform ensures reliability at a lower cost with continuous monitoring and self-testing.

Continuous self-testing involves implementing automated monitoring and diagnostic tools within the back end.

These tools proactively assess the health and performance of a platform, ensuring that any potential faults or issues are detected as early as possible. Any deviation or degradation from expected levels can be identified immediately, triggering automated alerts and notifications. Once detected, a well-designed platform can take prompt and proactive action.

For example, if loads reduce database performance, the platform should automatically scale the database to meet the higher resource demands. Once demand reduces, the platform can release the additional resources. This automated, real-time allocation of resources is a powerful mechanism to keep the system responsive and reliable during peak events.

Self-testing and feedback also let back-end developers access real-life usage data and enhance the platform build process. This iterative approach lets wealth platforms stay ahead of evolving customer expectations and industry demands. For example, if a particular module always takes longer to serve during peak activity, by using continuous monitoring and diagnostic mechanisms, those abnormalities will be fed into the platform build process, and improvements can be deployed for better performance and reliability.

4. Is it aligned with your expansion plans?
Regional intelligence layer
As a firm expands its wealth management offering to different geographies, the last thing you want is to have to set up different core back-end systems in each place. The optimal wealth platform should traverse borders, with geographical regulatory settings abstracted from core microservices.

To support this, a modern back-end system should be designed with regional intelligence applied as a cross-cutting layer across the platform, allowing for region-specific modifications (eg, investor rules, tax wrapper rules, regulatory requirements, etc.) without affecting the platform’s core. This abstraction enables the back end to swiftly adapt to evolving regulatory and compliance landscapes as well as meet specific local requirements.

This flexibility helps to meet the needs and regulatory frameworks of each market while negating the development and maintenance costs of deploying back ends at multiple locations.

Technology and operations staff can benefit from shared learnings and synergies of using the same platform globally, improving the ongoing operational experience. Therefore, the ideal core wealth platform reduces operational complexity, increases speed to market, and reduces firm-wide operational costs and risks.

5. Is it playing nice with others?
Seamless low code/no code integrations
With more niche applications being needed to help deliver next-generation wealth propositions, third-party service providers are needed to integrate with your back-end platform or face an unwieldy web of disparate technologies. However, integrations can be time-consuming and costly - if a platform does not have the required connectivity and architecture.

By adopting open APIs and embracing modular architecture, the optimal back-end platform can easily integrate with a range of external services such as KYC/AML providers, banking APIs, custodians, risk management tools, financial data providers, payment gateways, investment analytics tools, and more. These integrations allow for leveraging the expertise and capabilities of third-party specialists, expanding your offering and delivering comprehensive solutions.

These integrations also serve to compose a customised, interconnected WealthTech ecosystem with just a few clicks - with a back-end platform as its beating heart.

Furthermore, back-end systems with pre-built third-party integrations can accelerate the development and deployment of new features. This helps to stay ahead of the competition, adapt swiftly to changing customer demands, and provide innovative offerings in a timely manner.

Ultimately, a highly robust and functional back end is the engine room of digital wealth management. Without it, the front end cannot function optimally, and the differentiated service, upon which retention relies, cannot be achieved. Therefore, it is good business sense to invest in getting back-end fundamentals right and ensure their continued successful operability.

Interested in reading the full report? You can read this edition of the UK WealthTech Landscape Report online here.