Fax Machines and Unsubscribe

I find the diffusion of technology across capital markets both fascinating, but also perplexing. On one side of the business (the trading side), you have what appears to be an unlimited appetite to invest, innovate, and spend. You have firms pushing the limit to get ahead: building radar towers to speed up execution, and there was even talk of building a particle accelerator to shoot order through the earth, making trading just a little bit faster (you can go through the earth a lot faster than you can go around it).

Then we look at the communication side of the business. Information is being distributed and consumed in essentially the same way it was 10-20+ years ago. There are still several brokerages who print and distribute hard copies of written research. I’m sure there are still clients who prefer to receive and consume it in the same medium. That being said, email was the last major innovation in information distribution technology, but how we use it largely hasn’t changed since it was first introduced.

For brokerages, email has become the main way they distribute information. For an industry that was thinking about building particle accelerators to trade, it’s a little bit perplexing to consider that most information subscriptions in this industry are managed off of Outlook distribution lists, or a combination of Excel, Word, and CRM. While many equity research distribution lists have migrated to a centralized CRM, almost no other lists have. Lists on the sell side exist in a number of locations, all isolated, and rarely accessible to anyone but the owner, including those who find themselves on one and might want to get off.

For funds, email has become a necessary evil. It’s where they manage all the information they receive externally and internally, but it’s a disaster to organize and control. In fact, email has gotten so bad for clients that I had one client (a notable PM in the US) show me his fax machine. That’s right, he’s getting so many emails that he’s given up on even trying to control his inbox. He has only given the fax machine email address to a few people, and it auto prints. If it prints, he knows its important. In addition to the fax machine, he’s also gone through around eight email addresses, each one was supposed to be ‘secret’, but once an email address is known, there’s nothing you can do to stop someone sending to it. I can only guess that, as of this writing, he’s on his 9th.

However, you might be one of those poor individuals in this industry who decides you’re going to try and manage your inbox. After all, the email client isn’t a single application – it’s a series of applications intelligently bundled together. It’s your calendar, content management system, collaboration system, contact management system, distribution tool, compliance system, and a whole suite of other applications that are hard to live without.

What do those poor souls do who try to manage their inbox? They use one of the only tools they have at their disposal: Outlook rules. These rules allow you to set conditions around when content comes in, and what to do with it based on a variety of parameters. One of the most commonly used rules is to sort content based on the sender (i.e. who it came from). Let’s say you receive an email from “blair@streetcontxt.com” – you can tell Outlook to file that email directly into a folder (“Street Contxt Thoughts”), or even (gasp!) trash. Individuals will use these Outlook rules until they run out of space, or give up trying to manage them (it’s quite common to see clients who have 100+ rules).

The need for rules is obvious though – since there is no way for recipients to easily control what they are receiving from the point of production (i.e. they can’t access the distribution list or their subscriptions), they have to manage it at the point of consumption. While it will take some time to make subscription and interest management more elegant (we’re working on it!) there is still some low hanging fruit that is much faster to implement. This industry really hasn’t adopted one of the most basic practices of effective email communication: the unsubscribe button.

In every other facet of your life, including your personal life, it’s easy to manage what you are being sent. At the bottom of every bulk/blast email there is a little button that says “unsubscribe”, which allows you to remove yourself from the list. In fact, with the new CAN-SPAM regulation (US FTC regulation), it’s actually a requirement for any kind of ‘commercial communication’. In capital markets, however, at best you often see “if you wish to unsubscribe, please email so and so at our firm”. That’s neither easy nor quick – and sometimes, it doesn’t even work. Most of the time however, you won’t see anything. Most recipients who wish to be removed will simply reply to the author, and say “please take me off your list”. If that doesn’t work, they’ll fall back to the Outlook rule, and essentially put the sender on auto-delete. If that doesn’t work? Give up and try to ignore it (or buy a fax machine!)

Now, if you’re on the sell side, many of you are thinking “but I want to stay in front of my clients – I’m not sure if I want them to be able to unsubscribe” – but the problem is that by sending them content they don’t want, you may end up either on auto delete, or labelled spam. Then when you really have to get through (for a deal, for instance), you won’t be able to. Isn’t it better to allow the client to manage their subscriptions, and let them see what they are getting, and adjust it as their interests change? Unsubscribing is perhaps one of the strongest indications a client can give you that they aren’t interested in that particular topic or theme.

I can tell you I see this first hand all the time. Even for myself, everyone who I send to (you!) can unsubscribe from my list at any time – in fact, there is a link at the bottom of this very email (please don’t all rush there at once!). I’m not holding anyone hostage, and I encourage you to unsubscribe if you don’t find it valuable – for selfish reasons. It helps me understand the effectiveness and interest in the content I’m sharing.

One of our missions is to improve the way that subscriptions and interests are updated, shared, and managed. Short term, that means simply bringing an industry that lives off distribution lists the ability to add ‘unsubscribe’ to their notes. If you’re already a Street Contxt user, that can be turned on for your account at any time and it’s included with your license. It’s fully whitelabeled, and branded with your logo. So if you don’t already have unsubscribe functionality in your content, think about adding it. Want to know how? Just reach out and I can connect you with our support team. Sorry if you’re not a client, you’ll just have to figure it out on your own!

It’s better for the sender, and it’s better for the recipient.

For an industry that wants to build particle accelerators, subscription management, and an unsubscribe button, shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

Blair Livingston
CEO
Street Contxt



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October 16, 2019

What’s New

  • To help you stay on top of significant interactions, anytime a contact has opened an email more than 4 times, you’ll see that event on the Contact Activity Feed.
  • You can now pin your most important and frequently used lists to the top of the list page for faster access.

  • When clicking on a “Link Click” or “Rare Click” event on the Contact Activity Feed, we’ll take you directly to the Links Clicked tab of the Contact Insights page for more context about the contact’s past link interactions. 
  • When clicking on a “Rare Open”, “Old Open”, or “Additional Open” event on the Contact Activity Feed, we’ll take you directly to the Email Activity tab of the Contact Insights page for more context about the contact’s past email interactions. 
  • On the side panel after selecting a contact from the Manage Distributions page, we’ve added the Bulk Actions dropdown that allows you to quickly remove the contact from all your lists or add them to all your lists.

Improved

  • Contact action buttons such as Draft email, Add to list, and Remove from list are now hidden but appear when a contact(s) is selected.

Fixed

  • Resolved an error that prevented a user from adding a contact after creating a new company.
  • Fixed an issue preventing a team manager from viewing an email insights page from the “Emails” page.
  • Resolved a rare edge case where adding a contact with a specific email gave an error message. 

How can we make Street Contxt work for you? 

We’re always working to make Street Contxt exactly what you need. If you have any suggestions on what features you’d like to see us build or what improvements should be made to our platform, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact us at product@streetcontxt.com.

The Cloud is Finally Coming

I’ve been at this a decent while now – if any of you are connected with me on Linkedin, you’ll see that I just celebrated my 7 year anniversary at Street Contxt – how time flies! It’s hard to believe I’m coming up on a decade, as it all feels like it’s gone by so fast. As they say, the days go slow, and the years go fast. From that seat, I’ve gotten to see many trends – but the one in progress now stands above the rest in terms of impact and scale.

That big trend we’ve seen finally (and thankfully!) come to market is the broad acceptance and utilization of the cloud in financial services and capital markets. For those of you who may need a quick refresher, there are two major types of software deployments: 1) ‘on-prem’, where the software is deployed onto the customers servers and hosted by the customer, and 2) ‘SaaS (Software as a Service) / hosted’, where the software is hosted by the vendor on their servers (or a cloud provider they use, such as AWS) – think Salesforce, one of the first in this area. There are lots of shades of grey between those two major categories in terms of customization or options, but those are the two major options.

When we started building Street Contxt, we made the decision to be a hosted solution – that is, our customers had to let us host our software for them on our infrastructure. While very common in almost every other industry, it was still early days for cloud adoption in capital markets. We had several would-be early adopters ask if they could host us on-prem, but we stood fast and stuck to our guns on being a hosted solution (something I credit to our CTO and technology team). Back then, many firms wouldn’t touch the cloud with a ten foot stick. They were concerned about security, availability, confidentiality, integrity and privacy – they were giving up control, and that scared internal teams. After all, they used to regularly ask us: how secure is the cloud?

Fast forward seven years and 100% of our clients are hosted in the cloud. In fact, all the firms that originally required an on-prem solution have now become comfortable with a hosted solution. Have we had to make major investments in security, availability, confidentiality, integrity, privacy, and integration? Of course, but the move to accepting the cloud in capital markets will have some massive impacts.

Now to answer your question of “okay, so what will the impacts be of cloud adoption?”

When software is deployed on-prem, it slows down the software vendor and the client. The client has to wait for internal bandwidth to deploy updates and changes. Even with a new release available, this can end up taking months depending on priorities. There’s a reason large firms only update the Microsoft Office suite every 5-10 years. On the other hand, the software vendor has to spend an exorbitant amount of time, resources, and energy maintaining a number of different versions across all their active clients. Ten clients? You might have ten versions. One hundred clients? You get the trend. The bigger you get, the slower you move. You can’t make frequent updates, and have to slow down their release cycle. You have to support old versions. It becomes an operational nightmare. This, in turn, slows down the pace at which software is developed, updated, released, and improved. Everything becomes a quagmire.

As more and more firms in the capital markets (buyside, sellside, corporates, etc.) become comfortable putting more and more applications on the cloud, we’ll see the pace of software innovation exponentially increase. Fundamentally, having a cloud based solution not only helps you get to market faster, but also release, update, and innovate faster. You have one central version. You can update it centrally. You don’t have to worry about maintaining one hundred versions.

I genuinely believe this is an important shift, but one that many won’t notice. It’s one of those changes that happens below the surface, and people tend to only notice the symptoms, not the cause – and the symptoms are everywhere.

Two interesting articles caught my eye over the last few weeks. First, CME is partnering with Google Cloud to make all of its data more easily and readily available. Data feeds are staple of this industry, but cloud hosting provides the opportunity to make them more scalable and cost effective than ever before. Second, Microsoft is leveraging Azure to help broker-dealers comply with the new CAT regulation. Something as computationally intensive as the CAT (consolidated audit trail) will benefit enormously from the scalability of cloud based infrastructure.

There’s another interesting trend: while it might be new for capital markets, in every other vertical and industry there is an all out war between Google, Microsoft, and Amazon to win the cloud race. They all want to be the infrastructure provider of choice. It now feels like that race is coming to capital markets. I’ve been to several of our client’s technology events recently where they have outlined how they plan to leverage one or more of the various providers across their infrastructure. While Amazon (and AWS) have historically been out in front, you should expect the others to be very active over the coming years.

So, what does this mean? It means you should expect to see a rapidly increasing pace of change in the tools and technology available in this industry. You should expect to see tools and technologies enter the industry that were not economically feasible or practical in an on-prem only world. You should expect to see smarter and smarter tools, as vendors can now leverage centralized machine learning and AI, rather than the old siloed, distributed, and versioned solutions.

You should expect to see the pace of change only continue to accelerate – and you should know that one of the foundations of that acceleration is the adoption of the cloud. The pace of technological change is only going to increase as cloud adoption grows. Everyone should be prepared.

Blair Livingston
CEO
Street Contxt


Read the previous Capital Markets Fintech and Technology Trends commentaries:
Sep 27, 2019

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