Ian Asvakovith, Co-Founder and CEO
Why does it take an investor just a few minutes to complete the process to invest in a mutual fund, but a few days, if not a week, to fill out a manual lengthy subscription agreement for hedge funds and private equity funds? (Is it an optimal use of time for fund managers to deal with these mandates from investors for reporting and transparency? Why should fund managers have to put up with transaction friction that exists in the alternative investment space, which often leads to poor investor experience? Is there a better way?
The calls for transparency within the alternative investment industry have grown louder and more frequent in the last decade. Ian Asvakovith and his team at Piedmont Fund Services have answered that call. Piedmont has found a better way.
"As a fund administration service provider, we gather data from multiple sources that we interface with, to help our clients with actionable insights into their transactions"
With an aim to reduce the transaction friction existing within the alternative investment space and deliver a better investor experience, Piedmont offers bespoke fund administration services and solutions that are tailored to the needs of institutional and alternative investment fund managers. The company helps fund managers report accurate, coherent, and vetted information required by institutional investors and regulators while providing exceptional back-office administration and accounting services. These services include preparing monthly/quarterly management reports, processing investor subscriptions and redemptions, and maintaining share register and partnership accounts for each investor. In addition, Piedmont also provides assistance during the annual audit, and Management Company accounting services.
With its innovative technology solutions and services, Piedmont also provides real-time capital transactions management by operationalizing investors’ transaction requests such as subscription and redemption transactions or adding authorized users directly online. That way, fund managers can focus on managing their investments in today’s highly regulated competitive environment.
Best Interests of Entrepreneurial Fund Managers at Heart
The journey for Piedmont began in 2005 when Asvakovith, the co-founder and CEO of Piedmont Fund Services, witnessed a glaring need for fund administration services geared toward growth-oriented funds looking to attract institutional capital. During his stint at one of the Big Four accounting firms, he noticed how startup fund managers were not well served by larger service providers, oftentimes because of a disconnect in the expectations and even mindset. To address the needs that he saw in the marketplace, Asvakovith joined forces with Mina Ringler to establish Piedmont in 2005. As the co-founder and COO of Piedmont Fund Services, Mina exercises her operational experience gained while working with a multi-billion hedge fund in New York to help her clients build and grow their investment management businesses.
Piedmont’s story since then has been inspired by the notion that entrepreneurial fund managers would be better served by companies that share their philosophy and have the same alignment of interest. As an independent, employee-owned company, Piedmont believes in building sustainable, long-term relationships with its clients and safeguarding investors’ confidence. Piedmont’s boutique size and high-touch culture allows the company to be more innovative and nimble than large custodian banks and “big box” fund administrators. “By starting a business from the ground up and having to weather through the highs and the lows of the capital markets from the great recession of 2008 to the current Coronavirus pandemic, we have learned the importance of patience, humility, and the dedication it takes to build a long-term sustainable business,” says Asvakovith.
By starting a business from the ground up and having to weather through the highs and the lows of the capital markets from the great recession of 2008 to the current Coronavirus pandemic, we have learned the importance of patience, humility, and the dedication it takes to build a long-term sustainable business
Having begun its journey by serving hedge funds primarily, Piedmont has extended its services to cover various verticals of the alternative investment management industry. In addition to hedge funds, today, the company serves private equity, venture capital, real estate funds, ESG/Impact investment fund along with clients in the institutional investor space, such as foundation, endowments, outsourced CIOs, fund of funds, and family offices. Over the years, Piedmont has expanded outside the U.S. to Latin America, and the Asia Pacific. “We are headquartered in the Washington D.C. Metro area, but we also have boots on the ground in Kuala Lumpur and Manila to better serve our clients in the Asia Pacific. Our tailored solutions offer different tiers of services across the fund’s life-cycle, be it a startup, emerging or established and sizable funds,” states Asvakovith. Additionally, Piedmont’s expertise across all sectors of alternative investing, along with its relationships within the institutional investor community, provides added value to its clients, helping them develop meaningful relationships and grow their business.
Streamlining Fund Administration
At the core of Piedmont’s offerings is its innovative cloud-based fund reporting technology solutions. The company offers a proprietary cutting-edge technology solution, Opéra, an online reporting system that delivers mission-critical information for fund managers operating in this type of highly regulated, competitive environment. Opéra as it exists today is the third generation of the reporting portal developed by Piedmont with several features, from custom portfolio dashboards to investor transactions management and reports distribution management. With Opéra, Piedmont equips clients with an intuitive, easy to navigate information management tool to help users extract relevant nuggets of information from one place. “From the first generation that was released over a decade ago, we have thoughtfully incorporated client feedback, and continue to invest in and improve on our technology and automation to streamline processes while increasing operational and administrative efficiency,” says Asvakovith.
One of the key features that Piedmont has added in the new version of Opera is customized portfolio dashboard. Fund managers have access to a wide range of investment analytics from sector exposure, geography exposure, performance vs. benchmark as well as non-investment analytics such as investor demographic, investor transaction activities, NAV Transparency Analytics. This offers a clear picture of the fund performance and exposure, enabling fund managers to focus on their core competencies.
“As a fund administration service provider, we gather data from multiple sources that we interface with to help our clients with actionable insights into their transactions,” remarks Asvakovith.“With all of that available information, fund managers maintain a full control as they have a complete discretion on which dashboards they are willing to grant access to their investors.
This puts Piedmont in a unique position to help clients, as they are at the center of different data points from prime brokers, investors, and clients. “If we can find a way to help gather data and interpret them in a meaningful way for our clients, then this is a tremendous value proposition,” Asvakovith notes.
Innovative Cloud-Based Fund Reporting
Opéra offers a holistic view of the subscription redemption process within the funds from inception to date along with NAV transparency data for valuation verification, assets and liability confirmation, up to the minute notification of investor transaction requests, and several other features. The fund managers also have the ability to view all accounts across different funds under a single login profile. The Opéra portal keeps track of the entire investor database and allows fund managers to access investor information from their subscription agreements such as new issue restrictions, employee retirement income security act (ERISA) requirements, or if there is a sideletter agreement with a particular investor.
Further, Opéra delivers a portfolio dashboard to access net asset value (NAV) statements, fund’s legal documents, audited reports, and tax information. The portal also allows investors to add subscription or subscription redemption, which is seamlessly integrated with DocuSign, an automated integration feature that incorporates all the forms on the platform for the fund managers. More importantly, Opéra offers multi-factor authentication to safeguard against cyber threats. For Piedmont, data integrity is of utmost importance, and as such, the company employs proper security measures to protect customer’s privacy against unauthorized access or unauthorized changes or disclosure of data on its network. Access rights are determined by role-based permission between fund managers, investors, and authorized users as designated by investors.
The Way Ahead: “Unabated Innovation”
With a commitment to providing superior client service, Piedmont has always operated as an extension to its client’s business operations. “We understand and appreciate the fact that when a client engages with us, they are not only outsourcing their fund administration functions to us but also the trust that they have with their investors. This is at the very core of our principles,” mentions Asvakovith. Piedmont has also developed an onboarding process for new clients, which minimizes disruption for ease of transition from another service provider.
Moving forward, as hedge funds continue to rely on their service providers with operational outsourcing, Piedmont believes that fund administrators have a unique opportunity to help clients gain more efficiency through continuous innovation. The company plans to roll out a Prospective Investor module later this year to help streamline the onboarding of new investors and improve investor experience.
Piedmont is also developing technology solutions to fast track the subscription process and also integrate AML and KYC compliance to further simplify investor onboarding and enhance customer satisfaction. “We have more features and functionalities in the pipeline that we plan to introduce later this year and in 2021. More exciting things to come,” concludes Asvakovith.