Cheryl Nash is the President of Fiserv Investment Services, the leader in financial services technology solutions serving the Managed Accounts and Global Institutional markets. Fiserv Wealth Management Solutions enables them to increase revenue, improve operational efficiency and meet the evolving needs of their clients. Her experience in managing teams and all business functions is extensive. With expertise in Account Management, Business Analysis, Implementations, and strategic Enterprise Planning and Forecasting, she also has oversight of the Product team responsible for solutions innovation, road map, and development. Her early career accomplishments include the successful launch of a $50M business unit focused on Broker Dealer / Sponsor clients. She enjoys meeting with clients, speaking at conferences, leading committees and being a contributor of thought leadership. Cheryl’s ‘proud’ moments include receiving the Money Management Institute’s Pioneer Award, co-chairing MMI’s Technology & Operations Committee, and sitting on MMI’s Board of Trustees’ Gateway to Leadership program dedicated to workplace diversity. She is an Envestnet Institute on Campus board member and leads the Women in Wealth Management initiative which is focused on bringing more women into wealth management.
Q.You are a bit of an anomaly in that you’ve essentially been employed in various capacities by Fiserv for most of your career. What’s the story behind that?
A. I began my career as the fifth hire at a small Chicago-based company called Security APL which was founded by a father and son, the Whipple family, who built-out solutions for brokers to help them address business challenges they were encountering. In the mid-80’s, we moved to New York because we realized we had a scalable business and needed to be where most of the financial services firms were located. That firm really was a frontrunner in helping brokers automate portfolio management with services that minimized manual, time-consuming tasks. In May 1996, Security APL was bought by Checkfree. The vision was to take Checkfree—a company focused on banks—and merge it with Security APL—a brokerage firm-focused business—to bring banking and brokerage data together for a market offering that no one else had at that time. As I recall, there really were no data aggregation or related services around then and, because CheckFree was a bigger firm, that acquisition brought Security APL into a larger market. Fast-forward to 2007 when CheckFree was bought by Fiserv, an acquisition that I was a part of. Throughout my career from Security APL to CheckFree to Fiserv, I’ve held a number of different roles and virtually every function with the exception of Development and Technology/QA. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead so many functional areas—Client Services, Product Management, Marketing, Strategy, and Business Analysis. That afforded me a clear view of how each organization works, their significance, and benefit to the overall company, now Fiserv Investment Services. While it’s true that I’ve been here my entire career, albeit in different roles, you can imagine the transformation that has occurred with both the company and its culture, particularly throughout two acquisitions. Now, the industry is emerging into more of a digital type landscape and the learning has been ongoing so it’s been a great opportunity for me to really change things up. I’ve never been one to sit still! I count myself fortunate in that I’ve been able to grow with the company and be a part of its evolution.
Q.Tell us the Fiserv story of today—markets served, solutions, value proposition.
A. Fiserv is a Fortune 500 company of 23,000 associates worldwide with Investment Services serving as the wealth management division within our organization. Investment Services at Fiserv serves Asset Managers, Asset Servicers, Broker-dealers, TAMPS, and RIAs. Our solution set supports front, middle, and back office with comprehensive portfolio management capabilities including Financial Planning; Proposal & Client Onboarding; Portfolio Accounting & Reporting; Trading, Rebalancing; Model Management; Goals-Based Advice; and Data, Analytics, Reporting & Billing—everything a firm needs to be able to manage an investment portfolio. We were probably the first to provide capabilities early-on in support of Managed Account and Advisory businesses, particularly with fee-based accounts (versus commission-based) where most of our solutions sit. Fiserv Investment Services is focused on two key areas to support the industry: a single platform for the front, middle and back office for all advisory programs through our Unified Wealth Platform and a network for the wealth management community that makes real-time connectivity easy with access to data, analytics and reporting for the entire wealth management community. We have data interfaces for nearly every Custodian and Asset Manager on the street and within that network, framework is a partnership track that we continue to build that is focused on digital offerings and data and analytics. Wealth Management is a little behind the banking industry in digital. There are a lot of dynamic firms out there today who have developed exciting capabilities and we expect several of them will do quite well, particularly if they partner with established industry-leaders, like Fiserv. We have over five million portfolios on our platform and we’ll continue to support the industry as the industry increasingly moves into the digital age.
Q.How has the “Professional Buyer” you and your team face off with changed over the years?
A. Early on, our buyer was mostly Operations folks. Our solutions and the data we offered helped Operations departments work more efficiently and gave them the ability to have a trade-ready system in the morning so that they could start trading their accounts. However, in the last couple of years, these buyers have moved more into Product and Technology and we find ourselves increasingly partnered with the business and technology to help them solve some real issues, particularly around disparate systems. Moving clients to one single platform is helping them create and realize greater operational and technology efficiencies. Our focus today is on understanding and engaging with the business product and the technology people and helping firms’ Chief Information Officers drive more efficiency into their business and working with them on their strategies.
Q.Do you have a Canned Software or Shelf product for the thousands of RIA’s out there as opposed to the bigger Wealth Platforms?
A. Our target market is primarily RIA resellers, such as LPL, who takes those small RIA’s and places them under their umbrella. We do have solutions that we can sell into the smaller RIA space. We have recently rolled out an Advisor Desktop solution that the RIA market will utilize. For smaller RIA’s, what we have found is that they are looking for more of a TAMP solution. Our technology supports many TAMP’s out in the market today. Our target market is more focused on the firms who help those independent RIA’s that are looking for solutions and offerings.
Q.What behavioral characteristics do the best Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology Officers have in common and how would those characteristics translate to the best Client Facing people within your organization to make theirs better than average?
A. I would say the most effective CEOs and the Technology Leaders within our client base are those who are open to change. At one time, a lot of these firms were able to run on legacy platforms because they had a lot of people on their staff doing tasks that, today, are automated. When you consider the current landscape of the marketplace, the firms and people who are looking ‘under the hood’ at their current workflow and processes are those who are best-positioning for long-term success. They’re asking fintech providers like us to come in and consult with them because they want to run their operations more efficiently and profitably. Believe it or not, there are still a lot of firms out there who haven’t budgeted or simply aren’t ready to make the move from their disparate systems to a single platform. I think those who are welcoming of new technologies, eager to automate and receptive to adoption of efficiency-enabling solutions are the individual’s driving significant growth for their organizations and are shaping up to be the true leaders in wealth management.
There are decision makers at every level. From my perspective, our Client Facing people need to understand the industry and must cultivate relationships across each level of our client’s organization, and most certainly, at the executive-level. When I think about the ‘must haves’ for a strong Client Facing person, it’s someone who has the reputation, experience, and knowledge to comfortably discuss trends in the industry and also relate to, understand and contribute to the conversation around our clients’ business priorities. He or she should instinctively know which colleagues to introduce into the conversation as the expert when the discussions go granular. Anyone can shake hands and play golf; clients are looking for a trusted adviser with integrity who has test-driven industry know-how, a great reputation, and will deliver as promised.
When our team meets with clients, we ask lots of questions and want to understand the ‘Why?’ of what they’re doing. It’s not about us. Our focus needs to be on ‘listening’ and helping them strategize. More than ever, we’re taking the information they share back to our office where we can regroup as a team and customize the solution to our client’s unique organizational needs. This requires a different skill-set than it has in the past in that our Client Facing folks need to be great listeners with industry-savvy who are collaborative partners and bring real solutions to our clients’ boardroom table.
Q.Everyone who leads and manages people through space and time has a philosophy for hiring, managing, coaching, and getting the most out of their people. What’s yours?
A. Surround yourself with the best people. I truly believe that exceptional talent becomes the differentiator between an ‘ok’ organization and a great one. It has been my experience that having the right talent and smart people who may interpret and understand things differently than you foster an assortment of perspectives and, drives performance. As you know, I’m very committed to diversity initiatives and the opportunity to help, encourage, and empower dynamic women and young talent to come into our industry. There are a multitude of recent studies and reports that support what I’m about to say: organizations who embrace a culture of diversity and inclusion are increasingly seeing positive bottom-line results. Full stop. Leaders who manage people need to proactively commit to bringing a variety of unique minds—and faces—onboard! Learning and understanding this has helped me grow into the person I am today. I make it my business to surround myself with high quality and really smart people—and they don’t always have to agree with me! Which brings me to this thought, and it has really worked for me: Being a good manager often means you’re willing to entrust your team to carve out their own path, make decisions, and flourish. Remember that you brought them in because they have the credentials, skill-sets, and relationships you were seeking to enhance your organization. Offer feedback, encourage, and take notice and acknowledge them as your organization reaps the benefits.
Q.As a young woman who began her career on the ground floor of a small company in Chicago, you soon elevated to management. At what point did you begin to think you were actually a pretty good Manager? Was there a seminal event, the first time you fired somebody, or something was thrown at you that you handled pretty well. Looking back, when did that dawn on you?
A. It was about 15 years ago. Our business started off as a solution for Asset Managers. When we started selling into broker-dealer sponsors, I was asked to run that business unit. At that time, we really didn’t have Product Management, nor did we have great, focused solutions for that segment. However, I was able to hire the people I wanted, make decisions on running the different groups, and build something from nothing. As I began to lead, I realized just how much I really loved leading, creating something from scratch, and the opportunity to be client-facing. Fast forward to today and my favorite thing to do is to be out with clients! For sure, that first-time leadership opening was the turning point for me.
Q.Any notable business mentors along the way, and do you subscribe to the notion that you learn as much from a good boss as a bad boss?
A. Absolutely! I’ve actually had both—really strong bosses, and yes, some really bad bosses in my career. From the bad bosses, you learn what not to do and how not to act. The good bosses become your role model; you learn what you should do and how to treat people and start to take on a leadership perspective. I’ve also had some really good mentors and sponsors throughout my career and they have helped me get to where I am today. It’s really hard to do this alone, so I’d say that the founder of Security APL, Jay Whipple, was my first mentor. His philosophy was ‘everything about people’. He cared more about the people that worked for him and the people within his organization than he did about anything else and that philosophy has stayed with me because people would do anything for him and, as a consequence, he built a loyal group. We worked long hours but we wanted to because he cared deeply about people. I’ve learned a lot on the mentoring perspective from him. Frank Polashock who was the previous President of this business unit and is still a good mentor of mine was another strong influence. We still meet and talk about industry challenges and he shares recommendations based on his experiences. I still turn to him as my ‘sounding board’ and mentor. It’s hard to run a business especially a business that’s growing and changing without having some really good people to help and guide you. Jim Seuffert, (DAK note: ex Pershing, now Envestnet) is one of my trusted advisors. He and I talk all the time and we share a lot together. I think we’ve very much helped each other in business and been there for one another over the years.
Q.You’re known as a leader in helping and supporting women in leadership in our industry. There’s certainly more women in leadership roles in Financial Services than 20 years ago; are we in a post-Feminist world, or is there still a ways to go?
A. That’s a great question, although, I am not a fan of the word ‘feminist’. I’m not sure it has a universal definition and understanding, and perhaps, clouds the real importance of what so many of us are striving to achieve in the workplace and in business. With respect to ‘women in leadership’, while we’re making progress, we’re definitely not ‘there’ yet, and I think we really need the help. I do believe women are beginning to feel more confident and I think diversity programs at organizations are bringing the topic of parity to the forefront. One of the biggest issues I’m noticing is the challenge to get college students, and particularly college women, to come into this industry and then, once here, to stay. My daughter graduated from college last year and, while she had interviews and opportunities at wealth management firms, she commented on the cubicles and dark offices and that held no interest to her. Where she landed was a great company located in a refurbished warehouse where you can bring you dog to work. Conversely, her roommate, who did go to work for a financial services organization, is looking to leave. There are still a lot of wealth firms that need to refresh both their look and their culture if they hope to attract young talent and be inviting to women. Women are more likely to be drawn to the industry when they start seeing other women and right now, there are still a lot of men in this industry. Having said that, I spoke at FA’s Invest in Women conference for the second consecutive year and am so encouraged to see an event dedicated to women that is focused on helping women succeed. There are more opportunities today…we’re not there yet but we’ve come a long way.
Q.In the context of the business you run, and the markets you serve, what keeps you up at night?
A. I’m thinking about regulatory and taking into consideration, for example, the on again/ off again of DOL, its impact on last year’s budgets and the ‘freeze’ of otherwise important initiatives that occurred. I can’t help but think about the climate in Washington and the confusion around the regulatory landscape. Depending on where this all lands, it may be good for the business or it could be bad for the business but I worry a little about that and worry about the markets. We’ve had a great run as have the markets but that doesn’t guarantee tomorrow’s great run. We have to prepare our business and our clients for volatility in the marketplace from a scalability and quality perspective. It’s the unknown that really keeps me up. At Fiserv, we know what we’re doing, have great solutions, the best clients in the industry, are providing strategies that help them be successful…but there’s that unknown. Two years ago DOL wasn’t even talked about! Last year it took the air out of the room.
Q.If Fiserv Investment Services were to be a car, what model and make would it be?
A. Fiserv has been in the industry for 30 years. We’ve got a technology solution that’s been in the industry for 30 years. We have a whole new offering with a new look and feel. The back end is the same but the look and feel is completely new. We’re getting great raves in the marketplace and our clients are all moving to it. It’s probably not fashionable to say we’re a Buick, but you look at the Buick commercials and they’re trying to find their car and they say, ‘That’s not a Buick!’ because it’s such a nice new updated look. I think we would be an SUV because it’s large and can scale. Our solution is not yet a Porsche but we will be soon.