The Future Fund's David Neal (right) with AustralianSuper's Justin Pascoe

The Future Fund has launched its new investment data management platform, capping an initial three-year project to upgrade the $210 billion sovereign wealth fund’s technology capabilities.

While still in the production phase, the platform centralises both public and private markets data across the fund to cut down on the “thousands” of active spreadsheets in use by the investment team. Chief executive officer David Neal said that while no jobs would be lost, the technology did mean that they would not need to hire as many people in the future.

“We should have started a little earlier with the amount of money we have got,” Neal conceded at a recent Investment Magazine conference. “We calculated that we had many person hours being done on data management that was embedded in teams, so we just wanted to remove it. It was insane that there are so many spreadsheets in regular use and that cannot be a good thing.”

The fund’s tech plans were flagged in the 2015-2016 annual report where Neal cited the need to be “flexible, nimble and opportunity driven”. This led the fund to invest in IT and upgrade its investment data management, systems and analytics. The CEO last year appointed Richard Large as chief technology officer in a newly-created role and they have entered into a data service arrangement with BNP Paribas to co-develop products.

While the final cost of the project has not been disclosed, Large suggested in the Future Fund’s most recent annual report that there may be further IT spend as they conduct a “comprehensive review” of the technology and data strategy that would provide a roadmap for the next three to five years.

With the data platform now live, Large and his team are in the midst of creating the broader strategy and developing tools around how the fund will use the data and technology like automation and artificial intelligence. Neal said the data platform would likely impact both the investment and non-investment teams.

Still Hiring

“I don’t have a big map,” Neal said in a separate interview. “The really cool thing about technology I think is that we don’t know where it will improve something, I just have a high conviction that it will. Once you have got the data you will find ways of doing something useful with it.”

As part of the fund’s technology upgrade, it also created and deployed business intelligence tools, which can be accessed via dashboards, to help the investment teams easily access new sources of information and data.

Neal said that with the fund going from $150 billion in assets under management to more than $200 billion, the extra money from the government had “added complexity” and scale that required more processes and a bigger team than he would have liked. This, he said, did not translate into future job losses but it did mean that the team would not “grow so much from here.”

“Our portfolio is growing and the number of funds that we are looking after has grown,” he said. “We have got plans to hire quite a lot of extra people in the team but I would hope that the technology means we don’t have to hire as many. It’s not about reducing resources, it’s about being more reliable and robust and lower risk.”

Sarah Jones is the deputy editor of Investment Magazine. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in London for more than 12 years covering equity markets and global asset management. Prior to moving to the UK, she worked for Australian Associated Press in Sydney covering economics and monetary policy.
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