Thornbridge, based in the City of London, is a young, fast-growing provider of regulatory hosting and fund monitoring services to the financial services industry. Its appointed representatives (“ARs”) span fund managers, wealth managers, third-party marketing firms and trading platform providers. They rely on its services to monitor and/or report on regulated investment-related activity, under requirements including Market Abuse Regulation (MAR), MiFID II & EMIR, across all funds operating under the Thornbridge umbrella.
Thornbridge has ambitions to grow its business, having tapped into a clear need in the financial investment market – to manage regulatory obligations electronically and in real time. This is in line with the evolving expectations of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which wants to drive greater transparency and auditability into financial trading activity.
Today, many investment teams – including many of Thornbridge’s ARs – are still heavily dependent on manual methods to prepare information for the various FCA registers. This process commonly begins at quarterly face-to-face meetings and continues via follow-up paper trails.
“With up to approximately 50 ARs currently, and an exciting pipeline of opportunities, we wanted to create a more effective way of managing ARs’ regulatory obligations, and of communicating with our ARs,” explains founding partner James Bedford.
We found the team very articulate and attentive, with strong project management capabilities. We like their approach and came away with a good feeling that they got what we were about, and what we were trying to achieve.
Yet when the firm went out to look for an appropriate software solution, it couldn’t find anything suitable. “There were some capabilities we already had, but which off-the-shelf packages lacked, such as the ability to manage approvals for marketing materials and presentations,” notes Charlotte Deakin, Thornbridge’s head of relationship management. “We wanted to maintain continuity of the things we could already do, and add new capabilities.”
“The solutions out there seemed to lack either the depth of technology and features we needed, or the intuitive look and feel we were aiming for,” James adds. “It quickly became clear that our best option was to have something developed to our own specification.”
Thornbridge shortlisted and interviewed a number of potential software development companies, including DCSL Software, which stood out from day one, according to James. “Importantly they were local, and we liked the people – we found the team very articulate and attentive, with strong project management capabilities. We like their approach and came away with a good feeling that they got what we were about, and what we were trying to achieve.”
Thanks to DCSL Software’s highly collaborative design and development process, the project quickly progressed from analogue ideas to digital reality. “At all times, DCSL kept us in the loop and brought us ideas of capabilities we hadn’t thought of,” James says.
These included mobile optimisation of the portal, so Thornbridge’s ARs could file details of business lunches as soon as they happened, via their smart phones or tablet devices, keeping on top of requirements under the UK Bribery Act to declare gifts and entertainment. “Before, they would fill out this information in ink at our quarterly meetings. Now they can do it in real time, sending the data to us digitally,” he explains.
The new portal is live now, and the reception from ARs as well as the team at Thornbridge has been extremely enthusiastic. “Most ARs have transitioned to the portal already – and they love it,” James says. “It’s so straightforward and intuitive – there’s no barrier to using it at all. The feedback has been excellent. It’s making everyone’s lives so much easier.”
“Users no longer have to scan in lots of documents,” Charlotte adds. “And people love the design and layout. We had written a guide for people on how to use it – but no one has needed it!”
They clearly know what they are doing and are a great team to work with. They’re very approachable, we found them incredibly responsive in the event of any issue – at every level too, from the MD down. The whole project has been a very positive experience, and we’re delighted with the end product.
Via the portal, which can be securely accessed from any device anywhere, users can submit information for register entry in a couple of clicks – and in real time, instead of waiting for quarterly meetings. This drives up accuracy as well as efficiency, as admin no longer ‘drifts’ – to be dealt with at a later point. Meanwhile, as well as supporting easy uploading, document approval facilities provide real-time status visibility, keeping ARs in the loop as they prepare to publish regulated information. The portal is also integrated with Thornbridge’s Xero accounting system, so users can see the live status of invoices.
The direct benefits to Thornbridge of the new system are three-fold, James says. “First, it helps our ARs to be more compliant, and on a timely basis. Second, we’re providing a complete digital audit trail for regulators. And third, having this portal as the means to track and manage everything will enable us to scale our business considerably – but without having to add new people on the ground to do the paperwork. This investment has given us the real productivity gains we sought. We could now very considerably increase volumes and workloads if we so wish.”
Of Thornbridge’s relationship with DCSL Software, he adds, “They clearly know what they are doing, and are a great team to work with. They’re very approachable, we found them incredibly responsive in the event of any issue – at every level too, from the MD down. The whole project has been a very positive experience, and we’re delighted with the end product.”