How SaaS is Changing in 2019: Where’s the Service?

Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen a high number of companies entering the SaaS space. Just check your LinkedIn. If you work in technology, then you without a doubt have a large percentage of connections working for SaaS companies. If you don’t work in technology, then I wouldn’t be surprised if at least several individuals have reached out to you in the past year in an attempt to sell you a SaaS product. But what does this boom in SaaS companies mean for you, the end user?

Often times it seems that aggressive growth targets among other factors have truly eaten away at the ‘service’ aspect of SaaS with a high degree of companies prioritizing scalability and automation above customer success and service.

In order to better understand this, we will take a look at several ways that experts expect SaaS to change in 2019. Then we’ll dissect how these changes affect SaaS companies ability to effectively service their customer base.

Renewed focus on productivity through integrations

In shopping for new SaaS solutions, one of the common questions that a business should ask a SaaS company is, “how well do they integrate with our current tools and technologies?” One of the keys to SaaS applications becoming popular and widely used is the fact that a lot of them were web-based meaning that people could access it directly from their browsers without the need of a desktop app. This aspect made these tools easy to implement into a companies existing workflows.

Now, the challenge has arisen of how to get your company’s multitude of tools to play nicely together. In 2019, a number of experts predict SaaS companies’ focus to shift back to this original concept with the focus on catering to “productivity culture” and making their products easier to test and implement.

In a novel prediction, The CEO of Monday.com, Roy Man, “believes when apps integrate nearly seamlessly with each other, teams will operate like small or medium-sized businesses.” That’s a wonderful concept for those who hate to waste time overcoming mundane obstacles when dealing with multiple tools. Whether or not companies will actually be able to achieve this remains to be seen.

Incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

It seems like you can’t write a fintech blog without at least mentioning AI. AI isn’t a one trick pony and can affect a number of areas in SaaS, specifically personalization, automation, and enhanced security.

When it comes to personalization, AI and data are leading SaaS companies to come up with even more personalized services. For instance, instead of logging into a SaaS application and having it jam-packed with features and options that you don’t need, AI can help these platforms understand your user history in order to create customized interfaces that better fit your needs.

With automation, we have to look no further than chatbots to see AI’s influence. These chatbots can answer common questions from users without the need for dedicated human resources.

Security is another area where AI will be able to improve what has become a growing concern among businesses. AI and machine learning will allow companies to proactively find and eliminate any potential threats.

Companies will move away from SaaS application bundles to single, best options

In an article by Information Week, an executive at Slack stated, “Cloud computing and demand for better software tools for work are driving impressive developments in software development and computing. In fact, on average, today enterprises have 1,000-plus cloud services within their organizations. These services offer incredible customization, but the sheer volume of tools makes it incredibly difficult for CIOs to access, organize and synthesize information.”

This highlights a growing issue with SaaS and that is that the volume new tools that companies are using causes issues in and of itself which can directly affect productivity and efficiency within companies. This issue is compounded when applications and solutions are designed to not play nice with each other.

As someone who has worked in digital marketing and lead gen, this issue is exemplified by how Hubspot, a premier marketing tool, is a pain in the neck to integrate smoothly with Salesforce, a premier sales tool. It’s clear that these companies place their desire for greater market share and their desire to have their customers add-on their new solutions instead of designing something that would give their customers and better all around experience. The companies that nail down this aspect will be the ones that ultimately win.

SaaS apps will need to emphasize data security and client control over data

If large companies like Yahoo! are susceptible to hacks and data breaches, then it’s not hard to understand how SaaS companies will also become targets for those looking to steal confidential information. Proper data governance has unequivocally become a component of the buying decision meaning that companies can no longer take this issue lightly.

While the US has yet to pass something along the lines of the EU’s GDPR, American SaaS companies, which service companies on a global scale, have had to take measures to shore up their system. Given the fact that for a lot of these platforms there are multiple users and many logins that give you access to sensitive information, simple measures such as two-factor authentication and the like are just a few ways in which SaaS companies are trying to keep their customers happy.

According to Ilan Frank, Head of Enterprise Product at Slack, “Organizations will make data privacy and security of sensitive data an even greater priority in 2019. Businesses will demand improved transparency and control over their data.” In other words, since more and more businesses (of all kinds) are prioritizing data privacy and security, “the SaaS applications that those businesses use will need to do the same.”

While this is more reactionary than proactive, it does show that SaaS companies are beginning to learn the full scope of what proper service and customer success entails. It’s also a great thing to keep in mind while assessing and considering any potential SaaS solutions.  

What does this mean for service?

All these trends are brilliant because they show the true viability of SaaS applications. When done correctly and with the customer in mind, SaaS products can become an instrumental part of an organization that allows them to reach previously unattainable levels of productivity and efficiency.

But if you take a look at the trends described above, more often than not they seem to indicate that these companies are more focused on gaining market share, boosting their user base, and raking in profits from add-ons and the like at the expense of delivering a truly comprehensive, positive user experience.

Who’s to blame them? Aren’t those goals seemingly universal to any company that is in business? How can we fault them?

While putting the blame on these companies for prioritizing business growth objectives over customer success might be too heavy-handed of a statement, I think it’s completely fair to point out that at the end of the day, there are companies that care about the customer and there are companies that don’t.

Too frequent are the stories of being stuck in a never-ending loop of troubleshooting a product, emailing the support team, checking out the forums, and then being told that if you want individual support, you’ll have to pay extra. It’s frustrating and ultimately leads to people seeking out alternative options, which is great.

The companies that really care will focus on their current customers and meeting their needs in a timely and pleasant manner. A number of pundits have posited that “In 2019, we will see more early-stage companies recognize that customer success is the backbone of their business and invest in building out their customer success teams proactively.” Similar themes are echoed by those who point out that as is the case in other industries, more established companies will shift their focus towards customer retention with new solutions described as “PaaS” or “platform as a service”. As described in a SaaS Mag article, PaaS will let you quickly implement new apps while swiftly deploying code, which before was a process that could take months. In effect, this will allow SaaS companies to “be more responsive to customer needs and dedicate more resources to development.” In other words, the companies that will win out are the ones who actually care about the customer. Brilliant.

The companies that make moves to do this will have low churn rates, great customer feedback, higher customer loyalty, and a greater percentage of customer use. If you key in on these factors while evaluating SaaS companies, you’ll find the ones that put service above everything. Automation is great. Sleek product design is fantastic. The more solutions, the better. But at the end of the day, it’s the human touch that has always and will always make the difference.

What Charles Schwab selling PortfolioCenter to Envestnet Tamarac Means for You

What happened?

In a move anticipated by a number in the industry, Charles Schwab is selling its PortfolioCenter product to Envestnet Tamarac. PortfolioCenter, which is a portfolio management and reporting engine, is used by over 3,000 registered investment advisory firms who will now be searching to replace a product that they have come to rely on.

For the uninitiated, PortfolioCenter was originally introduced in 2010 as a core element in Schwab Advisor Services’ plan for a “cloud-based, multi-custodial portfolio manager” set to compete with companies like AssetBook, Tamarac, and Orion. However, when SVP of Digital Adviser Solutions, Andrew Salesky took over in the summer of 2018, the company shifted gears to partner with third-party vendors while debuting their PortfolioConnect product.

Envestnet announced this acquisition without reporting terms of the deal in late February while reporting its fourth quarter earnings for 2018.

What does it mean for you?

Tamarac and Schwab have a number of synergies; however, it remains to be seen whether or not the group can actually do enough to meet the needs of current PortfolioCenter users. Already, the team at Tamarac has tried to prevent the exodus of financial advisors currently using the PortfolioConnect product by offering to honor the contracts of current users.

“We will not force anyone to switch portfolio management applications,” said Andina Anderson, Executive Managing Director at Envestnet | Tamarac. To support this statement, Envestnet | Tamarac shared the discounted deals to advisors who in turn shared those details with news outlet, Financial Planning. They reported that those deals “offer a year free for Outsourced Solutions if advisors sign a four-year deal, or two years free if advisors sign a seven-year deal.”

They also shared that  “the basic PortfolioCenter package, which does not include the added on tools, costs roughly $3,000 per year, according to one advisor. To put this figure in perspective, it was also reported that the cost for current Tamarac services for a group with “$200 million in AUM and 200 accounts would cost approximately $16,000 a year.” This is a steep climb from what users were previously paying for their portfolio management and performance reporting.

These figures were shared by a PortfolioCenter user, Erica Safran of NY-based Safran Wealth Advisors, who declined the upsell for Tamarac services but decided to continue using PortfolioCenter through the honored contract. The same source also commented that “The platform would best suit advisors who use multiple custodians, don’t use model portfolios and can’t do operations in-house.”

It’s plain to see that the multi-year (7 years!!) contracts that Tamarac is offering current PorfolioCenter users to stay onboard is simply a strategy to keep them in the fold long enough to upsell them. However, going back to PortfolioCenter user Erica Safran, she said that “the premium tools would not have provided enough value to her firm…and the length of the contract was disconcerting.” She continues, “for your home mortgage, lock yourself in,” Safran says. “But, in terms of technology, being locked in for long periods of time just doesn’t make sense. Seven years would have been a lifetime.” A lifetime of being hounded by the upsell machine and rising costs indeed.

Our Take

While there is and will be plenty of debate on what the top portfolio management or performance reporting platform is “the best”; many of these larger companies miss the mark on what’s really important. That’s providing a tool and a technology that seamlessly fits the need of the user without pressuring them into paying more for capabilities and services that they don’t really need.

Often times more isn’t always better. If you have a process that is working and need capabilities that specifically fit or enhance that workflow, be weary of the upsell. After all, you’re in the business of making money, not burning it.

The Future of Finance: Top 5 Fintech Trends to Watch in 2019

Traditionally, the financial sector has been slow to invest in and adopt groundbreaking technologies. However, in 2018 we saw a number of well-established institutions kick “tradition” out the door to make way for the real world results produced by a number of fintech applications that have established their proof of concept as well as their viability in today’s market.

Continue reading The Future of Finance: Top 5 Fintech Trends to Watch in 2019