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Diving Deeper into Fintech: Q&A with Emily Sakamoto of Fund Operations

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According to Deloitte, almost 90 percent of financial service firms agree that digital technologies are disrupting the industry to a great extent. This is especially prevalent in the mutual fund space which is undergoing a technology transformation that is impacting everything from investing and trading to operational processes and client engagement. New middle and back-office technologies are being implemented by mutual fund firms with the help of fund administrators to better support regulatory compliance, reporting, accounting, performance, and attribution, to name a few.

Editor Emily Sakamoto of Fund Operations took time out of her busy schedule to speak with PAN about her work reporting on these technological/operational issues within the fund space, trending topics and best practices for PR professionals to keep in mind.

Q: How did you get your start as a fintech reporter for Fund Operations? What about the fintech space interests you?

Sakamoto: When I started in late 2016, I was fresh out of undergrad and brand new to the space. My boss at the time hired me knowing I had zero experience, but I was eager to learn the financial and technology spaces. Since then, I’ve grown to love the beat — expanding into operations this year and growing more comfortable with the topics at hand. It’s also a relatively small industry when it comes to journalists and PR folks, so I know a lot of the people I work with, and work around. I learn something new about the space every day, and it continually makes me more interested in the way our markets work, and how the economy functions from a back- and middle-office perspective.

Q: How do you prefer to be pitched by PR professionals (i.e. what information are you looking for upfront; what sparks your interest)?

Sakamoto: With the topics I cover being so niche, what I look out for first are applicable pitches. I get a lot of pitches that are highly irrelevant, albeit sometimes comically so, and those ones are immediately deleted. Then there are some that are slightly on the mark, but they may not pertain to the mutual fund industry specifically. The best part about knowing the PR contacts that I work with often is knowing that they understand my coverage and will tailor release emails to me if they’re pertinent. I’m also a straight to the point kind of person, professionally and in my personal life, so if you call me looking for a response to an email I’ll be upfront about whether it fits the bill for Fund Operations. That being said, I am more than happy to field phone calls and emails about story pitches. Sometimes things get lost in the clutter, and a phone call is a good way to jog my memory.

Q: What do the most successful interviews look like (i.e. executives that provide real-world examples; case studies, strong POV on topic)?

Sakamoto: I think the best conversations are always the ones where I learn something new, and where I get a great scoop. That can be something a little like “we’re launching a new product next month,” or it can be a big people move tip. My favorite interviews are ones where operations and tech experts really drill down on subjects for me and put it into context about why my readers should care and why I should care to cater to that demographic. This beat has been a huge learning curve, and I love speaking with sources across the industry who clearly love what they do — that makes it so much more enjoyable to write about.

Q: Does Fund Operations host events, awards or webinars throughout the year that might be worthwhile for fintech companies to have on their radar?

Sakamoto: We’re a media company, and we do several events in addition to publishing the magazines and content online. Fund Intelligence, the umbrella group that includes Fund Operations along with five other mutual fund-related titles, hosts several breakfast briefings in New York City throughout the year. Subscribers as well as invited guests are welcome to join us at breakfast briefings, which include a panel of sources moderated by a Fund Intelligence editor, such as myself. In the past we’ve discussed topics such as Mifid II, regtech, millennial investors and ESG. Anyone interested in joining us at a briefing can consult our events page.

Fund Operations also hosts two annual awards shows. The Fund Technology and Wall Street Letter (WSL) awards are typically held in February, and are legacy institutional trading awards that started with WSL many years ago. The newer fund service awards debuted last October, and were a big hit. We have a number of funds and service providers that entered the nearly 40 categories. Lastly, I personally host a few webinars throughout the year. Typically, service providers choose to sponsor a webinar with Fund Operations, and we sit on a number of calls together to work out what the topic and slideshow will look like. Those are really fun to host and are available online after the webinar airs live.

Q: What are the top three areas you’re most interested in right now or following in the fintech space (i.e. regulations, technology enhancements, etc.)?

Sakamoto: Top three, that’s hard. I’d say I’m really interested in learning about regulatory technology, because that’s top of mind for funds currently. It’s also a huge space to work in, and companies left and right are making big steps in compliance tech. Other topics that I enjoy talking to people about would probably be artificial intelligence (AI) and outsourcing. With AI, you get a range of answers across the board about where people think we are in the industry in terms of “actual AI” — some argue we’re using actual AI currently, others say we’re more in the augmented intelligence space — and it’s always interesting to hear where sources believe the borders around AI fall. With outsourcing, third- and fourth-party oversight is a huge topic, along with cybersecurity, and my fintech sources are vendors themselves. I think as funds look to cut costs and streamline operations, they’re bound to leverage vendor technology, so it’s a burgeoning field for sure.


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