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Full steam ahead for Netwealth as it trawls Azure Data Lake for insight and value

Wealth management business Netwealth delivers investment and superannuation services to more than 80,000 members.

With more than $34 billion of funds under management, the organisation knows the power of data; it understands properly analysed data can drive growth, deliver exceptional customer experiences, and ensure Netwealth stands out from the crowd in the fiercely competed financial services sector.

It is currently undertaking a data and analytics modernisation, building a data lake using Microsoft Azure that will feature 20 years of historical data. It will also allow Netwealth personnel to access  third party data, and through Azure Synapse be able to support limitless self-serve analytics.

In the past, Netwealth’s on premise infrastructure limited its ability to store and analyse more than five years of data. With that cap now lifted thanks to the move to the cloud, the firm has the opportunity to explore its data for fresh insights and opportunities.

Netwealth website on a laptop and phone
Netwealth delivers investment and superannuation services to more than 80,000 members (Source: Netwealth)

Working with Microsoft partner BizData, Netwealth has now largely deployed the Microsoft Azure infrastructure which hosts its data lake. This is a key part of a broader enterprise-wide modernisation embracing cloud for its agility, scalability and flexibility – allowing Netwealth to respond faster to new opportunities.

Around 1.5 terabytes of Netwealth data has been loaded to the Azure Data Lake already – but the company is adding additional historical pricing and product related data from the last 20 years and external third-party data that will broaden its analytics opportunities.

This includes a range of asset performance and classification data and also the data from a range of financial intermediaries and market participants.

It has calculated that it would have taken a month to load up the extra 15 years’ worth of data to the previous on prem platform, however, the move to Azure means it could be completed in just eight hours.

Nathan O’Mara, product owner, data and analytics for Netwealth says that adding the extra historical and external data will allow the firm to analyse how it can generate and seize new business opportunities.

Online interface of Netwealth's service offering
Netwealth online account and adviser features (Source: Netwealth)

“We obviously have some fairly stringent industry requirements around our data security, data sovereignty. A lot of our compliance requirements involve our data, so we need to be very mindful of that and very careful about where it is and who has access,” he says.

Australia-based instances of Azure ensure that the firm is able to keep its data collection onshore, while Netwealth uses Azure Active Directory and Azure Role Based Access Control to manage who can use which data sets and then analyse them using Power BI.

That high level security and granular access control is important says O’Mara as; “From an internal point of view, we like to make our data available to as many staff as possible and take  management by exception type of approach to say ‘no, you can’t have access to that data, but everything else is open’.”

Security has also been paramount during the loading of data from on premise systems to Azure, says Christian Umboh, Netwealth data architect and development manager. He says that to preserve the security of the data, it was encrypted during the transition with a private connection linking Netwealth’s legacy on premise platforms to Azure.

Besides the scalability that the cloud offers, performance benefits were obvious immediately, he says. “To be able to respond quicker because with the on prem infrastructure it’s a longer turn around.

With Azure we’ve seen how quickly we can just scale up and down automatically.

Advanced intelligence

With the Azure Data Lake now operational, Netwealth is turning its attention to deploying Azure Synapse Analytics and advancing business intelligence.

Online interface of Netwealth's service offering
Netwealth online account and adviser features (Source: Netwealth)

This will enable more flexibility in terms of using the data with out-of-the-box analytics and optimisation functions within Azure Synapse analytics and through the close integration with Power BI.

The company has also rolled out Azure Cognitive Services to recognise information written on Netwealth’s operational and administrative forms and identify and direct that data to its logical location, automating an important workflow and reducing operational and administrative overheads.

By integrating data from its Dynamics 365 platform Netwealth will also be able to drive additional analytics, says O’Mara. “We are really looking to pull in all of that sales pipeline data into our Synapse environment and really looking to optimise our sales processes,” by combining internal and third-party data, and layering Azure machine learning capabilities over the top.

We need to be very flexible about how we expose, secure, maintain and access our data. And that’s where we think the whole Azure ecosystem will benefit us.

That Azure ecosystem is being continuously enhanced and expanded. Azure Purview, currently in preview, is one of the most recent additions to the ecosystem and offers a unified data governance service that allows users to automate scanning and classification of data at scale.

Purview Data Catalogue meanwhile enables self-service data discovery to accelerate business intelligence, analytics and machine learning infused insights.

Online interface of Netwealth's service offering
Netwealth online account and adviser features with integrated data from Dynamics 365 (Source: Netwealth)

O’Mara says of Purview; “We spun up an instance a couple of weeks ago, had a little bit of a play with it. We obviously recognise that it’s still in preview. It’s got a little bit of work to go, but we’re really excited about just that whole ability to overlay that functionality over Azure Synapse, Azure Data Lake, Azure Data Factory and Power BI.

“It’s at the click of a button. We managed to have all those resources connected and visible. So that’s really exciting for us, especially from a data governance and self-service point of view.”

O’Mara says that Microsoft Enterprise Skills Initiative training has allowed him to develop his own capabilities around technologies such as Azure Databricks and Azure data science, honing his ability to lead the company’s analytics efforts.

That self-directed learning opportunity is also ensuring that the 22-strong data and analytics team at Netwealth is also fully primed to optimise the new data and analytics platform, and the competitive opportunities that reveals.