Finding the right financial product can feel a little like navigating a maze of high hedges; just when you think you’re there, another impenetrable barrier pops up and you’re back reading the fine print.
Zenith Partners Group wants to simplify the process – providing intelligent solutions that allow financial planners to navigate their clients to the right solution for their specific needs.
In business for almost 20 years, the firm provides research ratings on more than 900 investment products and more than 100 investment portfolio solutions.
Zenith recently acquired Galaxy, a system that analyses insurance products such as life insurance, income protection and disability insurance. Previously used mainly by super fund managers and insurers, Zenith is looking to make the insurance tools available to financial advisors.
Galaxy allows users to input a number of variables about the client – such as age, gender, whether they are a smoker or not – and with a single keystroke the system will provide an at-a-glance comparison of the best insurance products, showing premiums and features that allow a highly informed decision to be taken.
It breaks open the maze.
Simon Hobman is head of digital for Zenith Partners Group, with oversight of infrastructure, development, application support and data operations teams. Over the last six years Hobman has led a modernisation program that has moved Zenith off on-premises equipment and into the cloud, and also developed a DevOps capability injecting speed and agility into the business.
The firm uses a broad array of Microsoft platforms including Azure, Office 365, Power BI, SharePoint and Teams. It also uses the Teams’ phone system which dramatically simplified the transition to remote working forced by the pandemic. Zenith bought new laptops for staff working from home, and transitioned to an E5 licence to lift its security, using Windows Defender and InTune for end point management.
Dynamics 365 provides Zenith’s CRM platform which is currently being integrated with ClickDimensions to drive marketing automation.
Given the strong Microsoft capability in Zenith Partners Group, when it acquired Galaxy it made sense to transition that off AWS and onto Azure.
Microsoft caught up with Simon Hobman to learn more.
Microsoft (MS): How long have you been using the Galaxy platform?
Simon Hobman (SH): Zenith acquired Galaxy in May 2021 as an important complement to the superannuation fund research and consultancy services we provide for our clients and for its ability to broaden our range of clients.
Galaxy was initially developed by another business. We liked the capability for its insurance research coverage and its relevance for our clients so we acquired all the code and data, along with a team of experts who understand the platform really well.
MS: And you migrated Galaxy from AWS to Azure?
SH: Yes, and we partnered with a company called vNext. That team was led by Chris Mellin, who worked closely with our team and did a terrific job to migrate the application with the timeframes. Our original plan was six weeks, but it took closer to eight weeks in the end.
MS: Was this a lift and shift to Azure?
SH: No it wasn’t lift and shift at all. We wanted to exploit Platform as a Service (PaaS), and so we broke the application into micro-services and hosted them on independent App Service plans so that we could then monitor and scale independently. We took the opportunity to ensure we had a fully-fledged DevOps integration with a Continuous Delivery pipeline. And took advantage of some of the DR capabilities by deploying across two regions in Azure. We also integrated with App Insights and Log Analytics to help us monitor and support the application.
MS: What impact has the modernisation had – on your business, for your advisor clients, and for their retail customers?
SH: It’s had a massive impact, because it’s put us in the best position to reliably maintain support and continue the development of the platform.
For our customers, it’s had an even bigger impact. With our new PaaS infrastructure, some changes to our deployment processes, and a few tweaks to the underlying code, we were able to meaningfully improve the service level of Galaxy to our clients. Our clients’ reaction has been extremely positive.
MS: What’s next on your innovation agenda?
SH: We’ve got a packed roadmap, not just for deeper integration of Galaxy into our business, but more broadly to continue to innovate and create tools and services that our clients need. And we really do see Microsoft Azure providing the building blocks that create the types of applications and experiences that we want to build for our clients, and I’m sure Machine Learning and AI will form part of our journey.
We’re always looking for innovation and we like to think that, without being too risky, we’re still pretty close to being on that bleeding edge. We sometimes run into problems and then we see that there’s a solution that’s coming out in a couple of months and Microsoft is releasing an update. So, we really love to take advantage of those innovation type things, particularly some of the work that we’ve done in Power BI and Power BI Embedded.
Right now we have two cloud environments inside of Azure. We’re migrating that all into a single environment using PaaS, essentially like what we’ve just done with Galaxy. We’ve got a really tight timeframe for that. We’re trying to get it all done in about three months. I’m really looking forward to this project because it’s going to modernise the way that we operate again.