Why We Do What We Do

Exactly three years ago, I co-founded VitalBriefing.


In part, the answer lies in this anecdote:

In 2011, Knight Capital Group was a pillar of stock trading, handling more than 1 in 10 of all US trades. On July 22 that year, a software glitch sent shares of 148 companies flying in all directions. Because the system had no human interface to correct the information, Knight Capital suffered nearly half a billion dollars in trading losses in less than an hour. Within 24 hours, the company was nearly bankrupt.

What happened to Knight Capital illustrates the state of things today: Too much information, moving too fast to control, and not enough time to think or react.

If you’re a financial professional, how long does it take you after your alarm rings to reach for your mobile phone to check email, Asian markets, Bloomberg quotes, Reuters news feeds?

From that moment on, you’re battered by a firehose of information.  You need to know what you need to know. The topics are dynamic and changing. Today it might be credit spreads, ETFs, and market movements. Tomorrow it’s product and market trends, changes in asset classes, mutual fund sizes, pension fund growth. And, always, new securities, new derivatives, new tax laws, new regulations, new compliance issues, new competitors, new products.

You need the best information to answer colleagues and staff, bosses and boards. You need it quickly, accurately and in-depth.

That’s only the beginning. You’re expected to add intellect to information.

Your clients rely on you for market trends, regulatory protection and new opportunities. You have to interpret the data and how it affects them. Just keeping up with regulations and understanding what they mean is a full-time job: Reuters counted 14,215 new regulatory-related items in one year alone – or 60 per day.

One fund leader told me he gets 500 emails a day from different information sources – brokers, administrators, asset managers, lawyers, accountants. A global bank Vice President told me she prints out one report after another and watches them pile up on her desk, on the floor of her office, and in her house. The piles get bigger and bigger, along with her guilt.

“There’s never been so much information just in sheer volume,” one client told me. “You can’t absorb it and you can’t sort it out. All the sources have different perspectives, yet you need to have your view of what will happen. You have to focus.”

Meanwhile, your time for thought, reflection and decision seems to diminish in direct proportion to the onslaught. How do you focus on what’s important?

A leading expert, Clay Shirkey, argues that none of this is new, that we’ve had too much information since Guttenberg invented the printing press. “Information overload isn’t the problem,” he says. “Filter failure is.”

I couldn’t agree more. Over the past 100 years or so, news organizations were the solution to information overload by filtering out the low-quality and irrelevant and unreliable information for us. But that all changed during the past 15 years, as the Internet gave anyone with a digital device and an Internet connection a way to create content, and then publish it to literally billions of people.

When the former President of Content and Search Technologies at Thomson Reuters, Gerry Campbell, and I founded VitalBriefing, we asked financial executives – bankers, fund managers and the like, as well as their customers:

  1. Were they getting the information they needed to help them make decisions?
    2. Were the filters working?
    3. And were they, in turn, effectively passing useful information to their clients?
    4. Were their clients satisfied?

The conclusion: Nobody, from the executive level to customers, had the clear, reliable information to become more successful. And while various companies offer automatically-generated content, no machine alone can synthesize information, find the relevant meaning and context, and present it as concisely and clearly as well as humans can.

The onslaught can too easily lead to bad decisions or, just as bad, no decisions at all.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in financial services, where so much of what you and your clients see is overwhelming, confusing, poorly presented…and downright ugly. For an industry with an image problem, and more, this isn’t helping cure the illness. You have to earn their trust, and constantly and repeatedly deliver your value.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If I trust you, I stay with you, and I continue to pay you for the value you create for me.

So we decided to bring the filters back to ensure the creation and delivery of the highest-value information in the most appealing and relevant way.

We’d develop access to the best sources on any subject, create our own cutting-edge filtering technology run by expert financial and business journalists, to sift through the noise and find the real music, and turn the results into digitally-delivered summaries personalized for our clients.

We’d create custom content for them to rebrand and share with their customers,

And, finally, we’d offer the tools for our clients to provide thought leadership in global fund distribution strategies, wealth management, private banking, and other financial services.

We would become our clients “personal journalists,” offering only information that matters, in seconds, in-depth, something that auto-generated news feeds and news flashes and standard email newsletters, marketing and market intelligence departments simply don’t produce.

We stand in our own corner of Journalism 3.0, producing information in a new way, bringing together technology and human expertise.

Ultimately, I believe that your value – and ours – rests on empowering clients with the right information at the right time in the right format – bringing them the best data and insights so that they can make informed decisions.