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Skience: The Industry Is Rapidly Transforming

sanjeev kumar
Skience, LLC (formerly known as The Athene Group) delivers innovative digital strategies and solutions that transform businesses. They offer advisory and CRM implementation services within the Salesforce ecosystem, as well as an industry-leading, enterprise-class digital platform for broker-dealers and RIAs that provides wealth managers an efficient way to unify their technology, increase back-office and advisor productivity, and set the stage for a great client experience. The company’s motto is “Do what is right for the customer, and everything else will fall in place.” We reached Sanjeev Kumar, CEO of Skience, to ask about the future of Skience and the industry trends no one notices by far. A self-declared “enthusiast for all I do,” Sanjeev’s passion for leveraging technology to solve business problems inspired him to found The Athene Group in 2001. With an extensive career in the IT business, he witnessed the evolution from mainframe computers to client servers to the cloud-based Internet age, and is excited to that Skience can continue to evolve in step with the industry’s many ongoing advancements.

What was the history of Skience’s creation? Why did the company decide to focus on wealth management?

Sanjeev Kumar: My co-founder and I started Skience in November 2001. We started as a consulting company called Athene Group, and we focused on the financial services industry simply because the lion’s share of our experience to that point had been with banks, insurance companies and other financial services firms. Over time, we started focusing mainly on wealth management firms such as broker-dealers and RIAs. 

We specifically design our services and solutions for the financial services sectors to alleviate the time and money spent on the highly regulated, often highly manual business processes in this space. There remains a tremendous opportunity to help firms streamline and simplify their operations through workflow automation solutions that are designed to address specific idiosyncrasies of wealth management operations. That is the space where Skience does its best work.

How has your company evolved and what are the biggest achievements that you’ve already accomplished?

Sanjeev Kumar: We started out as a consulting services company, helping financial services firms how to best leverage their CRMs to further operational and strategic objectives. Then, in 2006, after having worked with client firms to customize and implement other companies’ technologies, we decided to create our own platform. It was a big step for us, but one that paid dividends because it allowed us to plant a stake in the ground with our own intellectual property, a technology we had control over to add to and iterate as we saw fit.

A few years later, in 2012, we relaunched the Skience platform as a Salesforce-native solution, a move that reflected the increasing adoption of Salesforce among the next-generation, tech-savvy workforces at banks, insurance carriers and wealth management firms.

Then in 2018, we received a major investment from a consortium of reputed private equity investors, which has enabled us to substantially steepen our growth trajectory. As part of a rebranding process following the investment, we retired the Athene Group name and brought our business lines – platform and consulting services – under the Skience brand.

Our biggest achievements have been primarily related to helping our clients successfully transform their business processes, technology, accomplish their goals and improve how they serve their clients.

What features give your platform the greatest advantage over competitors? Why?

Sanjeev Kumar: Skience has differentiators based on both its technology and the functionality that it delivers.  Skience is a platform, not just a product.  It allows clients to use it, extend it, customize it and make it their own, without either depending on Skience resources or compromising the consumption of future innovation by Skience.

Skience is built natively on Salesforce, which is widely used as a center of the technology landscape in a majority of financial services organizations.  This architecture enables these organizations to obtain a higher return on their investments in the platform, increase user adoption as well as use a single platform to solve multiple enterprise requirements.

Another key differentiator is that Skience offers multiple modules in a flexible way, enabling a broader enterprise solution.  While Skiece may have competitors for each of the modules, there is typically no single vendor that competes with Skience on each of its modules.

What partnerships and integrations does your company have? What are the planned partnerships for the nearest future that you can already share in public?

Sanjeev Kumar: Skience has had a successful alliance with Salesforce since 2010. Today, we offer a Salesforce-native version of the Skience platform to clients who use their technology, though our platform can also be fully deployed into environments without a Salesforce footprint. Taken together with our Skience Consulting arm, which helps firms transform their businesses using cloud-based technology, Skience provides by far the most advanced collaboration with Salesforce of any fintech provider serving broker-dealers, RIA firms, banks and insurance companies.

From an operational perspective, Skience has alliances and integrations with top industry platforms in the wealth management ecosystem.  Skience is proud of its alliances with firms like Envestnet | MoneyGuide Pro, Fidelity Investment’s Wealthscape, BNY Mellon’s Pershing Clearing Services, Schwab Advisor Center, TD Ameritrade Veo One, eTrade, Quik!, and DocuSign.

What is your team? Who are the key personas for your product and how do they affect the business?

Sanjeev Kumar: I am fortunate to be working with an amazing set of people at Skience.  We have a mix of people that have grown in the company and those that have recently come into the company with a history of significant accomplishments. We have people like Kripa Shetty – my co-founder and our current Chief Administrative Officer, and Janak Mathuria, who heads our Product Development team, that have been with Skience pretty much since inception.  Over the past two years, we have been building out our executive team with the hiring of several veteran leaders from the wealth management space who have stellar track records of success in operations, technology, sales and marketing and product management. This includes our COO and President Marc Butler, Executive Vice President, Sales Kyle Van Pelt, Senior Vice President, Sales Nick Thacker and Senior Vice President, Product Advocacy Damon Gladman. Most recently, we brought on board Chris Zuczek, Skience’s first-ever Chief Product Officer.

Each one of these professionals embodies a balance of excellence and experience, which we consider central to our mission, and each possesses the key qualities we prize in all our leaders – passion, curiosity and grit. Most importantly, each one, in addition to the 180 or so other “Skientists” across our locations in the United States and India, is integral to driving the excellence of our platform and consulting services and the long-term growth and success of our company.

What is your engineering team? What technologies do they use and how do they accomplish their daily activities? What’s your software development process?

Sanjeev Kumar: Our product development team is split between US and India.  We primarily leverage Salesforce and Microsoft technologies.  We use the Agile methodology in our development process.  Our product is designed to have two major releases each year.  The daily activities are planned, managed and executed in support of this overall strategy.

Do you exchange knowledge and experiences within your team? Is it necessary for engineers to understand finance to build a successful product?

Sanjeev Kumar: It’s crucial that the teams and individuals developing our technology solutions understand the “why” behind what we are asking them to build – at its most fundamental level, the potential of the solution or feature to help our clients and support our business, which I believe is much more important than having them understand finance, writ large.

We have found that having developers internalize the “why” makes for a more cohesive, collaborative working environment, where ideas are shared in both directions. Among other positives, this empowers developers to raise issues and share alternative approaches that the business side may not have considered. Fostering this sort of give-and-take ultimately leads to the development of better solutions and features, and it bolsters the whole enterprise’s prospects.

In what way do insights you gain from your clients help you enhance the service? What features did you implement after clients’ requests, if any?

Sanjeev Kumar: Understanding how our clients use our products and services in the field is crucial to our ability to continuously iterate and innovate our products.  We intentionally gather insights from our clients to identify possible ways to improve our platform.  These insights may lead to the development of new features, improvements to existing features, usability improvements and also a better deployment of technical assets to improve the product. 

A great example of this is our new Advisor Transitions solution, a module on our platform that streamlines, simplifies and automates the process by which transitioning advisors’ clients and those clients’ assets are transferred to their new wealth management firm’s custodian or clearing firm. The idea for this solution came about when we saw that a wealth management firm client of ours was using our Digital Client Onboarding and Multi-Account Opening solution to support the transition of their new advisors. We helped them customize their implementation and then developed a scalable, refined, end-to-end version of the solution that now is being used by other clients.

What are the challenges Skience faces the most? What future steps you’re going to undertake to overcome them?

Sanjeev Kumar: We are in a world and in an industry that are rapidly transforming.  The challenges for a firm like Skience are to proactively identify the evolving challenges of the industry and build solutions in a timely fashion to assist our target market.  Skience’s opportunity going forward is to stay abreast of how our clients are evolving to make the right investments in our own capabilities and bring the right talent aboard to support our client’s strategic visions through our differentiated product and service offerings. 

Are there any trends you can see in Fintech? Are there any trends in 2021 that nobody speaks about?

Sanjeev Kumar: We see trends related to a few areas in the industry. Some of the key topics have been:

  • Investments in Integrated platforms instead of siloed products/applications
  • Advisor – Investor digital collaboration
  • Advisor productivity
  • Back office process automation
  • Data management and creation of a single source of truth
  • Analytics to measure metrics 
  • Leveraging AI to identify trends that can assist in business decisions

We also believe that CRM will continue to be the hub of wealth management technology landscape.  Firms will focus on using CRM as the foundation of their overall technology plans, data and integration strategies.

Integration of a FinTech Platform with Salesforce

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