I recently sat down with Seismic’s Jillian Hughes, manager of account-based marketing for financial services, and took the opportunity to ask a few questions about her background in asset management, the experience of working for a tech company, and the internal and external factors currently affecting firms within the space.
After college you worked as an analyst at Wellington, correct? Why did you decide to enter asset management, especially with the Great Recession so fresh?
Great question, I actually started at a financial planning firm, but since the recession was so fresh I knew it was going to be challenging to get new business since a majority of our clients were afraid to make investments. I decided to leave for Wellington, hoping it would lead to a stable working environment with institutional clients.
What kinds of operational challenges did you witness and experience while there?
I would say the biggest challenge during my time at Wellington was what we all referred to as the quarter-end crisis. Wellington has hundreds of products that need to be updated quarterly for all clients. As an analyst, we had to manually edit the quarterly reviews and manually generate pitchbooks with client specific data. It was extremely time consuming, and I don’t miss the late nights making food and going on coffee runs with my colleagues. Managing our content was by far the biggest challenge in the corporate pensions group.
What prompted you to make the transition to the technology world and how much of an adjustment was it?
As I was just saying, my work became so cyclical that I could tell you which days you should never call or text to ask me to do anything because I needed to be committed to what my group was doing. I remember talking to a few of my friends that were on the tech side, and it sounded like a different world, so I had this idea that I would just be happier and the work wouldn’t be as repetitive. And I was looking for a little change after six, seven years in the industry.
So back at Wellington, I vividly remember walking into our floor’s kitchen and a few members of the IT team all had Seismic water bottles, so I asked them what it was. One turned to me and said, “It’s going to completely change your role for the better.” And they all know, because we all go to school to be better, that we want to take on more and really add value to our teams, but when you’re stuck waiting for materials and you know how much time it’s going to take, you don’t get a whole lot of flexibility to do more outside your role.
So I went back to my desk and immediately googled Seismic, and the first thing that caught my eye was the data automation video for asset management. I knew this was a platform I could get behind, and luckily for me, because of my background and Seismic’s target market, I’ve been working with financial service firms since I started. The only ramp up was learning the ins and outs of the product, and the biggest cultural adjustment was hanging up the suit and putting on my skinny jeans.
What was your initial impression of Seismic?
Have you ever seen the show “Silicon Valley” on HBO? That’s what I thought I was walking into. Don’t get me wrong, I still have to dodge or intercept the occasional football flying by, but this is what I wanted. This is the ideal culture when I think of a startup. There’s a great balance here.
Has that held up over time, and how do you describe the company to those unfamiliar with it?
It has, and an analogy I like to use is that I played field hockey in college, and when I laced up my turf shoes, walked through the locker room doors and stepped on the field to join my team, it was such a rush. That’s the feeling I get coming into work.
Our leadership team knows how to coach and motivate us all, and I can see rising captains around me everyday, as we push each other to be the best that we can. I think that’s really hard to manage in larger firms. Everyone is passionate about being here and the role they play in being part of this story. How could you not want to be on a team like that?
Having worked for both a Seismic client and now Seismic, what are your conversations with those people, specifically prospects, still inside the financial services industry like?
First of all, that is my favorite conversation to have with prospects. It doesn’t matter the size of the firm that I’m talking to; their analysts and marketing teams all have the same problem: managing content and streamlining processes. And that’s where I can relate by saying, “Look, I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been in your teams’ shoes. I understand your problems, and let’s talk about how we can offer a solution to them and give your teams more time to take on bigger projects.”
And it depends on which team I’m talking to. I speak with a lot of business development folks, and if you have the opportunity to free up time between the RFP or pitchbook process, what could your business analysts accomplish? They could prospect harder for you. They could get more meetings, and ultimately increase sales at the end of the day.
I even think about my former colleagues and feel good they can go home a little earlier every night to see their families or play in that pickup soccer league.
So when you’re having those conversations, which of our platform’s capabilities do you highlight as being the most beneficial?
That’s a really, really tough question for me to answer. I feel like there’s a lot, and obviously the automation piece is amazing, but for me it’s the search functionality. If I had had that while I was still at Wellington, it would have been really important for me, just finding a piece of content fast. And part of that is also how it’s sent. The fact we can send content and get live analytics is a game changer. It’s huge for financial services because you can see which pages a client is most interested in and then tailor your follow-up meeting or call.
What attracted you to the account-based marketing team?
The ABM role for financial services seemed like the perfect position when it was presented to me. I still get to wear my sales hat, but now have a marketing one as well. I work on building relationships with our existing customers and then create specific marketing content around their needs. I am also looking forward to writing a few Wellington case studies. I have a great mentor, Zack McAuley, who is actually giving a webcast on the ABM process at the end of the month.
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2017, which market factors do you see as the most disconcerting for firms?
Several. Certainly fee compression is one, and I think we are all curious to see how the DOL ruling will play out since President Donald Trump issued an executive memorandum stating that the DOL needs to step back, review, and possibly retract the fiduciary rule.
I know a lot of firms spent time and money to achieve the level of compliance required by the ruling. Looking at industry trends, we have seen a shift to passive management, hence fee compression. If financial firms begin to shrink because clients shift towards passive, they need to innovate and come up with solutions to do more with fewer resources, and that’s really where our platform comes into play. For me those are the biggest concerns with a new president and an uncertain market, and the best thing a firm can do is be as prepared as possible.
What’s an interview without a couple of grab-bag questions? What’s your favorite activity outside of work?
Okay. So I feel like giving you a good for the liver, bad for the liver response. I’m adamant about yoga, cycling and snowboarding. And for the latter, I am a craft beer connoisseur of sorts. I’m heavily involved with Lord Hobo brewing company in Woburn, and my side job is taste testing.
What’s fun about this association and being on the sales side at Seismic is that we send out internal meeting notes called booms. It’s a fun way to let your teammates know who you are meeting with and to keep things competitive. Because there’s no better way to end a Friday than with a boom, I’ve worked it out so that we now celebrate our week of booms with a few Boomsauces from Lord Hobo. It’s a great way to have fun and talk about our accomplishments.
You’ve lived in Vermont and Massachusetts. Which state is better and why? Come on now. Be honest.
Oh, man. This is tough. I feel like I’m going to get a lot of flak either way, but I have to go with Vermont. I would say the top reasons why Vermont tops Massachusetts are its world-class beer, and I say that as a Lord Hobo investor, skiing, which blows away anything down here, and natural surroundings. I mean, living on a farm in central Vermont definitely tops having a tiny apartment in Cambridge!