Spotlight on… Technology with Neil Harding, Clever’s Lead Developer
Neil Harding, Lead Developer at Clever talks tech with us and about the past, present and the future.
Q: When did you join Clever?
I joined in October 2013, seven years ago or so, and at the time I was the sole developer. When I started, there were just eight employees. It was a much smaller, younger company, but we’ve certainly grown up since then.
Q: What do your responsibilities involve?
As the lead developer, I run the Software Development Team. There are seven of us. I am responsible for managing the team and the direction of software development at the company. My role requires me to gather all the requirements, specification writing and prioritisation of improvements and support requests to ensure that our software complies with security policies. I’m also involved in some of the requirements we have with our IFA partners, as well as other areas such as GDPR.
Q: How would you describe the Clever proposition?
Fundamentally, we are a technology business. You’ve got the CleverEngine platform, and sitting on top of that you’ve got CleverAdviser and CleverMPS. Our proposition is very much about removing any human interruptions within the fund switching process. Getting access to accurate market data and being able to process that reliably on the frequency that we do and the scale that we do is what we’re experts at delivering.
Q: What is your relationship with IFAs?
Our relationship with IFAs and the huge amount of trust they have put upon us means some of them have been with us for many years, and is essential to our success. We’ve become a core part of their business and their proposition for their investors. IFAs and investors trust us to give them the fund recommendations that they expect, especially during this period of serious market volatility. We are also proud of the fact that there are not any other products that offer the experience we have to deliver to our IFA clients.
Q: How have you seen the software developments change?
Over the past seven years, there has been significant developments on all of the aspects of the services that we offer. When I joined, we used an outsourced development team, but today we actively develop our proprietary software in-house, specifically on the CleverEngine which underpins the frontal action process. Fundamentally, the process still works using the same maths, but there are variations we’ve added on top to create extra options. The CleverEngine today is considerably more reactive to the needs of the market and also the needs of IFAs. It can produce recommendations in the way that they expect and is certainly not just a one-size-fits-all approach.
Q: What challenges have you faced developing the engine?
One of the main challenges has always been to make sure that we can scale the engine appropriately. The maths allows us to do that and offer many different options and configurations in the process. The infrastructure that it runs on today now operates on a very large scale. We can deal with all different processes and tune it accordingly, whilst recognising that there isn’t just one version of it. We ensure that it suits everybody, and it’s important that we keep on top of it to make sure it is tuned effectively and delivers the best performance to the IFAs.
Q: How many UK registered funds each month does the CleverEngine platform analyse?
Around 4,000 funds for the various sectors that IFAs have in the process. All of the performance metrics that we collect from each of those funds monthly feed into the algorithms in order to make the fund recommendations.
Q: How do you score and rank each of the funds?
It’s based around what we call ‘criteria’. These are performance metrics that we analyse for every single fund on the process, and together these criteria are combined in order to provide an overall score for each fund every single month. The rating of each criteria is important because it affects the total score that we apply to each fund. This means some criteria can be rated higher than others that would deem it to be more important.
Q: How do you decide on the criteria?
That decision comes through our scale analysis if you like, that’s not a subjective opinion. It’s based on maths that we’ve arrived at and a set of criteria rankings. We use that overall score attributed to every single score of the process. Every six months, there is a threshold score evaluated at which the funds must achieve higher than that to remain recommended on the process. So if ever the current funds that we are recommending fall below that threshold, then we will recommend a fund switch into the best performing or the highest scoring funds that month. Our fund switching process means there is a lot more detail that we can access as well as the criteria, but the fundamental level is that the criteria is the most important element and certainly has the most impact on the process.
Q: What further developments are planned for the platform?
For some time, we’ve been able to back test the performance within the application. This means you can take a model portfolio and analyse how that would have performed historically on the Clever process and then compare that with other solutions. We’ve now reengineered that entire aspect into a standalone application that we can offer to our Clever advisers and eventually our MPS advisers as well. That is going to become available very soon. We’re investing a lot more time into our research and development that we do in order to further tune the process so we’ve got a pipeline of research and development tasks that we’re carrying out in order to simulate what would happen if we changed the process or optimised the process in a certain way, and what that would have done to our historic performance.
Q: How do you see the future developments evolving?
Specifically on the engineering side, it’s about making sure that we move away from larger applications that try to do everything for everybody. This will be replaced by smaller, more focused applications which can be changed more quickly but are backed by the same set of services. So we’ll be looking to invest in the back end code that can have a longer life perhaps than the front end. What the actual users see and interact with will be driven by the changing expectations users require from these applications, and that can happen quite rapidly. We recognise that the devices people access our applications on will increasingly become more wide ranging than what they have been in the past. We don’t have much in the way of public-facing exposure, direct to the investor, but we recognise that’s an area that may well grow for us, particularly with things like Clever funds, for example, where we are more exposed to the actual end user instead of the IFA.