As we are often asked, “how does it work?” when it comes to our approach, we thought the best way to put this to the test would be to ask those leading the SEI and Benchmark relationship to be honest with us about both the highs and the lows.
This is the story of a partnership through the lens of conversations between the senior leaders of the organisations and the partnership—David White, CEO of Benchmark Capital and Jo French his COO; Brett Williams CEO, SEI Investments (Europe) Ltd and Anita Juneja, Head of Relationship Management and Client Service at SEI.
Embracing change together
Together, SEI and Benchmark partner to power digital transformation of wealth management. The relationship has evolved hugely, from the early days when Benchmark approached SEI to provide custodian services to today’s full service delivery. As both businesses have grown and developed, so too have their combined capabilities. Today they describe themselves as fixing some of the biggest challenges the industry is facing, providing the infrastructure, capabilities and processing power that digitalisation requires.
The duo have embarked on many change projects together—change projects for Benchmark by SEI and change projects for others. And it is change where the partnership piece starts to play out, as we discover these have not always been comfortable times.
Jo French, COO of Benchmark, knows a thing or two about work under pressure and change—she previously worked for the fire brigade! A self-professed lover of problem solving, she said: “The reality is, change isn’t comfortable BUT we’ve found a way to embrace it and make any conflict constructive.”
Making the partnership work
While ultimately this has come down to pure hard work from individuals in the team, the team talked about several elements:
- Firstly, while it is common business knowledge that mission matters in keeping your own workforce together and motivated, SEI and Benchmark told us that finding a shared mission between the two firms was equally essential. In their case, this meant realising that both were focused on finding the best outcome for the end customer. This meant that potentially challenging conversations could always be tied back to that mission.
- Putting the time into sharing visions of the future—knowing what each is planning to do in the mid-term so that you can work to the same horizons. In this instance, David White, CEO of Benchmark and Brett Williams, SEI Managing Director, invest time talking together to really share and understand what is coming down the line, so that they are pre-empting the change and taking control. “We set a tone from the top,” says David of driving success through their business.
- Being honest with each other sounds simple but is often more complicated than it seems. The two teams have developed a phrase we could all benefit from, ‘help me understand’ to guide individuals over the hurdle of not being comfortable admitting they don’t know or understand the situation.
Team empowerment has become critical to their success and ensuring they can scale solutions together. We know that partnership works best in cultures that align—what Benchmark and SEI have done is find a way to ensure their teams align. As Anita Juneja, Head of Relationship Management and Client Service at SEI, says: “We empower our teams to have conversations at different levels, knowing they are all part of the success of making the relationship work.”
These teams know that they are in it together, and that a long-term commitment to making the relationship work is key. Their frank analysis is that a true partnership requires time and effort which isn’t always easy, as Jo said: “It has been like a jigsaw, working out how to work best together.”
Commitment to a shared mission
The jigsaw analogy makes even more sense when we understand that another success driver has been finding shared values around the mission. For SEI and Benchmark in particular, this has been around a shared love of, and commitment to, problem solving. This isn’t always fire fighting, it is about spotting things that haven’t yet been ‘solved’ in the industry and working collectively to find, build, test and launch those solutions.
The ongoing commitment on both sides to evolution and improvement has led to a journey with ups and downs but one that is forever improving. The long-term relationship stems from a belief that great partnerships are mutually beneficial. During the 10-year relationship, both organisations have matured and grown substantially and they agree that their shared trajectory has come from their focus and commitment to continuous improvement.
Brett Williams concludes: “A partnership is only a partnership when you’re in it together, and that means managing the tough times together and enjoying the good. Our teams have benefited from an open, honest and transparent working relationship which while at times has been tough, has resulted in a better outcome for all long-term.”
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This material represents an assessment of the working relationship at a specific point in time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events.
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