Automation and self-service now regularly feature in fix onboarding team’s annual objectives. What this actually means in reality is still quite nebulous and probably remains out of reach for most firms. Paul Whittington asks why onboarding is still so painful and discusses what can be done to tackle some of the common pain-points in the onboarding process.

The majority of firms we speak to still consider onboarding a new fix customer to be a painful task, filled with a series of manual, repetitive tasks. Onboards often take several days (or even weeks) to complete and involve significant troubleshooting or require an explanation of the more complex functionality.

Several factors affect the time-to-onboard, but what is particularly frustrating from the feedback received is that while firms see the same issues come up repeatedly, they are not taking any action to improve their process. It seems many teams are continually firefighting and are not in a position to step back and assess what can make their jobs easier. They report having little time to concentrate on more revenue-generating tasks, and of projects stuck on the “back burner” for years.

Why is nothing changing? What can firms be doing differently?

What’s the problem?

I think the main reason is time. Teams are so busy with the day job that they do not have the bandwidth to work on process improvements. One fix onboarder we spoke to last year talked about receiving hundreds of emails each day, the majority of which are individual issues that their customers were experiencing.

Through individual interviews and via a recent linkedin poll, we know that whilst there were indeed queries surrounding complex functionality and capturing conformance evidence, there are also several issues around the more repeatable tasks, such as establishing network connections, accessing reference data or configuring internal systems. While the answers to many of these inbound queries can be found on the firm’s corporate website, for some reason customers seem unable the answers themselves when they need them.

Giving customers the power to “self-serve” and troubleshoot themselves should be a key first objective of an improved process, once that frees up your fix onboarders time.

Running and capturing conformance evidence appeared as the most manually time-consuming element of onboarding according to our linkedin poll, and if you have ever connected to a fix api the reason will probably be evident to you. I recently talked to a large investment bank that – on first impression – did not seem to have considered the developer experience of connecting to their api. As part of that discovery project, fixspec connected to their fix api to experience the process first-hand and report back our findings. It was quickly apparent that the process was overly-complicated and confusing, leading to inefficiency and delaying project completion. The documentation was mainly to blame here; not only was the pdf confusing to read, but it also conflicted with their actual api behaviour in several places.

Need for change

If fixspec struggled to understand their api then surely their customers would as well? Surely their customers have given feedback historically? The level of gratitude expressed by the bank for our feedback leads me to believe that either their existing customers have provided feedback, or it was missed. Perhaps customers have become used to poor documentation and have given up providing feedback if it isn’t acted upon? If true, then this is a frustrating position for the industry finds itself in; inefficiency becomes entrenched as we become numb to it.

Most trading venues and banks acknowledge that a change is needed but have no idea what they can do to address this. Their solution seems to be to invest in more people to answer customer queries faster and get through the backlog. Is there an alternative?

Existing onboarding processes are often quite rudimentary and disjointed; emails and phone calls, (multiple) pdf documents to describe aspects of the integration. While many firms have a documentation area on their corporate website many more find this difficult, especially where there is a requirement to protect documents behind an authentication wall. While the information customers require is (technically) “available”, they still have issues accessing it and locating it at the right time to progress through their onboard. Other repetitive tasks such as establishing network connections and internal system configuration remain highly-manual tasks requiring a high degree of internal coordination that quickly breaks should a colleague be out of the office.

The vision

We believe that the future is interactive customer portals, which organise information in a more customer-friendly, logical format. Instead of a disjointed and static documentation site, a portal can present onboarding and upgrade pathways that expose the information that a customer requires at the right time for them to get connected and upgrade. Customers can become more autonomous and self-serve several elements of the process, initiating automated processes on demand. The result: customers pick up the phone less, raise fewer tickets and, onboarders can concentrate on the more high-level tasks you are paying them for.

Instead of customers receiving an exhaustive pdf covering every single capability offered by the api, interactive portals can expose only the sections relevant for that customer, with clear invitations to add extra capabilities over time. And what if this spec surfaced interactive examples and workflow descriptions in both a human-readable and machine-readable format? Fixspec’s interactive customer portal provides the functionality to conform logically and allows for updates and upgrades to be marketed effectively.

Taking the plunge

It’s clear from the feedback received to date that this would be a hugely significant step-change for the industry. Developers connecting to your api would find the process far less painful, allowing them to begin trading faster and with fewer errors. A solution like this would also free up much-needed time for your connectivity team to concentrate on revenue-generating work like customer upgrades. And would completely remove the need to send out long, exhaustive documents and the need for booking a test slot.

Firms might feel sceptical about whether these changes are possible in reality and whether their customers are ready for such a step change. Perhaps firms do not (currently) see this as a point of competitive differentiation, but rather see it as a reputational risk should customers not like or adopt a new way of working. Perhaps they secretly acknowledge that they lack the correct developer skills to build a customer portal like this, or even the time and resources needed to correctly define their requirements.

Everything I’ve described here is, however, relatively commonplace in the world of web apis; there is real-world validation that these concepts do help customers connect faster and easier. Fixspec is helping firms bring these benefits into the world of fix, ready for the inevitable adoption.

Because the current status quo is clearly unappealing…for everybody.