Put Your Brokerage Ahead in a Crowded Market with IP Telephony
Brokerages are a competitive industry. From a customer’s perspective, one brokerage can look much the same as another. They all seem to have the same set of offerings. What sets your brokerage apart from all the others? Technology—both customer-facing and behind the scenes—can be that great differentiator.
BrokerCreditService is one of the key players in the broker market in Russia. With our complex portfolio of services, which include brokerage, investment banking, asset management, custody and advisory, we want to be known for the quality of our service. IT helps us stand out in a crowded market in that way.
I have been with the brokerage since 1996, just after its foundation. When I first joined, BrokerCreditService was just 10 people. Today, we are over 5,000 employees working out of more than 87 offices. My role as CTO has necessarily changed with that growth. I remember even in the late 1990s we had so little data, most operations could be done in Excel or accounting software. Now our database grows by several terabytes every year.
Today, a brokerage is only as good as its IT department. My role has of course changed since the days when I was doing all the system administration. Our IT department has grown so big, I do not manage the small, day-to-day the way I once did. My role now is more strategic, looking at key direction, IT infrastructure, and system software. We are always working on new technologies to be implemented, always looking for new niches that have not yet been taken to market, always changing.
Telephony Shouldn’t Cause Headaches
One of our most important recent changes was to our IP telephony systems. Previously, each of our locations had their own PBX solution. You can imagine that when BrokerCreditService was smaller, this was not necessarily a problem, and each of those offices likely had its reasons for choosing one system over another. When you have dozens of offices across the country, however, each with its own system, it becomes needlessly complex very quickly. It created a lot of headaches internally because office-to-office calls were very expensive, especially international calls. Telephony is supposed to connect people, but these disjointed systems left us disconnected from one another.
There was also the problem of the face we presented to our customers, because we could not transfer a call from one office to another. Remember that we want to distinguish ourselves from other brokerages through our excellent customer service. Telling a customer that we could not simply transfer them to the correct person, that they would have to call another number, sent exactly the wrong message. This was unacceptable for us.
We knew we had to address this customer experience issue, so we decided to establish a single call center for the whole of Russia. Customers would call in and an operator would direct the call to the right person. Centralizing our telephony this way meant we would need to set a uniform system across all offices. It was time to choose a single vendor for all BCS Russian offices.
Our Best-Value Solution Repeatedly Proves Its Worth
We started by deploying Cisco only to our call center, and worked to transfer each of our offices from there. Also, new offices would be built with IP telephony, not the more traditional phone systems.
Now, everything works great and we have all offices connected. There are only around 100 people in the company who are not connected through this system, because these are people who do not need it. The customer experience is much better now that we can easily transfer them from our centralized call center.
As for internal collaboration, I think the success of the integration is measured by what happens during the rare blip in the system and someone momentarily cannot be reached. This used to be the norm for us: It was difficult to work with people from other offices because there was so much friction in just calling them.
Now, we have become so accustomed to being able to reach anyone, anytime, it has become like the air that we breathe: It’s absolutely essential, but you don’t notice it until it’s gone. I know how much our new telephony system means to people because of that slight panic when they can’t connect.
The most significant issue we face now is the license payment, because this is not a cheap solution. When we were operating multiple disconnected systems, it did not look like such a large sum as this single line item now, but when you consider the functionality we have now, the Cisco system is much less expensive. When we have new managers join our company, they of course are always looking to optimize. When they see this license payment, I have to explain how we are actually saving money on certain functions, like international calls. They want to do their due diligence by having us look at other solutions, like open-source PBX, which is fair. When we compare the cost of ownership and deployment, though, Cisco wins every time.
We’re Ready and Confident for the Future
Our IP telephony in turn opens the door for other technologies to consider. We now have a very big network, so we want to look to optimize the processes with SD-WAN. That’s key for us right now. Being in this industry, security will also always be top of mind, because our business makes us a target for attacks. We just deployed Cisco email security, and we are now considering Stealthwatch and Umbrella.
Some advice for those considering making a big switch like we did: Don’t let potential difficulties deter you from what your company needs to do to move forward. The difficulties in deployment will be worth it in the long run. Lay out a step-by-step plan to make it easier on yourself, and draw on your vendor as a resource.
In any business, you want to cultivate personal relationships, because you know you can count on the other person during difficult stretches. In the case of switches to IP telephony, I had worked with our Cisco account manager for 10 years before we decided to make that change. During those 10 years, we developed the trust that I knew Cisco would be on-hand to troubleshoot during deployment. It’s crucial to have this understanding between customer and vendor.
As we deploy the new solutions we have in the works, my hope is that they will push us to lead the Russian market and also help us weather the rough periods that we have in Russia from time to time. When I reflect on how far we have come in our first 25 years of business, I feel confident about our future outlook.