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Spaghetti Code


A plate full of spaghetti…no sauce.

Looks appealing. You only need to warm it up with some homemade marinara. Voila, comfort food at its best.

Well, not always. Sometimes the noodles are stuck together in sticky mess. They can’t be salvaged. Martha Stewart’s best cooking secrets won’t help.

Similar things can happen with financial software projects.

About a dozen years ago, I ran into the same problem with a back-office system that had been deployed throughout my firm. We had used it for a couple dozen years. At the time we rolled it out, it was best in breed.

We had a leg up on the competition.

Y2K and several other “upgrades” and “fixes” later…problems seemed to surface almost daily.

New regulations meant new patches.

Service tickets with our vendor stayed open for months at a time.

We were like the Beverly Hillbillies driving down Hollywood Boulevard in Uncle Jed’s truck. We lived in a mansion. But we couldn’t always get there without breaking down.

Our vendor called it “spaghetti code”.

Edible, yes. Tasty, no.

Nor was it the best way to custody billions of dollars in client assets.

At one point, the vendor even admitted, “you would be better off starting all over again.” But they couldn’t help us because “we have too much invested in the current system.”

Yes, they really said that!

A couple years and a ton of programming hours later, we started from scratch. With a brand new vendor. In truth, they weren’t as good as our incumbent provider.

But they didn’t make us force down the sticky mess.

Unfortunately, even today many advisory practices are fueled by spaghetti code too.

Some symptoms…

  • Luxurious office space that only masks behind the scenes chaos
  • A highly paid staff with far too much free time on its hands
  • Impressive sounding names like “wealth managers” or “family office” giving discount brokerage service
  • Client segments that sound like credit cards…black, platinum, gold, silver…with minimal meaningful client touch
  • Procedures piled on top of procedures with no consideration for common sense
  • Long days, brutal weeks with little sense of accomplishment

Don’t settle for reheating these leftovers. (The dog will be happy.)

Sure, you may not be able to start from scratch. But you can set priorities. Nothing’s sacred.

No more…”that’s the way we’ve always done things.”¬†Work on it day by day.

You’ll do wonders for your digestion and business.

This post is part of a 30 day series. I typically cover topics related to improving financial advisor performance. From time to time, I write on other subjects that come across my desk.

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