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July 18, 2016 Issue



Cloud Based Portfolio Management and Reporting Platform for Family Office Investors, Institutional Asset Managers, Private Banks and Wealth Managers



Hugh Nguyen

Chief Executive Officer




Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – July 18, 2016


CEOCFO: Mr. Nguyen, what is the idea behind ClearServe?

Mr. Nguyen: ClearServe is a premier portfolio management and reporting platform for High net worth (HNW) family offices, wealth principals and their advisors, built entirely in the cloud. ClearServe arose in 2012 based on several important macro trends. One, investors in the world were disaggregating all of their investment accounts at large banks. Two, they were employing a number of increasingly sophisticated investment strategies. Three, professionals were leaving Wall Street to join Family Offices and other private investment firms, and needed better technology and systems. Based on our own experience on Wall Street as business professionals and technologists, we realized that our goal was to simply deliver transparency to our clients’ portfolios.

CEOCFO: Why does starting in the cloud from day one make a difference?

Mr. Nguyen: I think that starting a technology company today is much easier and cheaper when you have cloud based tools and infrastructure to help you along. The difference between today and ten years ago is being able to set up infrastructure that is modular and cost effective in buying the bandwidth that you need and then building applications in the cloud and deploying them flexibly and seamlessly to your clients. There is a large industry player who, conservatively, invested north of $120M and three years to try to build an Alternative reporting system. They abandoned the effort. We did it in two years with a small fraction of that investment. They were absolutely floored when we showed them what we had achieved. ‘Better, Faster, Cheaper’ is our Mantra and we pass on those benefits to our clients.


CEOCFO: How does the customer engage with ClearServe?

Mr. Nguyen: The way we typically work with clients is we identify the best path to be able to understand their portfolio and underlying complexity. We work with clients in several different stages. Our initial phase is Data Discovery where we map out their portfolios and entity structures. During Data Acquisition, we onboard their investment accounts and their more exotic alternative investments like private equity, hedge funds, real estate and art work. Finally, during Optimization, we will train them on how to be able to get the most out of the platform ideally for analytics as well as for consolidated investment reporting. We are committed to superior customer service throughout their entire lifecycle as a Client.


CEOCFO: Would you tell us about the analytics portion? What are you able to put together and how do you present the information?

Mr. Nguyen: Our thesis is there are few software solutions in the world that have consumer-like usability when it comes to looking at things like performance attribution and risk attribution. In a world today where most clients are painfully using excel spreadsheets to update their performance numbers, we think there is a better path-forward. Our approach is to provide very clear dashboards and analytical tools in order for clients to be able to slice and dice their positions easier and faster. In our platform, you will be able to have nice visual dashboards, historical performance and attribution against benchmarks, both standard benchmarks and hybrid, synthetic ones you can create. One of the features that Clients like most is the ability to get exposure cuts on any type of investment strategy that they wish to analyze. It is fully bespoke and customizable. Overall, we think the “Holy Grail” is to be able to marry the Back-office to the Front-office in a system that is seamless. The current landscape has not yet achieved this.


CEOCFO: Who is using ClearServe today?

Mr. Nguyen: When we began building a platform, we envisioned a world where anyone except a retail investor would be able to use us and, by and large, that vision is becoming a reality. Our key clients earlier in our business tended to be ultra high net worth (UHNW) and high net worth (HNW) family office clients. We are gradually moving into more institutional asset managers like private banks and other wealth managers. We also continue to receive inbound calls from leading Endowments and Sovereign Wealth Funds, which is flattering, given their level of sophistication.


CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape?

Mr. Nguyen: When we look at the competitive landscape, we see a tremendous gap in the marketplace for the types of tools that we are providing. There are typically three options that a family office or professional investor client can pursue when they are looking at our type of solution. We see number one, mostly an Excel-only world where a client is using spreadsheets to manually track their investments. That is not a great solution. Secondly, we see Excel plus a legacy portfolio management solution like Advent or SunGard as a combination which leads to much frustration. Thirdly, we see many clients try to build their own data warehouse and that is not one of their core competencies. Managing investments should be their core competency in our humble opinion. Probably the past decade or so, there has been a lot of new market entrants who are trying to build a more modern solution. We feel we have a really nice differentiation where we can aggregate across Public and Private asset classes and across banks. We provide more sophisticated reporting and analytics by being able to better aggregate, normalize and analyze the data layer. The data layer is fundamentally the most important thing for us to get right as a tech firm.


CEOCFO: One of the items mentioned your website is ‘intuitive design.’ How have you been able to provide user friendliness?

Mr. Nguyen: We stay very close to the marketplace. I specifically mean that we built our platform around the key needs of a lot of our early beta test clients and those clients have provided invaluable feedback and insight around their particular workflows. I think the issue of being able to work around a client’s particular workflow is what we mean by usability. Secondarily, I would tell say that the modern design and the visual appeal of a dashboard only helps in terms of being able to understand data faster and easier.

CEOCFO: How are people finding ClearServe?

Mr. Nguyen: There are several ways that high net worth and ultra high net worth private investment clients can find ClearServe today. Our investors, advisors and partners are deeply connected in the areas where we need help, including client referrals. Word of mouth and viral marketing are key for us. We have a good reference base of clients that love the product and many make referrals for us. Also, we often work with a number of blue-chip industry associations who target high net worth investors in the family office world. Furthermore, we have had increased media exposure, including the Spanish bank BBVA’s selection of ClearServe a global finalist in their FinTech competition. We have also been in the press in Benzinga, a premier industry association for Financial Services Technology. We will need to improve our online presence for both organic and paid search – i.e. our search engine optimization so that clients can find us easier on search engines like Google. There are lots of family offices, for example, searching Google because they are desperately in need of a solution. We have built it – we invite clients to come and learn more about ClearServe.


CEOCFO: What has been the major change over time? What is different about the offering today, based on feedback you have received?

Mr. Nguyen: Our initial focus in the early days was to develop a great core product, primarily around the needs of a true finance (CFO/ Controller) professional. Over time, we have seen and we have received feedback from clients that ClearServe should be focused on not only addressing these CFO and COO needs, but also the needs of the front office investment specialists like the CIO or the PM. We have listened to the market and from a technology standpoint, we are investing significantly in the development of premium modules and applications that really solve the needs for the back, middle and front office professional comprehensively.


CEOCFO: ClearServe provides ‘Deeper insights through industry collaboration.’ What does that mean on a day-to-day basis?

Mr. Nguyen: It means that we have our finger of the pulse of the markets and we have a very good sense of particular investment and reporting needs for the high net worth world and ultra high net worth private investment clients. I think that informs the way we think about our product development and the features that we want to build in the platform on a forward-going basis. Moreover, I think our business approach is not only about productivity tools in the cloud, but also as a tightly-knit community of high net worth and family office clients who share insights with each other through our various channels including our private ClearServe Events.

CEOCFO: Are people that are still using Excel comfortable with the cloud or are they still a bit leery?

Mr. Nguyen: When we started the business in 2012, we had strong reservations that the market would NOT accept an entirely cloud based infrastructure and solution. What we have discovered is that is 100% NOT THE CASE. People understand that where the world is moving now, being in the cloud is more secure and stable to be able to have a more flexible infrastructure. Most major Wall Street banks have adopted cloud based solutions. You see institutional asset managers and their ecosystem of partners migrating to these cloud based solutions. FinQloud -- which is the cloud based application that Nasdaq uses -- is built on top of AWS (Amazon web services). There is clearly a greater acceptance and adoption of cloud based technologies and in particular, I think that people understand that unless you are in the cloud, you cannot have the flexibility to update your software and be able to serve clients efficiently and seamlessly.


CEOCFO: How is business?

Mr. Nguyen: Business is growing. We are highly focused on investing in internal resources for sales and marketing. Our growth phase now is driven by a good core group of customers and we are also rapidly expanding through other sales and marketing channels as I mentioned, including the trade associations and many other online and virtual channels as well. I am incredibly bullish on our prospects and on the overall opportunity.


CEOCFO: What is in the future geographically?

Mr. Nguyen: I think our three to five year plan will primarily be focused on increasing our footprint within North America. We do not have short term or medium term plans to go internationally except in a few rare, strategic instances. That is not to say that we do not think global is a huge opportunity, we just have so much wood to chop within in North America and that is where we want to spend our time. With that being said, we think probably the five to ten year time period of the business is to go big globally, especially as we can deliver a secure solution through a browser anywhere in the world.


CEOCFO: Why pay attention to ClearServe?

Mr. Nguyen: ClearServe and companies like ClearServe matter for a couple reasons. Number one, there is an increasing adoption of cloud based technology. Number two, as the capital market and investment world employs increasingly sophisticated strategies and overlays, you are going to need more powerful tools and technology in order to better serve those investment clients. Number three, the final takeaway is that we are seeing this consumerization of enterprise software. In our particular case for ClearServe, we are in a new era where investment clients expect [their systems] look more and more like the Expedias or the Amazons of the world in terms of usability and performance. Okay is not good enough.


“There is a large industry player who, conservatively, invested north of $120M and three years to try to build an Alternative reporting system. They abandoned the effort.  We did it in two years with a small fraction of that investment. They were absolutely floored when we showed them what we had achieved. ‘Better, Faster, Cheaper’ is our Mantra and we pass on those benefits to our clients.”- Hugh Nguyen





Hugh Nguyen








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