Witad Awards 2021: Technology innovator of the year (vendor)—Clare Flynn Levy, Essentia Analytics

Clare Flynn Levy

Fund managers live and die on the judiciousness of their investment decisions. Good decisions are rewarded while bad ones are punished. That’s a pretty binary characterization of the fund management industry and yet it still holds true. The buy side is an unforgiving environment, something Clare Flynn Levy, recipient of the technology innovator of the year (vendor) category, understands from personal experience. She had stints at Deutsche Asset Management and hedge funds Avocet Capital Management and Tisbury Capital, in addition to serving the buy side as president of Beauchamp Financial Technology, acquired by Linedata Services back in 2005.

But it was her founding of Essentia Analytics in 2013 that proved pivotal to the surfacing of her innovative ideas—most notably around infusing behavioral science into front-office applications as a means of systematizing and enhancing decision-making—with the firm winning the best best buy-side data analytics provider category in the 2014 Buy-Side Technology Awards. 

“What we do [at Essentia] is very leading-edge and it’s driven by problem-solving,” Flynn Levy explains. “I started the business eight years ago in order to solve a problem I had when I was a fund manager: How do I do more of what I’m good at and less of what I’m not good at? In active fund management, that is a matter of life and death—you can already see the attrition of people who are not in a position to prove their value-add to investors.”

Flynn Levy explains that she has always been interested in software that can help humans focus on the tasks where they can add the most value. “At Essentia, we practice what we preach, using data-driven feedback loops to create our own process of continuous improvement: We try things, measure whether they worked or not and why, and then we iterate,” she says.

Essentia currently does not have a specific, documented process designed to foster innovation, given that the firm’s headcount is still only 40, although it does use Aha! and Slack where ideas are surfaced to the firm’s product pipeline. And as for whether the issue of diversity is on her radar, she is unequivocal: “Yeah, for sure,” she says. “Today we’re about 30% female—I would love it to be higher than that but that’s where it’s naturally stable. And I really value diversity, because in the past I was the minority who brought a different viewpoint to so many things.”

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