5 Chicago CTOs you should know: Greg Goff, Morningstar

by Carlin Sack
March 17, 2014

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Since 1984, investment research firm Morningstar has been working to make technology a seamless part of investors' experiences, CTO Greg Goff said. To do this, data is critical. It is what powers Morningstar's applications and what available through its APIs.

"Our technology supports the exploration and discovery of our data and research to unlock insights that empower investors," Goff said. Built In Chicago sat down with Goff to hear about the specific data projects his team is working on this year to make investors even more empowered.

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

The technology projects we’re focusing on in 2014 are geared around 4 key pillars – convergence, governance, automation and innovation. Our efforts in the data area focus on simplifying and integrating our global investment data and then making all of that data available through APIs. We continue to focus on operational excellence for all of our products and as part of that have a number of cloud based initiatives happening to simplify our application configurations and infrastructure.

We use many different technologies across the business to deliver all of this including relational and non-relational databases, standard app development languages (java, .net, javascript, etc), mobile development platforms and others.

 

You were previously an SVP at Nielsen. How did that prepare you for Morningstar?

In many respects Nielsen and Morningstar are similar - they just operate in different industry segments.  Both companies process large amounts of data with the goal of creating insights to empower their customers to make better decisions. My Nielsen experience prepared me extremely well for many of the current challenges I face. Beyond the technology areas though, Nielsen underwent significant change during my tenure including the challenge of integrating a very global business, adapting to mobile and online experiences and away from traditional media outlets like print and television, and learning how to deal with the incredible pace of technological change common in today’s environment. Those experiences, while challenging, fueled my ability to execute my vision at Morningstar.

 

What trends do you see happening in financial and investment advising over the next three years?

In the advisor segment we see mobility as a big trend. Advisors need to be in front of clients and that requires mobility. We are working now to understand how workflows will be done in the mobile world and we’ll build solutions to match. Integration is also a focus in the advisor segment. Clearly our own applications need to be integrated but that is not sufficient. Our solutions also need to work in the ecosystem of third party data and applications that drive solutions today.

On the asset management side, passive investing continues to grow. Morningstar’s exchange traded products, or ETP solutions will continue to offer leading edge data and research solutions to advance that space. On the active side, we’re focused on helping those managers differentiate themselves through enhancing our current flagship product Morningstar Direct.

In retirement, we’re seeing the convergence of information driven primarily by the need for holistic financial advice. Morningstar is creating the methodology and core infrastructure needed to offer this holistic information based on some leading research we have done around the measurement of “Gamma”, the value provided by financial planning. We’re redesigning our managed retirement platform to incorporate savings and spending elements and creating a more engaging user experience.

The individual investor segment is coming back after years of disengagement largely due to the financial crisis. We are reimagining our retail experience to help us engage a new generation of investors. The complexity of the global financial markets can create confusion among individual investors so we are focusing on specific workflows people want to accomplish delivered by systems that allow us to be nimble with maintaining our sites based on actions or trends that can emerge very quickly.

 

What advice do you have for early-stage Chicago tech companies?

While it sounds obvious, it’s really important to understand the problem you’re trying solve.  Seek advice constantly and be iterative. The world these days expects fast-cycle iteration and people expect solution providers to take their feedback into account. It remains as critical as ever to build strong relationships with customers and to be responsive. Feedback is in no short supply so great listening skills are vital, but the feedback needs to be filtered by your own vision for your product. Nothing beats testing in the real world though so get product in the hands of customers and see what they do with it. It is guaranteed that customers will find interesting things to do with applications and take them in directions you can’t envision when the ideas were first conceived.

 

Tell us about Morningstar's tech team.

‘Great People’ is a core tenet of Morningstar’s philosophy and that’s also true within technology. Working as a technologist at Morningstar gives you the unique opportunity to interact with colleagues both within and outside the technology field. A number of disciplines join together in our truly collaborative product development process, including designers, information architects, front-end developers, back-end developers, user researchers, project managers, business analysts, and quality engineers.

We do believe though that innovation comes from everywhere and takes many forms, big and small, so we look to all of our technologists to be innovators. We try to move people around throughout the organization to learn both the technology and the business. Gaining different perspectives allows people to connect the dots across the business which drives innovation and keeps it exciting for the individual.

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