Cut to the chase
Replacing their spreadsheet-based systems with Juniper Square’s single platform solution gave Northland’s teams better access to their investor and investment data and made it easier to report on performance and communicate with their investors.
With Juniper Square, the Northland Investor Relations team can work smarter and act faster. Tasks that once took weeks (and required other teams to pitch in) now get done quickly and efficiently. Chief Information Officer Michael DiBenedetto says “It used to take eight people four days to prepare and mail investor packages. Now it takes just one person and it’s done in a day.” That means they can focus more of their energy on activities that directly help their investors.
DiBenedetto said their decision to choose Juniper Square went beyond fit and cost, “Juniper Square met our functional requirements, but our ultimate decision factored in those vendor characteristics and qualities that you can only infer throughout the course of the selection process. We learned a lot about Juniper Square’s commitment to its clients, and gained an understanding of our business in particular, before we ever signed an agreement.”
Founded in 1970, Northland started out as a New England-focused commercial real estate and development firm. In 1997, Northland was acquired by Essex Partners, joining forces to form one of the nation’s top private equity real estate firms. Today, Northland has 650-plus employees in 11 states and manages $7B in real estate assets across more than 26,000 units and 2.1 million square feet of commercial space.
Known for its core competencies in acquisition, development, management, and long-term ownership of multifamily and mixed-use properties, Northland has successfully raised seven investment funds through multiple market cycles and is known for its disciplined operations-driven acquisition strategy, alignment with investors, commitment to investing in its own funds (a minimum of 20% per fund), and strategic emphasis on creating long-term, tax-efficient returns and strong current yields.
Like many of its peers, Northland relied on spreadsheets to manage investment details and investor records, handle calculations, and aid in the production of quarterly statements and ongoing client communications. It was an internal-facing system that was neither user friendly nor efficient and the upkeep was hit or miss. As time went on, it became increasingly apparent that this approach had outlived its usefulness and was no longer representative of Northland’s size, stature, or standing in the industry. If they were to maintain their competitive edge, they realized they needed to upgrade to a modern technology-enabled solution to manage their investor and investment data.
At the same time, the type of investors that Northland was courting was changing and, as their investors became more savvy, they expected more sophisticated information. Gone were the days when clients were satisfied with reports distributed via mail or email three months or more after quarter end. They wanted comprehensive investment data that was easily accessible, transparent, and timely—in a nutshell, they wanted to be able to log into an easy-to-use, well designed portal to get information whenever and wherever they needed it to run reports or make investment decisions.
But it wasn’t just their investors who were clamoring for something more. Internally, the Northland team was spread thin and they recognized that adopting new technology would have far-reaching, company-wide benefits, from mitigating the risks of data entry errors to reducing the time and effort needed to prepare investor packages.
Northland was not completely new to searching for an investment management alternative. They had previously looked for a solution, but the process did not go as planned and was never formally launched. So, while everyone was in agreement that there was a real need to overhaul their systems, they also recognized that they had to do some foundational work to figure out the best way to proceed and ensure a successful implementation.
As a long-term owner-operator of investment funds, determining exactly what they needed was the easiest part of that equation. They focused their search on a tool that would facilitate better communications and investor relationships. A robust portal experience for their investors was critical, as was a reliable CRM component. They also wanted a tool that would automate calculations and reduce the effort needed to produce, review, and distribute reports. And they were keenly aware of the importance of finding a solution provider that not only understood their business and data needs but was also cognizant of all the intricacies of the implementation process itself.
The harder part was figuring out the best way to structure the selection process. Michael DiBenedetto, Chief Information Officer at Northland, who oversees all of their IT strategy, services, and operations, was tasked with leading the search. It was his job to ensure that the chosen technology solution aligned with their business objectives, improved the overall efficiency of their operations, and delivered on necessary innovations that would support both their employees and their investors. Michael introduced a new, standardized RFP process to find a technology solution and put Director of Investor Relations Pauline Lucido in charge. She executed and drove a process that documented requirements in detail and, with a project manager assisting, gathered responses from vendors, facilitated demos, scored responses, and provided transparent feedback to a steering committee that would make the final selection.
Armed with a good understanding of their needs, a well-conceived RFP process, and lessons learned from that earlier endeavor, Northland set out to find the right technology solution. Michael described how they narrowed down the options, “Our selection process was designed to surface the best option before we ever started to think about any sort of contractual relationship. From the time we sent out the initial RFPs until we arrived at our short list, it took a few months. But it was time well spent. Our due diligence process allowed us to get a better understanding of the candidates and confirmed that we had the right potential partners in the mix before we put them to our final test.”
Northland provided each of the firms on the short list with specific information and waterfall calculations and asked them to put their data into the system and demo what that process would look like. It was a critical determining factor, and Juniper Square’s thoughtful approach provided Northland with the confidence they needed to move forward.
As Michael put it, “Juniper Square was a true thought partner. They understood the complexities of our business, they asked us the right questions, they were aware of the intricacies of data transfer, and, because of their history and breadth of clients, they were able to provide guidance about how to set up and use their tools most effectively.”
We knew we needed more than just a technology provider. We needed a technology thought partner, and we found that in Juniper Square.
Chief Information Officer
According to Michael, the implementation process went smoothly and the Juniper Square team proved to be excellent partners: “We had great trust in them from the beginning. They understood our needs and were well equipped to handle our data.” DiBenedetto chalked that up to the fact that Juniper Square is, in his words, “best practice oriented by design, not highly customizable by a client.” Michael explained that they wanted a system that was configurable, so they appreciated Juniper Square’s ability to transfer decades of data into the system, “Juniper Square pulled in all of our historical data and worked with us to validate it. By the time we moved on to waterfall calculations, we felt confident that there were no gaps in the data and we could run our live process.”
Once Juniper Square was up and running, one of the most immediate benefits was how much time it saved the Investor Relations team (and others around the firm). Prior to Juniper Square’s implementation, the two-person team had to wrangle resources from other departments to help prepare and distribute investor packages every quarter. Calculating distributions took at least three people a week; now two people can handle the preparation and review in just two days. To generate statements, someone had to manually enter information and multiple people needed to review over the course of a week and a half. Now, they get it done more quickly with fewer people and no risk of human errors. On top of time savings, they’ve also been able to go primarily paperless and provide a better overall experience to their investors.
The move to Juniper Square came just in time. When COVID-19 hit, they were able to easily manage processes that beforehand would have been difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate working remotely. Most importantly, it also allowed the IR team to communicate with investors about their investments during a critical time with no disruption to service, even as staff members were forced to work from home.
Metrics as of 5/1/2022