Long before we began our love affair with drinking coffee, it is believed that one day, a shepherd in Ethiopia took inspiration from his herd of goats who he had seen eating a curious fruit, and discovered that it delivered a pleasant burst of energy. That red fruit turned out to be the coffee cherry. Impressed, the shepherd took a batch of the curious cherries to a local monk who proceeded to boil them and create a heady brew. From those humble beginnings, the coffee cherry has since attained truly global status, being the most consumed drink in the world, just behind tea.
When ready for harvest, the coffee cherry embarks on a long and circuitous journey before it reaches the coffee brewer and gets served in all its myriad flavours and forms.
Strange as it may sound, there are many parallels one can draw between the art (and science) of coffee brewing, and managing investment fund data. Beans and data points alike are subject to a variety of processes that, when done correctly, can deliver the most satisfying end results.
Source the beans
The first step in the process is for the coffee brewer to diligently source and select his beans from different continents or regions within a continent, depending on the flavour they are looking to produce.
Similarly, the first time we meet with asset managers we help them source their data, identifying and locating the true origins of the data within an asset manager’s often complex ecosystem.
As with coffee production, it is critical that the raw ingredients are of the highest quality. A coffee brewer will want to know who the farmers are and how they harvest the beans. Likewise, we ask questions that the asset manager often doesn’t have time to consider to ensure we know who is responsible for the fund’s data, how it is produced, and from where. In other words, we make sure that the beans are properly sourced.
Wet & Dry
The next step is gathering the fruit to process it as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage. The coffee is processed in one of two ways. The Wet Method involves passing the cherries through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean. The beans then pass through water channels where they are separated by weight. The Dry Method simply involves collecting the cherries and drying them on huge canvasses in the sun, constantly being raked to avoid spoiling.
The dried beans, known as parchment coffee, are then ready for export. Prior to export, parchment coffee is hulled (removing dried husks from the cherries), polished, and then graded and sorted to filter out imperfections i.e. beans with colour flaws, insect damage, incorrect size.
When we talk about processing data, we mean configuring automated feeds, making sure everything is proceduralised, so that the information is being gathered efficiently and dependably.
When data enters our systems, we perform quality checks, in a similar way that coffee producers must carefully review the quality of beans prior to accepting deliveries.
550 degree roasting
To transform green coffee beans into the aromatic brown beans that produce our favourite blends, they must go through roasting machines which typically operate at 550 degrees Fahrenheit. When they reach 400 degrees Fahrenheit the magic happens. This is when they start to turn brown and produce caffeol, a fragrant oil that gives coffee its unique taste. The length and intensity of roasting will produce different flavours of bean depending on the colour of the bean, which vary from cinnamon brown to chestnut brown to dark chocolate and mahogany brown.
This enrichment process is precisely what we do with fund data to transform it. We may change the formats of data fields according to the myriad of various information channel requirements (i.e. a 10-digit data field that needs to be truncated for a ratings site, or decimalized for a data vendor, etc.) The data needs dictate how we transform it.
How do you like yours?
The last stage of the process is preparing and serving the coffee in all its myriad forms based on volumes of milk, cream, froth, strength and volume of coffee, temperature. Whether it’s a Flat White, a simple Espresso or a chocolate dusted Cappuccino, there’s something for everyone.
This is the equivalent of how we disseminate data to the marketplace. We send it to a ratings agency or an online data vendor, or to our reporting engines to generate a myriad of regulatory or financial reports. Wherever it needs to go, we present the data in a variety of different forms for consumption.
Let it zing
There’s no substitute for a good coffee. But to get one, the proper steps have to be followed. The beans have to be well sourced and of a high quality. Equally, an asset manager will want to protect his brand by ensuring that the data he uses to portray his fund(s) has been properly sourced, processed and transformed.
The last thing an asset manager wants is for their fund data to leave a bitter taste in the mouth. But if it can consistently deliver the zing of a Frappuccino or pack the punch of a double espresso…well, that’s the cherry on top.
By Lee Godfrey