Bernstein Management Corporation (BMC) is a real estate investment, management, and development firm founded in 1953 by Norman Bernstein and based in Washington, DC. BMC’s investment portfolio includes more than 80 properties representing nearly 5,000 apartments and over 3.7 million square feet of commercial space throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia backed by capital provided by over 200 high-net-worth investors.
In 2018, BMC consolidated several of their funds into a single open-end fund. This streamlined BMC’s administration and reporting operations, and provided more liquidity and transparency to their investors. “Ever since Norman Bernstein purchased his first apartment building in the 1950s, he wanted his firm to be a people-first organization,” says Kelly Lynch, Senior Advisor at BMC. “This move to an open-end fund structure was the next evolution in meeting investor needs and expectations. With this fund, investors can buy or sell shares once a year, giving them more liquidity than with a closed-end fund. We also provide an annual valuation so investors have a better idea of how much their investments are actually worth.”
As part of this consolidation, BMC searched for a software system that would serve as a single system of record, streamline back-office operations, and provide investors with a modern investor portal. “Details were stored in Outlook. Distributions were calculated on spreadsheets, K-1s and other reports were emailed one by one. It was tedious and time-consuming,” says Lynch.
The software needed to support the accounting, reporting, and payment practices unique to BMC’s open-end fund. “In order for the software to work for us, it had to support unit-based ownership, track net asset value and calculate floating share prices, distinguish between a distribution and a redemption, and accommodate shares being bought, sold and transferred throughout the life of the fund,” explains Lynch.
Searching for a Solution
BMC evaluated several software solutions, including a CRM and an investor portal offered by their property accounting software provider. It soon became clear, however, that neither their accounting technology provider nor other software solutions were going to meet their needs. “There was a void in the software market of solutions that supported open-end real estate funds,” says Lynch.
Lynch eventually came across Juniper Square and was immediately impressed. “When I first saw Juniper Square in action, I said ‘This is it’,” recalls Lynch. “I loved how the CRM provided rich context for each contact, and that it was integrated with the accounting and investor relations functions of the platform, so I could find everything in one place. The look, feel, and professionalism were all there. I knew it was going to be the solution for us.”
Juniper Square and BMC worked together to ensure that Juniper Square’s capabilities would truly support BMC’s needs. “Only later did I appreciate what we were building together behind all the charts and dashboards. The Juniper Square team took the time to really understand our workflows, and ensure the features worked under a variety of scenarios that we didn’t initially consider, but later realized were critical.”
Today, Juniper Square acts as BMC’s system of record for all its investments, including their open-end fund. “Our experience so far with Juniper Square’s open-end fund capabilities has been terrific,” says Lynch. “From processing distributions and redemptions, to communicating with our investors, everything is much more streamlined and straightforward. I find it incredibly valuable to have all our data in one place that is easy to access, secure, and up to date.”
Shim Trusso, Investor Relations Manager at BMC, describes her experience, “In the past, I would have to check my master list to know who needed to be added to a correspondence, and send copies of documents to various interested parties. All of this is now managed in the portal, cutting my processing time immensely. I no longer need to send hundreds of individual emails and that is amazing. Distributing K-1s is now heavenly.”
When asked for guidance on evaluating investment management solutions, Lynch advises her peers not to take product demos and marketing collateral at face value. “My advice would be to ask for a demonstration of your own fund structure on the platform. It’s important to understand how data is calculated and flows through the system. Ask them to walk you through all of your critical workflows from start to finish,” concludes Lynch.
Lastly, Lynch was asked to describe her experience with Juniper Square. “I wholeheartedly recommend Juniper Square as we have gained so much from our implementation. They not only developed capabilities that suited our needs, but designed the platform to work for any open-end fund. I was impressed by their commitment to make us successful. In the end, we got exactly what we hoped for and it’s very easy to use,” says Lynch. “Also, I cannot emphasize enough how incredible the customer support from Juniper Square has been—it’s been my favorite aspect of the implementation. Our customer success manager is extremely professional and responsive—no question is too small or big. It’s been a year full of challenges and change and our customer success manager kept us on track and made implementation a breeze.”
System of record.
“Having all of our information relating to investors in one secure place has transformed our work in the best of ways. Before, it was difficult to know whether the investor relations, legal, or accounting department had the most up-to-date information about an investor. Now I can click on any contact in Juniper Square and find everything I need to know,” notes Lynch.
“Managing an open-end fund requires managing a lot of important details about each investor, including multiple interested parties and sensitive tax and payment details. With Juniper Square, a lot of these processes are now automated and take a fraction of the time,” says Lynch. Michele Badua, Payroll Director at BMC, adds, “Previously, it took us a couple days to enter, review, process, print remittances, scan, and fold before passing them on for mailing. Now, that whole process takes 30 minutes.”
Investor satisfaction and employee retention.
“Being a people-first organization, our investors are the main reason we embarked on this journey,” says Lynch. “We have received only positive feedback about the portal. We are thrilled that the investor experience has gone so smoothly. That is not to minimize the benefits to our staff working with Juniper Square on the back end. They are more productive and effective; Juniper Square makes their work life so much easier!”
BMC’s CEO Josh Bernstein sums it up well, “This has been a valuable tool for our investors and an extremely valuable tool for us!”