Introduction to Ben Marsh, CEO at iMeta Technologies
Ben: I am the chief executive and one of the owners of iMeta. I’m involved with product ideation, the strategic direction of the business and I am the principal face of the business to the external world.
Sean: And how long have you done that for Ben?
Ben: I’ve been at iMeta since 2003. Before that I had operational roles in financial markets and then I worked in commercial roles at some of the large providers to that marketplace, such as Reuters and the telecom company Global Crossing.
Sean: You’ve seen a lot in the industry and its changes, is that fair? What would you say are the positives and negatives that you’ve seen in that time?
Ben: I think the industry has changed very significantly since I first started work in the nineties. If I look at my career as a whole there’s been a ramping up in the professionalization of the industry.
The structures in which we operate have become ever more rigid in terms of things like oversight, governance, regulation, and the way that people operate has become more constrained. The other thing that’s happened over time is the abstraction of the fundamental building blocks, particularly operationally. Technology also has put in so many layers. I think this is true of life in general, with that underlying function becoming more and more abstracted as time goes on.
Sean: You’ve got such a long and illustrious career, but if you think more recently, particularly in the space that you operate in with iMeta, has this become more acute in these areas? And is there a specific area that has laser focus from the industry?
Ben: That’s a good question. I think that it’s across the board. Certainly, from a regulatory framework point of view, KYC is a really good example of that, particularly around beneficial ownership. But at the same time, you’re seeing things like the European Banking Act , which is forcing contractual flow-down between regulated organizations and their suppliers. You can see that happening again with the ESG movement. It’s not just the supplier, all elements of the ecosystem are seeing vastly more transparency being required, and we’re not the only industry. For example, people buying salads from the supermarkets consider the employment rights of the people picking those salads in Spain, and equally when buying garments, consumers care about worker conditions in Bangladesh. In summation, the world is thinking about the frameworks that it operates in and enforcing much more rigid structures.
Sean: Yeah, that’s incredibly interesting. The ESG conversation has started to percolate further into financial services more than ever before. There are green shoots of dedicated budgets and allocation of funds to drive a much more transparent way in which organizations operate. I guess budgets are an interesting one. Have you seen the buying patterns of individuals in financial services changing?
Ben: I think that there’s much more governance control and broader sets of stakeholders involved in buying decisions now. Over time it has become clear that people previously made buying decisions at quite a granular level, which was related to the fact that businesses were very siloed. Whereas now a broader set of stakeholders are involved in these decisions. This is because you are seeing people take an approach that’s going to smash down silos, which have become a really big problem for institutions.
Sean: Certainly, from my perspective, thinking about the market, there is a set of personas or set of individuals that are actively engaged when it comes to new technology. We’ve seen a move towards the Front Office having much more teeth, or having much more say in technology. Have you seen anything similar?
Ben: I would say that certainly in our environment which was compliance, essentially what happened with buying of compliance technologies is that the regulators ramped up regulation from 2012 onwards. From then you saw the regulators robustly enforcing some of that regulation and there were significant fines being issued. At that point the power moved from the business into centralized compliance units, where they’re saying, “We have to do these things otherwise, frankly, we will not be allowed to operate by our regulator”.
I feel that what has happened as a result of that is that there’s been a lot of focus on standardisation, and that standardisation has become much more understood and accepted. However, as a result the business end has played second fiddle to compliance and it probably is time now that we understand the standards, to help the businesses go the other way.
Businesses that have a growth ambition are currently quite poorly served by the operations infrastructure that backs them up from a compliance perspective, which you can see reflected in the onboarding times. For example, McKinsey says that best in class onboarding and CIB wholesale is 7 to 10 days and Oliver Wyman is suggesting that 90 to 120 days is the average. We know the huge impact that’s having on Front Offices in terms of things like caps and managing that interface with operations, such that they have to get involved with prioritisation of cases. The people who’ve got a growth agenda also think they need to have huge increases in operational staff to support that growth. That indicates there is an opportunity to do something different, and we’ve been able to see that you can leverage technology to deliver much better outcomes than those best-in-class numbers that McKinsey provides.
Accelerating the Customer Journey
Sean: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I would echo what you’ve mentioned. For a long time Compliance have held the budgets around these topics, because when you have to do re-papering or new Regulations the business would defer to the second line of defence. It’s a, “This needs to be done and done properly, and it needs to be able to be trackable and auditable.” There is a sense that, as the desired outcome for organizations change – either to strengthen competitive positioning, build market share or expand to acquire or retain customers – you move into a position where you are talking about empowering the Front Office, coupled with customer experience. How does iMeta approach those topics?
Ben: We see there being three significant pillars to successful onboarding and KYC. First and foremost, most of the recent focus has been around standardization and compliance which is an absolute must. You must have a robust risk-based approach in place that protects your firm from the risks that it’s looking to avoid, such as dealing with money launderers and people who are potentially going to bring the business into disrepute.
Then, from another perspective, there are elements of Customer Experience (CX), which will vary from firm to firm, and also vary depending upon the customer channel. You’ll get some that say, “I want to provide my customer with a very slick bank branded web experience, which I control and is how my client will provide me with that information.” Whereas when you get more into the CIB world the institutional clients will probably be telling the bank, “I don’t want to be using yet another portal, I expect your client service organization to be hand-holding me through this process.” They want much more of a white glove treatment. Therefore, from our technology perspective, we need to have the capability to support multiple channels to facilitate data entry into our world. That could be through a portal or a client service rep who’s interacting with a user interface, either in our system or an external system where they’re collecting that data.
Finally, there’s the Front Office where the real way that you drive efficiency is through that very dull thing called data. We use data that you can source externally from the myriad of vendors out there and integrate that with the data that you can get on private individuals to verify their identity. If you can’t get it through those sources, then you’re looking at other mechanisms to verify identity by verifying documents in an automated way that links up the negative media and sanction screening.
The Industry 10 Years From Now
Sean: I know you have a view at iMeta around how standardisation, customer experience and Front Office empowerment all work together; they are a collective journey, a cycle, which I think is great. From my perspective, I sense this movement away from siloed pieces of technology solving siloed problems into how you move from front to back and how the customer experiences a much more cohesive and streamlined process. It starts with data at the beginning, through sales processes, right into CDD and product onboarding. To some extent, you’re kind of on the deal team. iMeta is almost like one of the deal team for the Front Office. Is that a fair description?
Ben: Certainly, from my perspective the most exciting conversation that I could have with somebody is talking about how we can use our knowledge to help people accelerate and drive their business. That is what gets me up in the morning and I find it exciting. I want to work with people and companies where we can be on that team and visibly help somebody grow their business. That’s what I like to do because that benefits us, and it benefits them.
It’s great to think about how we are going to work together to drive revenue, drive customer satisfaction, and help the business be successful. Coming back to investment in technology, I think there was a really interesting study that was done by Gartner in 2018, where they said that 80% of legacy financial services brands would not exist by 2030. If you think about what the world is coming out of, there are lots of lessons to be learnt.
Sean: That’s interesting because I think that kind of talks to what your view on what the next five, even 10 years looks like in the banking industry. It’s true that some of these organizations, to use a crude term, will start to creak because for them to achieve what they need to achieve, manual, offshore processes are not going to cut it. I do think we are going to see consolidation and we will see technology playing a greater part in these narratives, but we must not ever forget that there is still a customer at the end of all of this, which is what’s great about your positioning. The fact that you’re talking not only about standardization but about customer experience and new buying trends in the Front Office is fantastic. Thanks very much, Ben.
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