Asset Servicing Times Interview: Examining the present and addressing the future
In her October 2021 interview with Jenna Lomax of Asset Servicing Times, Ana Sancho, Global Head of Sales at MGTL, discussed how mature Network Management software deals with extreme change, how it is adapting and innovating to meet future challenges, and how the Company is making a difference in the industry.
What impacts have you seen on your market during last 18 months and what have you learned from them?
No one can argue that the market has been more fundamentally impacted by the pandemic than any event since the financial crisis. Naturally this applies to all other industries and the world at large. The operational difficulties and the human tragedy have been felt by everyone, individuals and companies alike. Chief among the great many business lessons to be learned is how to ensure that your institution is resilient; what tools are in place to see that even the most extraordinary events can be weathered? That lesson is as deep and intense as you like, since so much by way of risk management, compliance, infrastructural soundness and more can and should be covered, as it is in our latest White Paper on Network Management data. As a company, we have learned something very basic and quite reassuring from the upheaval, which is that we can continue to operate as an organisation, entirely remotely, without loss of productivity or detriment to either effective operations or strong client service.
Since we are a technology vendor, communication and business continuity come naturally, particularly in the rarefied atmosphere of remote working. We have continued to sell well and make the most of the evolving environment; opportunities and interactions have come along that I think may not have done otherwise. We are aware that how we work presently will continue alongside the traditional, office-based, face-to-face way as business reverts to the latter, and it will add many strings to the Company’s bow as the two methods go hand-in-hand.
Naturally, we rely on sales as well as established Clients, and the demise of in-person meetings has impacted us significantly as forums and conventions have gone virtual, hands unshaken and relationships underdeveloped. There really is no substitute for the subtle nuances of physical interaction that propel a meeting or social conversation to a partnership or business relationship. The absence of the face-to-face element of business has increasingly affected those with whom we most often deal, and they do miss it and even crave its return. It is a very basic lesson: that the physical interaction of a meeting room conversation or over a drink at a convention is extremely important and produces results just because of its personal nature. We will always remember this.
How will the lessons of the last 18 months inform and guide you for the foreseeable future?
Fortunately, the events of the last 18 months have served to strengthen our approach and appeal to existing and prospective Clients alike. With home-working, security is paramount for Bank Staff working remotely. Our ISO/IEC 27001 certification confirms one of our key strengths and is a great asset in these times; the pandemic has placed extra emphasis upon how important working securely is. It’s vital that we maintain the highest standard of self-audit and security going forward, and we have a rigorous and comprehensive programme in place to ensure that we do so.
As our Clients’ perspectives and priorities have shifted recently, we must respond as quickly and effectively as possible. Our understanding of the FI’s and Network Manager’s concerns must be keen and evolve with their focus and concerns; industry developments must be top-of-mind if we are to appreciate how to serve them best and inspire confidence in those we approach. Of course, this has always been true, but in times of such fundamental upheaval, it becomes critical.
How and where do you see Operational stresses testing GRC, particularly with staff bouncing between the office and home?
That’s a big question. As I commented earlier, the stresses we have had to bear have not proved too onerous due to the minimal impact of the pandemic upon our operations and productivity. Before the pandemic, staff worked from home regularly as part of our BCP-DR. The fact that we have been able to serve our Clients seamlessly and in keeping with best practices has had a direct bearing upon how our own GRC has been relatively unaffected. The fact that we have onboarded three new clients in the last year-and-a half, completely remotely, is a testament to the appeal of our offering in this ‘virtual’ business environment.
Our Clients have been rather more tested, with almost the entire apparatus of financial services institutions having to be run from kitchen tables, studies, bedrooms and balconies around the world, with all the accompanying Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity implications. Some companies were quick to see their staff set up with laptops and VPNs (where software was not cloud-based) to ensure seamless and reliable connectivity, some not so. The speed of work varied considerably from bank-to-bank, so operational risk was greatly heightened.
The lion’s share of banking operations has moved into employees’ homes in short order, many important executives being initially saddled with sub-standard equipment that made workflow much slower. A variety of operating systems at home are difficult to manage by support teams, and with the only regulatory-compliant form of real-time communication being email, delays in response times were inevitable.
I know from our own in-house training that growing numbers of devices and VPNs on institutions’ means a heightened risk of cyber-attack and exposure increased by additional work-related devices at home. All forms of cyber-attack will evolve along with the growth of the work-from-home network. Encryption and device security have also been concerns and additional strain has been exerted upon the effectiveness of the framework as infrastructures are affected by increasing remote access.
There are emerging risk and compliance issues, many firms seeing a need to bring new technologies like video conferencing and instant messaging platforms into the scope of existing risk management, control and compliance functions. I believe that regulators will doubtless wish to ensure that provisions are made to properly regulate these tools. On top of all this come the different audit challenges that have emerged, as audit staff have less access to individuals and their offices, leading to delays in accessing systems and data. Completely new professional behaviours must be monitored and proceduralised, with the associated risks fully assessed.
I’m aware that books have been written on all of this and what I have said is the tip of the iceberg. What I do know is that in terms of our Clients’ Network Management function, our software provides a level of security and risk management that truly supports their operations.
Do you see a deepening appreciation of the benefits of digitisation and how it feeds digitalisation?
Quite obviously, yes. It is what we do; one might say it’s chief amongst the goals that we seek to achieve for our clients. Which company these days doesn’t want to convert its analogue assets to digitised form, to make their business models operate better? Essentially our clients and more-or-less every firm we talk to seek to do what they have always done, using technology to make it more efficient. We have been doing this for many years and see it only gathering pace, COVID having acted as a catalyst for the process and its acceleration.
The tremendous benefits of the subsequent digitalisation of current practice creates value. People are realising that using technology generates new ways of thinking, new ways to expand the business into new markets, to offer different products, and to appeal to new customers. It’s about pursuing different kinds of opportunities, made possible by new technology, and the industry needs to be wholly invested in this approach.
How are you positioned for the future in terms of your products? What opportunities do you see?
For us, it’s always the data. We look for ever-more innovative ways to develop for our Clients to master their data. Leading the opportunities we have identified is the broad subject of counterparty risk, but with a subtle flavour that has the potential to pick up on data that is un-utilised or under-utilised. If we can help Clients tap into these resources, which are yet to be exploited, to make better use of the data they already have then this will add great value, both for them in terms of de-risking their operations, and for our own broader market appeal. A newly found focus on regulatory compliance has also recently emerged.
Our Company has become a member of ISSA, the International Securities Services Association, and TSSAG, The Securities Services Advisory Group, in support of all those participants working towards improvement across the industry. This is an ideal time for such collaboration and we are looking forward to making contributions to them, and learning from other members.
As things stand, we feel well-placed since we are growing steadily, expanding now into the Americas and cementing our reputation globally. We have a tremendous rolling innovation programme, a combination of internal and external workshops that constantly explores new features and functions, and our existing work with invoicing and product-alignment is proving particularly exciting. With a full pipeline for the remainder of the year, we should see the emergence of those initiatives into practice in 2022.
Innovation is your watchword; what are your current challenges and how are you developing potential solutions to meet them?
Our overriding challenge is keeping ahead of the market, constantly anticipating what the banks and other institutions need in order to make the most of their assets and relationships. We have done this very well in the past and we still see many gaps in the market. As I mentioned earlier, the utilisation of data and enablement of complex invoicing procedures for our clients are primary concerns at present and we continue to evolve and extend our existing solutions.
Broadening our appeal is always important to us and we are taking MYRIAD to different audiences that can benefit from its extensive capabilities. We are tailoring our approach to the risk, regulatory and compliance communities and highlighting its fundamental data management capability. To this end, our current marketing efforts include the sponsorship of a White Paper that highlights the relevance of network management data to the risk management function and to compliance with regulations that affect our clients. This has been published in association with A-Team Group and we think it is both illuminating and thought-provoking.
We have a wealth of expertise in the form of ex-Network Managers in the company, so we are very well positioned to understand the thinking and concerns of our Clients and Prospects alike. Often, they make their challenges known to us and these become ours to address and develop the solution for them. The contacts and friends we have in the industry means that we can draw on a vast pool of talent to support our Research and Development. Their interests and ours are mutual and such collaboration is invaluable in providing the industry with truly innovative, practical and useful technology.