The financial services industry - including insurance and asset management - is undergoing a shift towards seeing data as an asset and embracing cloud technology. The Covid-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for these changes as organisations have been forced to adapt to a new way of working.
James Ryder - Principal Client Manager for Coeo's Financial Services team - and Justin Langford discuss recent trends they have seen within finance organisations.
James said: "If we look at some of the retailers that are offering financial services products, retail has always been very experience-led. So it's about creating that rich customer experience and we, as consumers, expect that.
"So, as a consumer of insurance, why shouldn't I have that seamless experience where the insurer understands me as a customer? We have higher expectations these days and that's only going to continue as we move forward."
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Hi and welcome to the next edition of the Coeo conversations podcast. Today, we're focusing on data in financial services and insurance, and I'm joined by my colleague, James. James, do you mind introducing yourself?James Ryder:
Thanks Justin. It's great to be on the podcast. This is my first one ever, so really excited to be a part of it. My name is James Ryder. I joined Coeo about four months ago as a principal client manager, working with a number of organizations in the financial services and insurance industries.Justin Langford:
Great. And do you mind sharing a little bit about your career journey and history leading up to you joining Coeo? Why do you think Coeo was a good career move and good place for you for the future?James Ryder:
Sure. So I'm going to go back to my university days. So actually started at Bournemouth Uni back in 2007. And in fact, Justin you when there didn't you, I understand?Justin Langford:
Yeah, that's right.James Ryder:
Yeah. And also I've since learned that Coeo uses Bournemouth as a feeder university to bring in young talent into the organization. Now that wasn't my path into Coeo. I actually did a placement year at Microsoft as part of my degree and actually, Justin, that's where we met back in premiere field engineering. So, that was our first encounter. After that I went back to university, finished my degree and rejoined Microsoft on the graduate scheme and spent 10 years in various roles within Microsoft services, but working with clients in the financial services and insurance industry, so that gave me a really great start to my professional working career. But I got to a point where curiosity got the better of me and I needed to see what else was happening outside the big, bad world of Microsoft. So I joined an applications and infrastructure focused managed service provider called Ensono back in 2017. And that again gave me some really great experience working with clients outside of FSI, but also different technologies as well. Having only worked at Microsoft, I didn't have this appreciation of the types of technologies, other technologies that organizations use. So, Ensono supported everything from mainframe all the way through to public clouds and everything in between. So that, that was great. And then yeah, last year saw the opportunity pop up on LinkedIn actually at Coeo and two things that really jumped out for me. One was the opportunity to work in a smaller business. So something that I had not done before, you know, going from big corporate and Ensono had about two and a half thousand people. So a smaller business like Coeo, that really appealed, but also being back in that Microsoft and FSI ecosystem. So whilst I enjoyed being out of that, I really felt like I could bring some experience to bear in the role. So yeah, here we are today.Justin Langford:
Very good. Awesome. And you've made a great impact in just the short time that you've been with us and really excited about the future as well. So thinking about financial services at Coeo, that means different things to different people, and I'm sure it meant different things at Microsoft and Ensono. Do you mind just kind of giving an overview of what FS&I financial services and insurance at Coeo means?James Ryder:
Sure. So it's a broad industry and within Coeo we predominantly work with organizations in the insurance and asset management space. So from an insurance perspective, that's everything from direct insurers to brokers, to the re-insurance market. So Lloyd's of London effectively. And within asset management, there are firms ranging from 15 billion to 250 billion assets under management. So a really diverse set of customers, which is really exciting.Justin Langford:
Cool. There's a pretty wide range of size and scale of even asset managers there that you mentioned. What sort of similarities have you observed between those clients?James Ryder:
Two main things, really, so far. One is they're all on their transformation journey. You know, if we think about the industry, it's been very traditional. If you think about when I was at Microsoft and the advent of public clouds, FSI organizations were typically slower in adopting some of those platforms and services to other industries and really over recent years, that's started to accelerate and, you know, we're seeing organizations having to rapidly transform and actually the pandemic has helped to act as a catalyst for that. But one of the main things and being new to data is that all of these organizations, regardless of size, really recognize data as a key differentiator. So they see it as an asset. It doesn't sit on the balance sheet, but they see it as something that they can really use to help accelerate time-to-value for their organization, whether that be from a revenue perspective or taking cost out of the business or managing organizational risk or regulatory risks. So yeah, they're really on this journey to become data-driven.Justin Langford:
Great. And I definitely recognize that in the clients that I've been engaged with where, particularly in the asset management space, previously the kind of investment platforms were home grown and self-developed, and that created a very high barrier to entry for the market, which meant that it was difficult to disrupt that market, frankly, and nowadays there's a bunch of SaaS providers that offer those investment platforms, which means that that barrier to entry has been removed. And that has driven the need for these organisations to get closer to their clients and closer to the investments and really understand the data better and make better decisions and determine the expected returns from those investments and present that data in a rich and engaging way to their clients, such that that's actually an asset as a differentiator and a reason why a client will go with an asset manager A over asset manager B, and that is driving rapid innovation and an investment in data and trying to get value out of that data to their clients.James Ryder:
Yeah. And it's interesting, there's convergence across industries. So if we look at some of the retailers, that are offering financial services products, you know, retail has always been very experience-led. So it's about creating that rich customer experience. And we as consumers expect that. So, as a consumer of insurance, why shouldn't I have that same rich experience, that seamless experience where the insurer understands me as a customer? They understand how I, how I live, how I work, how I travel, that kind of thing. So, we have higher expectations these days and that's only going to continue as we move forward.Justin Langford:
Yeah. And you mentioned the impact of COVID, what're your observations or thoughts on how FSI organizations have been impacted in the past 12, 13 months?James Ryder:
Yeah. Like many industries they had to pivot to remote working very quickly. I think that a lot of organizations, not just in FSI, surprised themselves with how quickly they were able to pivot and adapt to that new way of working in short order. So, I think Satya Nadella talks about the two years of transformation happening in two months in some cases, what that's done is really put IT on the map with a lot of the business stakeholders within organizations. So often IT's seen as a disabler rather than an enabler. So the fact that they were able to provide these productivity tools and everything that was needed to adapt to the new way of working has really helped to showcase what IT can deliver in terms of tangible value. Also though, what I think it's done conversely, is shine a real spotlight on where there are challenges within organizations. So, operational processes, that kind of thing, think things that would happen in an office or things that would happen in front of a client and that perhaps didn't transition as well to the virtual world. It's really highlighted where some of those inefficiencies are and I think what that's created is this renewed focus on some cost savings. And, you know, whilst we're trying to balance this, keep the lights on, but also acceleration of change and transformation. How, do you balance all of that? So, I think that's what we've seen off the back of the pandemic.Justin Langford:
Yeah. Interesting. And I think no industry is untouched and some industries have been devastated, the hospitality and travel. And other industries have benefited- the home delivery networks and the like- but every industry has been impacted and there will be a new normal that's for sure. You know the days of going into the office five days a week and productivity being measured by the hours that you spend at your desk have gone. And you know, that there's a lot of legacy in financial services and tradition in the way that it works in the City of London, where this has really been a catalyst, as you say, to find a new way of working and prove out those methods and practices.James Ryder:
And a good example is if we think about Lloyd's of London. So the Underwriting Room in the centre of London and how everyone would congregate in there. That was the first closure of physical trading in the insurance market in over 300 years. So, it's just unbelievable. They can't go back to that way of working and they've been able to pivot to using video calls and electronic trading platforms since that closure, but now as they plan for the reopening of the Underwriting Room that's going to look and feel very different to how it was. There's even talk about not going back to the traditional dress code of fully suited and booted. So yeah, a lot of things were changed. And in fact, I remember you've got a really nice example from the days in Lloyd's of London and the Leadenhall Market, which would probably be interesting for our listeners.Justin Langford:
Exactly. I remember a story from a underwriter where he described a situation that the landlord at the Lamb Tavern, one of the pubs in the centre of Leadenhall Market provided a service of returning the bordereau reports, the actual card files that had been left behind in his pub. So the next morning he employed someone that would distribute those bordereau reports back out to the, to the individual insurers and reinsurers. To provide that service where they could overcome people overlooking that and leaving those files behind. So, hopefully the Lamb Tavern will return and the vibrancy of Leadenhall Market will return, but hopefully people won't be leaving bordereau reports laying around anymore because we'll have found a new way of working. And that kind of brings me on to thinking about recovery from the pandemic. And there's a lot of eyes on speed of vaccine rollout and speed of recovery. I'm keen to get your thoughts around the role of data in the recovery, from the pandemic, what are you seeing in the, in the customers and accounts that you're engaged with?James Ryder:
So, it's really interesting actually, because whilst we've now, you know, the vaccine rollout is going really well. We've got the roadmap, there's some light at the end of the tunnel. There still is a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the market. So really what that's driving is stakeholders within organizations needing to have quick access to data, to be able to make better, more timely decisions than they've ever been able to before. So, it's no longer good enough to, um, yeah, I think about one of the clients that I spoke to when I first joined who at the month end are doing their financial reporting and it takes them 12 working days to get the data out of the appropriate systems and reports. They need to be able to complete that. That's just not sustainable anymore, especially in the current climate. So, yeah, this need for real-time data, to be able to look at what's happened in the past, Microsoft call it analytical power, but also this predictive power, so that's about looking into the future. So modeling different scenarios: what happens if the pace of the vaccine rollout slows down, what impact would that have? And how does that impact travel and therefore insurance and all these different scenarios that organizations need to start thinking and planning for? No-one was prepared for what happened with the pandemic. So now it's about being as prepared as possible and then being able to respond and react as quickly as possible in uncertain times.Justin Langford:
And I remember a phrase, I don't remember where I heard it or read it, but the author, described the pandemic as"survival of the adaptable". Those people, those organizations that are able to pivot and change their business model. But you know, to your point about descriptive versus predictive analytics, there are still lots of organizations with a very low level of maturity and effectively driving on the rear view mirror. Knowing where you've been is interesting, but that's not nearly as interesting and important, particularly at a point of economic instability and volatility in the markets and all the other things that we've uncovered that means that the role of data. As business leaders, we have to make decisions on incomplete data every day, but how do we make that picture more complete and how do we get more accurate? How do we make a prediction and then learn and refine that prediction as we go forward? And that's really the opportunity that data presents and lots of organizations sit on loads of this data and they don't really capitalize on that to help them make better decisions. And part of this is technical, but part of it is cultural and process-based with the client you described with a 12 working day turnaround on their reporting. You know, people have got to recognize that that's not good enough in 2021, and there are better, smarter ways of running an organization of any type. So I think we've talked about a lot of the challenges, but are there any kind of common patterns and pain points that you see across the customers that you're working with?James Ryder:
Yeah. So I'll take asset management first, as an example. So bear in mind that they've got teams across the front middle and back office that all face significant data challenges. A lot of what they've done historically has been manual, has been paper- or Excel-based. So just from a pure resource perspective, there's operational inefficiency there, there's room for human error, there's all of these different challenges. And back to client expectations, you know, if you've got an investor relations team that needs to understand what's happening within the portfolio companies to report back, they need to be able to do that quickly. They need to have good quality data to inform that. So again, that's been a catalyst and even from an investment point of view, so there's a big push now around sustainable investing. So, in the ESG space, so looking at alternative data sources to assess different assets and where those investments are made, and often they're operating now on much thinner margins, dependent on the asset class. So again, it's all about being able to use the data, to drive those efficiencies and give the client a better experience. It's going to retain them and deliver them that, that return. So that that's an asset management example. In Insurance, I think about technologies such as IoT. So if we look at what's happened in the car insurance market and home insurance where telematics have been used to provide customers with different products that are much more based around how they drive or monitoring what they've got in their home, how likely is it that your boiler is going to break down or what have you, which will then inform the insurance premium. But as we move forward and we go into a hybrid way of working and people's travel patterns will change, and what have you, then the insurance organizations are going to have to think about more fluid concepts, in terms of how they provide services and products that fit around people's new lifestyles across those three areas we talked about early in terms of work, life, lifestyle, that kind of thing. So I think that's going to be really interesting and it's going to be a case of who can probably bring products to market the quickest rather than get it perfect. And that's what that's going to grab people's attention. And especially with the younger generation as well, who want to interact through digital channels and that kind of thing.Justin Langford:
I think that you just reminded me, I was thinking about the pace of change, and the pace of change in the last 12 months has really been phenomenal because this has really been a disrupt or be disrupted kind of moment for lots of organizations. And that reminded me of when I heard Bill Gates speak. He did a world tour. It was 10 years ago'cause it's just been Microsoft's 45th birthday and Bill Gates stepped down from the CEO role at the 35th anniversary. So that must be 10 years ago. And he did a world tour and presented in cities around the world. And I was fortunate enough to hear him present when he visited London. And one of the observations or lessons that he gave during that presentation was that the pace of change is increasing. And as he looked back over the 35 years that Microsoft had been running and he looked forward to the next 30 years, the time between an idea and execution had reduced significantly. And I think that what you're describing absolutely proves that to be true and kind of validates that right now. So data is a big part of how organizations make those decisions around pivoting and their evolution. And that's very prominent in financial services, but relevant in every industry. So I think that there's a strong case of a need for change and a need for investment and using data as an asset. Lots of businesses will know that they need to do something and there are a hundred things that they could do. How would you recommend that they kind of get started on that journey and where, where do you recommend they get started?James Ryder:
Yeah. So start with the business. So start with, what are the biggest pain points? You know, what is the business actually... well, there's pain points, but also what is the business trying to achieve? And it's finding a balance of thinking and doing. So it's important to have a strategy, have a plan that's going to keep you focused and not, you know, be too scattergun and a busy fool- I've heard that term used quite frequently- but start small. So pick a use case that's linked to a business problem that you think can be solved through doing something different with data. So, you know what questions can't be answered today of the data that's available and work back from that and have the mindset of fail fast. So don't expect the perfect outcome straight out of the gates, you know, fail fast and move on. So take the learnings and move on to the next thing. Equally though, it's important to think about things like governance, and you talked about it earlier, but there's a whole cultural shift. So it's not just about technology and just deploying a great solution. It's how does the whole business go on that journey? How would you ensure you've got data literacy across the organization? There's a common understanding of some of the terms used that's really important and that you've given the right people, the right access to the data as well. Because again, from a customer perspective, whilst we have these high expectations, we also expect ironclad privacy as well. So we don't want to find that our data has been used incorrectly or shared incorrectly or something like that. So, it's finding that balance.Justin Langford:
We've definitely been involved in a number of projects and I can think of several in insurance where that firm's first foray into cloud is by landing a data warehouse in the cloud and an analytics solution. And, that is quite... You know, as a CSO, responsible for information security in that organization to have your customer client risk data in the cloud is kind of like the worst scenario from them from a risk perspective. So they want to make sure that we've got all of the features and capabilities enabled to protect and secure that data. And ultimately they do understand that data in the cloud is more secure, can be more secure than data in their own data center, because the measures and investment that Microsoft has put in place often dwarf the investment that an individual organization can have in the broom cupboard in their data center in the UK. So, once they appreciate that, they become more confident and comfortable, I guess. And, another reflection, your story about pain points and identifying value triggered another analogy or memory for me, which is when Henry Ford invented the Model T, the first mass produced car. Someone asked him during an interview, what made the Model T so successful and he responded by saying, if you'd asked users what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse and he knew that the answer was a car. And I think exactly to your point around data, we have a responsibility and a role to play as IT professionals in understanding the business pain points and challenges, but also challenging back to the business around our aspiration should not be to automate and systemize existing manual processes, but to look at what is the problem that we're trying to solve and what is the smartest, most low friction approach to solve that problem rather than blindly replicating a manual process in a cloud platform?James Ryder:
Mm, yeah. Agreed. And I heard, I'm not sure where it came from, but a really nice sort of statement really, or guiding light that says, the value we bring is not in the answers we give, but in the questions we ask. That I think supports, supports that point entirely.Justin Langford:
Exactly. So, bringing the conversation closer to home, what do you think we've learned as an organization at Coeo through the pandemic?James Ryder:
It's still early days for me. So in the last four months, I think we're seeing, we've been fortunate in that the business has grown. So there's definitely demand in the market for the services that we provide. There's a lot of value that we can bring to our clients. We're seeing that in the feedback we're receiving. So it's learning to be adaptable, to I think, focus on things that you can control and influence and not worry too much about the things are outside of your control. But also to balance that there is the challenge of, and not just to Coeo, but where we've all moved to remote working there's this expectation almost, and I'm not sure where it's coming from, but that we're always on. We're always at our desks. We're always online. We're always available on Teams and that can lead to burnout and fatigue and you don't always do your best work if you're back-to-back in meetings. So, something that we started earlier this year, which has really resonated with me and I've enjoyed being part of is, an Active 21 challenge. And this is about, all organizations have got a duty of care towards the w ellbeing of their employees, but especially at the moment in the current working environment, t aking time away from the screen. So we're all being encouraged and it isn't mandatory, it's completely down to the individual as to what they're comfortable doing, but we can go and spend 30 minutes a day, exercising, outdoors, whatever we like to do, w alking, running, cycling, rowing, et cetera. And it's really brought the t eam together, given us a common goal to work towards. Initially it started as having an aspiration to travel the equivalent distance of visiting all of our clients. I think we absolutely smashed that goal in the first month, January. So we've been continuing to extend that month o n month, and it's really brought teams who are physically remote a nd the new j oiners like me actually, who have joined through the pandemic who are remote, who haven't met anyone face-to-face. I feel like I've got to know people, not just in a work context, but also through activities we're doing outside, sharing pictures on the WhatsApp group, et cetera. So it's really helped, I think,Justin Langford:
Yeah, I think it's been brilliant and far exceeded my expectations in terms of how well the whole team have embraced it. And, you know, we were keen to design a program. We've got a pretty broad range of how healthy and active people are, from regular marathon runners, triathletes iron men individuals to people that are not active in any way. So trying to create a program and initiative where there's a collective goal and everyone can contribute to that in whatever way, whether that's walking, cycling, rowing, running, they can contribute. And it's helped us get to know each other a bit better and a different aspect of each other's lives because seeing photos of people and their walks and where they live, sometimes with their family, you know, that's really created an opportunity and a dimension that we wouldn't otherwise have enjoyed. So, turning that pain point of the work intensity and screen time into a benefit of trying to create, you know, insert a break deliberately and empower and give everyone permission to take some time away. But ask them to contribute to a joint goal has been really good, I think. So, thanks for your support and participation in that. So finally, in closing, we have asked every guest on the podcast to make a recommendation of a resource for listeners, something that they found personally beneficial or useful. Have you got any thoughts around something that you would like to recommend?James Ryder:
Yeah, it's slightly different one actually it's a resource of resources. So, I've always been quite into listening to audio books and also reading the Kindle, et cetera, but where we have not been commuting and I've had the time on the train or in the car to do that. I've found that I've not been able to do it as much as I'd like. So, I came across an app called Headway and what it does is it consolidates loads of different non-fiction books into 15 to 20 minute chunks, consumable chunks for the entire book. And you can either listen to or read it. So loads of different genres and, whether it's personal development, professional development, what have you. But yeah, it's not specific to data, but I would recommend it because where we're kind of stress rich and time poor, it's a way of just in those 20 minutes, or even when I'm out doing my Active 21, I can squeeze a whole book into that time. And you pick up a few nuggets from it. So, highly recommended.Justin Langford:
That sounds a big productivity gain and you can get the richness of the insights and the nuggets without enduring the full book. So that sounds a win-win. Great. It's been brilliant having you on the podcast, James, thank you very much for joining us today. And I'm looking forward to 2021 and data being a big part of growth and driving us out of the pandemic. Brilliant.James Ryder:
Thanks for having me, Justin.