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COULD YOU PROVIDE US WITH SOME BACKGROUND ON YOUR CURRENT ROLE WITHIN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR?

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Q&A with Shanker Ramamurthy, Global Managing Partner – Banking at IBM, BIAN Executive Board Member

 

Can you explain more about your recent appointment to BIAN’s Executive Board and BIAN’s role in the industry? 

I lead the banking consulting practice across IBM Consulting, focusing on banks’ digital transformation, core banking, and payments. Additionally, I am the President of the IBM Industry Academy, a dynamic and diverse community of IBM’s industry experts aiming to form new solutions to help our customers win in a constantly evolving industry landscape. The Academy offers IBMers the chance to work together and collaborate with industry experts from all areas of IBM.

Since my career began almost three decades ago, I have been lucky enough to work across six continents in various consulting and leadership roles in the financial services sector. This experience, coupled with my current role, has provided me with a unique insight into the digital trends affecting all industries and enables me to serve IBM’s financial services clients better.

BIAN stands for the Banking Industry Architecture Network. It is a collaborative, not-for-profit organization of institutions and professionals from the financial and technology industries, including leading banks, technology providers, consultants, and academics from all over the globe. Member organizations are committed to lowering the cost of banking and increasing the speed of innovation adoption in the industry. Members draw upon their combined industry expertise to define a revolutionary banking technology framework that standardizes and simplifies banking architecture to overcome limitations preventing growth and efficiency and encourage ease of management in their existing environments.1

The opportunity to become a member of the BIAN board was an invitation I could not turn down. I am honored to be part of BIAN’s executive board to provide counsel and support their work in helping financial institutions negotiate this time of immense opportunity and disruption. For the financial services industry, BIAN’s open framework, services-oriented architecture, and standards model are more critical than ever before.

 

Shanker Ramamurthy

After working in the financial services industry for a number of years, what is it that makes you so passionate about the industry? 

I am delighted to see the impact of exponential technology on financial services because these innovations provide an opportunity to bring positive change to people’s everyday lives. I am also a strong advocate for financial inclusion and emphasize its importance as part of my practice. Financial services should be accessible for all, regardless of financial means and where you are in the world. In this respect, I am committed to helping banks widen the availability of banking services and reduce the cost point of doing so.

 

The importance of financial inclusion is evident. But what measures can global banks take to increase the availability of banking services and keep cost points low?

The financial services industry still has much to do to achieve inclusive banking globally. Having said this, incumbents, fintechs and techfins have made significant investments in technology and innovation, with this end in mind. Unfortunately, we live in a world where globally, billions of people still do not have access to basic financial services. Critical areas such as payments – particularly cross-border payments – remain costly, and access to credit continues to be a challenge for so many.

Global financial institutions will find success for their own business processes and their customers through a technology and business strategy to support the bank of the future and by prioritizing innovation powered by hybrid cloud and AI. Although there is much work to be done, it is encouraging that the combination of innovation will help democratize and transform finance like never before.

 

What can banks do to prepare for the future? 

Banks are facing an evolving landscape due to COVID-19 and changing regulatory environments. This is something banks and fintechs are navigating. At the same time, the financial services industry is being shaped by new consumer trends – from the rise of a cashless society to the pandemic-driven shift towards online banking and mobile payments.

The focus on technological development to accommodate these changes will continue. The banks that succeed will be the ones who have a technology and business strategy to support the ‘bank of the future,’ in which much of the middle and back office gets almost entirely automated and focus shifts to customers and customer value-adding functions. This transition requires rapid digitization and the adoption of exponential technologies powered by the hybrid cloud and AI. BIAN has an essential role in helping banks do just this.

 

What does the shift towards digital banking, including the increasing use of mobile contactless payments by customers, mean for the bank of the future?

Digitization drives innovation, new business models, and efficiency while simultaneously enabling extreme competition from traditional and non-traditional competitors. In tomorrow’s banking eco-system model, the value is increasingly accruing from customer-facing functions supported by platform-based business models. By extension, this has meant competition from both fintech and importantly, techfins (large technology companies that are moving into the less regulated aspects of financial services such as payments, electronic wallets, BNPL – buy now pay later models and more).

Banks in the future will automate extensively, and likely extend their business models to create ‘beyond banking platforms’ to support their customers in areas outside of the traditional banking value chain. The future of such models is being written in Asia by banks such as DBS in Singapore, State Bank of India, among others as they evolve their business models to combat the growth of ‘super-apps’ like Alibaba, Tencent, Grab, Gojek, and more in that part of the world.

 

How can the industry find its footing after such a change?

Banks have several natural advantages that come from incumbency, customer loyalty, and material regulatory barriers preventing non-traditional competitors from quickly breaching their businesses. Regardless, mastering the future will require banks to ask themselves three questions:

  1. Is our strategy ambitious enough?
  2. Are we executing fast enough?
  3. Do we have the talent and capabilities to win?

Answering these questions honestly and then putting in place programs to execute relentlessly is the only way for the industry to continue to thrive and take advantage of the extensive opportunities in the near future.

 

 

Interviews

An Interview with Niall Kiernan

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TINTRA PLC FINALISES JOINT VENTURE WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE PARTNER

Niall Kiernan, Senior Director of Product Management for eCommerce and Marketplaces at Vertex

 

Tell me a bit about your career, your journey into the tax industry, and your progression towards your current role at Vertex?

“I wouldn’t say I have a classic tax background in the way that many of my peers would at Vertex. I joined Citibank in 1999, where I started to build my career as a product manager.

What the banking and payments industry gave me – especially now as we move towards a convergence of payments and tax within the eCommerce space – was a solid understanding of how payment flows work, which is critical to eCommerce and marketplaces.

Over the following five years post Citibank, I worked in the banking regulation software space, in banking book collateral management, which is a particularly complex and highly-regulated area.

From there, I moved into product safety regulation to work with some of the largest brands in retail and became very familiar with the product lifecycle, looking at areas such distribution and delivery chains. I held a position as Head of Product at a company called Taxamo, for example, which initially served digital services eCommerce businesses. It was here that I found my footing in indirect tax and developed an understanding of how it impacts the eCommerce journey – which is at the core of what Vertex does for its clients.

Joining Vertex has allowed me to expand this knowledge even further, and draw great insights from our team of subject matter experts to address new, emerging challenges for clients in the realm of indirect tax – which is constantly evolving each day.”

What does your day-to-day role at Vertex involve?

“As Senior Director for Product and Marketplace I’m responsible for the Vertex ecommerce strategy, working with various stakeholders and our exec team to ensure the strategy is robust, well understood, and flows throughout the organisation. I work very closely with the various other departments – particularly engineering on one side and our commercial organisation on the other.

Niall Kiernan

This is to ensure we’re regularly interacting with and listening to our customers, understanding their feedback, and merging that into our requirements to continuously improve our products to solve market challenges. Then, on the commercial side of Vertex, from sales to marketing, we can refine our go-to market message so that it is positioned correctly and resonating with these customers.

We’re always aiming align our marketing messaging with the conversations our sales teams are having, so that everything they’re doing matches up with the products we’ve built. Ultimately, Vertex’s goal is to deliver quality products to our customers, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that happens.”

What trends within omnichannel commerce are you currently experiencing? What are the common challenges customers are experiencing within the eCommerce and marketplace space?

“In terms of omnichannel commerce, a particular challenge for traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses is tapping into the eCommerce or marketplace channel, from a marketing perspective as well as a logistics perspective.

If a customer is buying a product online as opposed to walking into your store, this raises a multitude of issues. Where are the goods stored? How will they be transported to the purchaser? And how am I going to calculate the tax on these goods? If a customer is online, it’s difficult to determine where they are based and what taxes need to be applied.

Then, for the more sophisticated companies, from an eCommerce perspective, challenges lie in that they want to grow fast and move across borders quickly, which brings hurdles like the logistics of delivering, determining the right payment provider, and applying the best tax system. Managing these complexities is costly, so Vertex’s goal is to facilitate a frictionless tax management process so that businesses can focus their resources on expanding their reach.”

In your opinion, what encompasses a great eCommerce and marketplace strategy, to meet these challenges?

“With a great eCommerce strategy, speed is critical. In a world where we can purchase something on a phone in a couple of taps or clicks with modern technology, we become very impatient when it comes to the purchasing process. If a customer thinks they are buying something for £10, but there’s an extra tax for another £5 or an extra delivery charge they weren’t expecting, they are very quick to drop out of that purchasing cycle.

That’s why a good eCommerce strategy should encompass a fast, frictionless experience to ease the process for the buyer. Any eCommerce business or marketplace must focus on that speed and latency.

From a tax compliance and calculation perspective, what is needed is a solution that integrates with the existing buying process, taking the burden off sellers and customers.”

What is your view on where the global eCommerce sector is heading? What trends or disruptions can we expect over the next 10, 20, 50 years?

“The current trends point to a continued increase at which the speed of eCommerce is growing, as well as an optimisation of distribution chains which will further improve the buying process. Considering the likes of Google Business Message (GBM) and the advancement of AI, the process will rapidly become optimised further as these tools are more readily used.

There will also be a focus on improving the ways in which we deliver goods, for example, using drones to optimise the transportation process. Even virtual reality has the potential to allow customers to virtually walk into a shop or see how something looks without having to set foot outside the house, further optimising the purchasing experience for consumers.”

What does it mean to you to be an industry leader in the tax software sector?

“We’re very proud of who we work with at Vertex, with 60% of the Fortune 500 using our services, which gives us the scope to be trusted thought leaders in the tax software space. With 40 years in the tax industry, it’s great to see that people will come and talk to us about new ideas and opportunities for projects.

For example, we’ve recently launched a new product called Iris which helps clarify sustainability and tax compliance obligations. It’s great for Vertex to broaden out from tax calculation and determination and solve more problems in the end-to-end flow of retail and eCommerce.”

What does the future look like for Vertex?

“We know that at our core, Vertex is a tax calculation and determination business, and that’s what has helped us grow over the years, expanding from the US into international spaces. At the same time, our customers are looking more and more for an end-to-end tax management solution, and over the last couple of years, we’ve really expanded into that area.

Now, we focus on filling the gaps of the end-to-end flow so that customers know they can come to Vertex to get quality products that meet all their needs. I think in the future, we are going to look to continue that trend, and work with customers and our partners to understand what these needs are in the fast-evolving eCommerce sector.

New business models are emerging all the time – with new ways of selling, charging for and delivering products – so new regulation challenges are created as a result. As Vertex evolves, we want to continue to address these challenges and improve our products and services to ensure fast and frictionless eCommerce for businesses.”

 

 

Copyright © 2023 Vertex, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein is intended for information purposes only, may change at any time in the future, and is not legal or tax advice. The product direction and potential roadmap information is not a guarantee, may not be incorporated into any contract, and is not a commitment to deliver any material, code, or functionality. This information should not be relied upon in making purchasing, legal, or tax decisions. The development, release, and timing of any features or functionality described for Vertex’s products remains at the sole discretion of Vertex, Inc. Any statements in this release that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements as defined in the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All forward-looking statements are subject to various risks and uncertainties described in Vertex’s filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that could cause actual results to differ materially from expectations. Vertex cautions readers not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements which Vertex has no obligation to update.

About Vertex

Vertex, Inc. is a leading global provider of indirect tax software and solutions. The company’s mission is to deliver the most trusted tax technology enabling global businesses to transact, comply and grow with confidence. Vertex provides solutions that can be tailored to specific industries for major lines of indirect tax, including sales and consumer use, value added and payroll. Headquartered in North America, and with offices in South America and Europe, Vertex employs over 1,300 professionals and serves companies across the globe.

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“The Underdog to Top Dog Mentality”

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By Korosh Farazad, Co-Ceo, Farazad Investments.

  

  1. Pleasure to have you here. Please tell us about your presence being a global Boutique Investment House.

Thank you for having me.  Farazad Investments is a subsidiary of Farazad Group, and it compliments rather than competing with the other subsidiaries of the group of companies.  Mostly, 80% of the business model specialises in the Real Estate Capital Markets with a strong emphasis on the hospitality investments.  We focus on an A-Z structure, where we assist our clients with all elements of the capital stack (combination of different types of financing constitutes a mix of debt and equity instruments, each with varying levels of risk and return.), identifying hotel operators whether they are franchise operators or Hotel Management Agreements (HMA), different F&B concepts to compliment the region, theme of the operator, providing ideas and concepts for other revenue streams for the asset and not simply focused on the revenues from the room and occupancy rates.  Having the ability to operate worldwide, it allows us to cater to clients in different countries and regions.  We provide a personalized and tailored services to meet the unique needs of our clients in the real estate and hospitality sectors alongside other sectors that are not strictly hospitality driven (multi-residential, industrial, student-housing, etc.).  We have a developed expertise and deep knowledge in these areas, allowing it to offer specialized advice, strategies, and solutions. Everything is done in-house, from the initial assessment to deal structuring and execution, which allows us to take full responsibility for the work we do and always have a direct dialogue with our clients and investment partners.

The other 20% of our business model is Corporate Finance, M&A’s, and introducing qualified companies with a healthy EBIDTA and business plan, to become a public company (IPO) within their jurisdiction.

We have a very talented team of people working for the company in Hong Kong, Seoul, and London, which allows us to have a wide reach of different equity investors, lenders at our fingertips to introduce potential opportunities subject to pre-underwriting the deal to understand the validity of the transaction and its success ratio.  We currently have two companies that are going IPO in S. Korea and the other in Melbourne, Australia.  The Korean opportunity is absolutely going to revolutionise hearing aid and I think by the time this interview published, the company will be officially a public company.

  1. As of date, Farazad Investments continues its global business expansion. What are the upcoming strategies?

Let me start by saying, I never thought that the company would be in the position that it is today with roughly US$ 1 Billion in deal flow and mandates in its books, and more importantly, the expansion of the other subsidiaries, which are Farazad Advisory, Farazad Ventures, Farazad Facility Services and HYDE Recruitment (outsourcing temporary workers to Hotels across UK to fill in the labour gap post BREXIT).

Sector Diversification:  To focus on diversifying client base across various sectors. By expanding the expertise beyond a single industry, this way, we can can reduce risk and capture opportunities in different market segments.

Geographical Expansion: We are aggressively considering expanding presence into new geographical regions or markets. This would constitute establishing offices or partnerships in key global financial centres to attract a wider range of clients and access different sources of capital.

Enhanced Deal Sourcing: We have planned and now in action to develop robust deal sourcing capabilities to identify attractive investment opportunities. This may involve leveraging technology, data analytics, and networks to discover untapped markets and high-potential projects.

Specialized Advisory Services: This goes back to the subsidiary companies complimenting and not competing, our specialized advisory services that provide unique insights and value-add to clients. This includes in-depth sector expertise, customized financial solutions, and strategic guidance throughout the investment lifecycle.

Innovation and Technology: Embracing technological advancements and innovation can significantly enhance efficiency and client experience.  We have monitored this sector and have considered investing in advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, and automation tools to streamline processes, improve decision-making, and provide real-time insights to clients.

Sustainable and Impact Investing: There is a growing trend towards sustainable and impact investing. With 90% of our transaction, we have incorporated environmental, social, and governance (ESG) into our client’s investment strategy, only if one was not implemented prior to them introducing the transaction to us.  Further, we offer clients opportunities to align their investments with their values with ESG would is an imminent win for all parties.

Capital Markets Expertise: Given the mandate to raise both equity and debt financing, this requires for us to always be tuned and up to date on market trends, maintaining relationships with investors and lenders, and offering innovative financing structures tailored to clients’ needs.

Client Relationship Management: One of the core and fundamental focuses for us is building strong, long-term relationships with clients. By providing exceptional client service, maintaining open lines of communication, and understanding their clients’ evolving needs, they can foster loyalty and attract new business.

  1. As a CEO of a boutique investment house, what are the leadership and management skills you have implemented to have the team benefit from?

Clear communication: One of the most essential skills for any leader is the ability to communicate effectively with the team.  Despite the challenges this may have, I have developed a clear communication plan and ensure that everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities.

Empathy: Being an empathetic leader means understanding and acknowledging the team’s perspectives and needs while leading them towards achieving company goals. Encourage and motivating the team to speak up, listen actively to their concerns, provide solutions, and foster a safe and respectful work culture.

Focus on Goals: Focus on setting clear and measurable goals for my team so that they can strive to achieve them. These goals can further motivate them and allow them to showcase their individual strengths and work collaboratively to achieve the shared goals.

Lead by example: Leading by example is a crucial aspect of a good leader. It means that I must always  demonstrate the qualities that I want my team to embrace. Show initiative, be proactive, prompt, organized, and disciplined.

Continuously learn and develop: As a leader, it is super important to continuously teach/guide and develop their skills to become better. Encourage them to learn and grow by providing ongoing training and development opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge where and if needed. 

  1. Do you have a hobby outside of work that helps you be a better leader?

As a CEO and running several companies literally simultaneously on a day-by-day basis and making precise and calculated decisions is part of the process and therefore, engaging in hobbies or as I call it “different value-add activities” outside of work can be instrumental in enhancing leadership skills and adapting to a constantly changing world.

Reading: Cultivating a habit of reading helps broadens my knowledge and understanding of various subjects, including business, leadership, economics, technology, and global affairs. It enables me to stay informed, think critically, and make well-informed decisions in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

Physical Fitness: I maintain and try to maintain an active lifestyle through exercise or walking to my meetings and getting in my 10k steps on a daily basis, which not only promotes my well-being but also fosters discipline, resilience, and determination.

Traveling: One of the values and perks my job offers is the travelling.  I travel on average once per outside of UK; this is either day trips or overnight stays.  This most certainly allows me to experience different cultures, meeting diverse individuals, and experiencing new environments that most certainly expands my perspective and develops my adaptability.  I am proud to say, I have lived in several different countries and for me, adapting is no longer a challenge, and it is considered art!  

  1. What do you expect 2024 to bring?

To be perfectly candid, we had no idea how 2023 was going to turn out and we managed to overcome some very challenging times in terms of cost of financing, identifying different equity partners with the same vision and alignment with ours and our clients.

Of course, the specific outcomes can be influenced by various factors and are subject to market conditions and economic trends.  To continue with the positive streak and not get side tracked with the volatility of the markets and pessimism, we focus purely on

Market Conditions: The performance of the financial markets can greatly impact the activities of our group.  If the global economy continues to grow steadily, it will create a favorable environment for investment and capital raising activities. However, market conditions can be volatile and subject to various risks, including geopolitical events, regulatory changes, and economic downturns. It’s crucial to stay vigilant and adapt to changing market conditions.

Deal Flow: As of 30 May 2023, we have roughly US$ 750 million of mandates within our active pipeline. The deal flow can be influenced by market sentiment, investor appetite, and industry-specific trends. If the economic environment remains favorable, we can easily see increased activity in mergers and acquisitions, capital raising, and advisory services.

Technology and Innovation: The financial industry is undergoing rapid technological advancements, including digital transformation, automation, and artificial intelligence. Embracing these innovations can enhance operational efficiency, streamline processes, and improve client experiences, which has had integrated this year but 2024, this process will be ramped up significantly.

With the foundation that I have created just within the last 5-years has allowed the company to work seamlessly and continuously grow by average 20% on average.  This is simply with the structure, which I have explained above.

Talent and Team Development: As the CEO, last year, I started preparing and nurturing a talented and diverse team for the long-term success of the brand. Therefore, for 2024 and beyond, investing in employee development, attracting top talent, and fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration will be vital.

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