Nida Rahimi-Naeem here! I’m back with another blog in the RegChats with Nida series where I catch up with RegTech luminaires who are paving the way for women in our industry in more ways the one.
In the latest in the series I had the pleasure of talking to Alex Ford, President – North America at Encompass Corporation where we spoke about hot trends, the RegTech world and advice to other RegTech women.
Nida: Hi Alex. Tell us about yourself and your role?
Alex: Great to chat with you today, thank you! I’m Alex Ford, I am the President of Encompass’ North America operation. Encompass is a Know Your Customer (KYC) automation platform, and we help banks and other regulated businesses to perform the critical tasks related to the onboarding of corporate entities in an automated way, so it drastically increases the accuracy and completeness and reduces the time taken significantly.
Nida: What trends and opportunities are you seeing in RegTech right now?
Alex: I think it’s a really interesting time in RegTech and seeing how different businesses have responded to the pandemic. In some ways, many of the things that sit behind the proposition of a RegTech businesses, like automation, the use of other technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), and the need to be able to perform roles remotely and efficiently have all been heightened during this time. That has led to a real need for RegTech being accentuated. I think that has been reflected in adoption and also in investment in RegTech over the last 18 months. We have seen some really strong rounds and announcements in recent times. Purchasing has continued - regulated businesses are still regulated businesses who have this need, but their workers might be remote, or their pressures and costs might be higher and - so the drivers to adopt technology and respond to regulation are still very strong. I think there’s a trend around adoption of technology and responsiveness to some of the pressures the pandemic has created as part of the mega-trends.
I guess, on the more personal operational side of RegTech, there are some smaller RegTech businesses, so it can be hard during the pandemic period to sustain long sales cycles and slower decision making. I think, where it’s a nascent industry for some who were at earlier stages, it has been harder, whereas, for others who were already mature businesses, it’s been a validation and growth period.
Nida: Tell us about your role specifically in the RegTech space.
Alex: I’d love to! My role is varied, and I love it for that. Working with Encompass Corporation, I’ve been really fortunate to work in Australia, UK and now the US. As the business has grown, I’ve grown and the nature of the things I’ve done in the RegTech space has changed over that time. I sit on the board of the RegTech Association, that’s led out of Australia and is an organisation that promotes the adoption of RegTech and works with all the players in the RegTech eco-system, like the regulated entities, RegTech providers, consultants and of course the government bodies, to promote the use of RegTech to solve problems.
I’ve always enjoyed working with those cross-industry groups. I was also fortunate to be involved in Scotland, when Encompass was part of dialogues and an ecosystem that helped in the setting up of FinTech Scotland driven by the Scottish Government consultations. There is such a strong community there around RegTech and FinTech - it really is a RegTech hub now, between the different global employers, incumbent FIs, FinTech’s and universities all really promoting the industry. Again as early members of Innovate Finance – it’s been an exciting time to see FinTech grow in London and watch RegTech form its own place in that conversation too. I’ve always really enjoyed that opportunity to connect the dots between public and private sectors and the different players within the eco-system. I think that there is a social benefit behind what many RegTechs do and that’s something that people are happy to collaborate around. A rising tide raises all boats so it’s easy for people to see that bigger vision when workforces are expanding and evolving while real problems are being solved. I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of what I do.
Within Encompass I relish building our business and put a lot of thought and energy into creating an environment where people can be their best. It’s an absolute privilege and a weighty responsibility. I respect my colleagues enormously and we are here, working hard together, because want to do something extra-ordinary. I feel strongly about equality and am delighted to formally and informally mentor women in our business. I also take time to contribute to internal and external conversations (sometimes quietly and sometimes more visibly) on how we can create a more equal society and workplace for women and groups who aren’t always included and considered.
I am now focusing on North America, leading our growth in that market, which is again somewhere where RegTech is really growing, with the recent report from Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions showing the true cost of compliance, which highlighted Western Europe and the US as the two growth areas. Because in KYC you have the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global body that provides consistency, to some degree, in the way people are responding to regulation, it presents a great opportunity for providers. I see, from where I sit within The RegTech Association, that most RegTech’s are born global. Like we’ve been discussing, we’re working virtually, and you serve the world from day one, so my focus now is taking Encompass to North America and growing the business there.
Nida: So not busy whatsoever, Alex!
Nida: What one thing would make the RegTech world a better place?
Alex: That’s such a tough question! I’d say continued collaboration. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) running their hackathons and sandboxes and organisations like the RegTech Association in Australia convening conversation between different parties, as just some examples. I also think that if there were more ways to de-risk technology investment decisions for financial institutions in terms of adopting RegTech, helping facilitate their adoption, would be what I would like to see.
Nida: Alex, you’re coming on to two things - but we’ll let you have it!
Nida: What advice would you give to your fellow RegTech women about succeeding as a woman in the industry?
Alex: Great question and a topic close to my heart. I love to see the work of RegTech Women - it’s a fantastic organisation. We’ve supported the organisation and the leadership group there are doing so well to pave the way. My advice would be to go full throttle, at the risk of borrowing the ‘lean-in’ cliché. In my own experience, I took up the opportunity to move overseas with the company, away from the familiar not knowing what the future held, and it included some high-pressure situations and two babies, at once – among other exciting events. You don’t know what path life will take you on but, each adventure equips you to make the most of the next. I guess I’m saying my advice is not to limit your own potential or limit your future opportunities with anticipation of what might or might not come in the future - just embrace what’s in front of you and let it unfold!
Nida: Thank you, Alex!
Speaking to Alex was really refreshing and truly inspiring, understanding her journey so far, learning more about her next steps for Encompass and breaking into North America but above all her passion for RegTech shines through! It’s safe to say she’s an absolute powerhouse. Here’s a summary of the key nuggets of information, I gleaned below from our conversation below.
- RegTech really has a vast global community and being part of that eco system and connecting the dots both inside and outside the space is so invaluable in promoting the space and raising awareness to create change.
- Seeing how the pandemic has accelerated RegTech Business adoption of AI and ML technologies, shows real room for hyper growth, given we have demonstrated we can work virtually and remote.
- Alex makes a great point about collaboration. We need more of this, the FCA are leading by example, but we need more transparent conversations like this especially between the banks and regulator
- “Don’t limit your own potential or your future opportunities with anticipation” - I love this piece of advice from Alex and feel we can all be a little guilty of this.
Make sure you tune in for our next guest blog!