Hi RegTech Women, Nicola Cowburn here with the latest RegChats blog.

Acquisitions are rife in RegTech. Hot off the back of news that Moody’s plans to acquire Vienna-headquartered kompany in the first quarter of 2022, I had a chat with Chief Operating Officer and Board member Johanna Konrad.

Nicola: Hi Johanna, tell us about yourself and your role

Johanna: As Chief Operations Officer at kompany I’m in charge of operational functions including finance, planning, accounting, HR and legal. For historical reasons I’m also responsible for customer support, which is part of our service function. We had an international remit from the outset and have grown from eight people when I joined in 2015, to sixty-five now. The kompany platform delivers audit-proof business verification and KYC, operating a network of primary source information on more than 115 million companies across 200 jurisdictions.

I also deal with shareholders. I have spent the past six years fundraising and scaling the business and have been actively involved in the planned acquisition of kompany by Moody’s. Previously I was in mobile communications, initially in Vienna, then in the UK working at Vodafone before getting involved in establishing two small businesses.

I stumbled into RegTech. I learnt about anti money laundering (AML) and compliance, and the importance of reliable information, which I found very interesting. We have built a network of real-time connections to commercial registers, banking registers and other sources that enable financial institutions and other compliance providers to retrieve and evidence AML information, to support their compliance processes.

Nicola: What trends and opportunities are you seeing in RegTech right now?

Johanna: Throughout the pandemic there has been a significant increase in digitisation and automation, enabling employees to remain connected and efficient. I’ve also seen a move towards more perpetual monitoring and KYC/KYB processes. It’s crucial that information sources and the systems that process that information are fully integrated to allow dynamic, ongoing checks, rather than periodic reviews.

I’m also seeing the payment industry beginning to catch up with the banks. Time is money, so manual processes are being replaced with optimised digitised processes. If merchant onboarding can be reduced to two days, for example, you can begin generating revenues immediately. Regulatory pressure is continually increasing, with greater scrutiny around the type of information that is permissible, and how it can be accessed.

Technology has an important part to play in improving compliance processes and outcomes. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology will bring great value to compliance by creating an immutable audit trail that facilitates compliance and enables more productive and proactive dialogue with regulators.

Over the past 12 months there has also been a lot of consolidation in the RegTech sector. There are many different steps within the compliance journey, with different partners playing important roles, but it's very fragmented today. Acquisitions and partnerships are enabling firms to offer more complete solutions, which is a positive development.

Nicola: Tell us about your role in the RegTech space 

Johanna: I started out with no KYC/KYB experience, apart from what I had seen for myself when opening a personal or company bank account. When I joined kompany I immersed myself in different regulatory frameworks, starting with Europe and then learning about other regions. I think it's been super interesting to see the pace of change, even within pre-existing structures. Black boxes exist in some regions still, but it is encouraging to see many commercial registers adapting very quickly to new requirements and leveraging APIs that work really well. The speed and impact of change in RegTech is what kept me engaged.

Also, being part of a start-up then a scaleup business is a roller coaster ride that isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoyed it because you quickly see the results of what you do. It is characterised by immediate feedback, internally and from customers, and you have flexibility to do things differently every day.

Nicola: What one thing would make the RegTech world a better place? 

Johanna: A more integrated approach is required. Not just on a user level, but regulators could also work more closely with RegTech providers to accelerate progress. This is already beginning, especially in the UK and Singapore, with collaborative initiatives to effect change. Increased interaction and wider stakeholder engagement is super important.

Nicola: What advice would you give to your fellow RegTech women about succeeding as a woman in the industry? 

Johanna: In financial services compliance there are already quite a lot of women actively involved. It's a good place to be because you're not alone. Sometimes technology is seen as a barrier to joining the industry, but if you’re not from a technology background it shouldn’t be an obstacle, it certainly hasn’t been for me. You don’t have to be a RegTech expert to excel in it. At kompany we have really embraced diversity, bringing together a combination of people from very different backgrounds into the business – from financial services compliance, the IT sector, business information industry and more. There are opportunities for everyone, so don’t rule yourself out without exploring the possibilities.

In my career I have benefited from a lot of coincidences. I never had a master career plan, I worked on the basis that I should go where my interests lay and then my career would evolve in the right direction. I've always been enthusiastic about dynamic environments. If things didn't happen fast enough, I looked for other challenges and opportunities. There were people along the way that were really good role models – not so many women in telecommunications where I started, unfortunately, but men can be great role models too.

Nicola's takeaways:

  • A key trend in compliance is the transition from ad hoc static reviews to continuous, dynamic monitoring, for complete and up to date oversight. RegTech has a significant role to play in supporting this transformation.
  • Continuing to rely on manual processes to monitor and manage compliance is no longer sustainable. Financial institutions must embrace technology to bring efficiency at scale and ensure they can evidence compliance to regulators.
  • Increased collaboration between regulators and RegTech providers would enable all stakeholders to better support financial institutions in their quest to comply.
  • You don’t always have to follow a grand career plan to find the best role for you. Welcome the support of great mentors, and if a sector, topic or particular firm especially interests you, follow your instinct.
  • You don’t have to be a technology expert to work as a woman in RegTech.
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