I spent the first 25 odd years of my IT career since 1981 working in mainframe companies (yes! there was such a thing!), and since 1999 in the UK in large scale institutional firms like The Pru, Marsh McLennan and Barclays. In 2009 I rather unexpectedly found myself as the CTO of an $8Bn listed Hedge Fund. Now that sounds very grand, but actually most Hedge Funds are actually really quite small businesses from a headcount and IT spend perspective. We had 250 staff and spent about £4m p.a. on IT.
In the cost saving focussed context of a post GFC financial services world, it became blindingly obvious to me that most small to medium UK Financial Services businesses (and there are literally thousands of them) simply would not be able to cost justify the expense of running their core IT infrastructure elements (such as email and file services etc.) and against the backdrop of the newly beginning Cloud Hype Cycle – Behind Every Cloud was formed.
The 8+ years since then included the definition and industry ratification of BEC’s Clover index as the Gold-Standard specialised financial services focussed Cloud Services Provider benchmarking standard, and we won some awards too which was nice.
We now find ourselves in 2017, and Cloud is very much a reality. Whilst the Financial Services sector in the UK has on the whole been slow to adopt this change, it is now accepted wisdom that the majority of commodity ubiquitous IT functions can now be procured more cost effectively, more reliably and more securely from Cloud Services Providers.
But that’s just the beginning of the story.
You see whilst these commoditised functions are not typically best delivered using an “in-house” team, there are a great many very specialised functions within the plethora of types of Financial Services firms that are not yet at all being addressed and serviced by Cloud Services Providers. These are the high value functions that truly differentiate these firms.
If the transition to Cloud is to TRULY bring value to the Financial Services sector, then IT Services Providers need to start to really immerse themselves in these very specialised worlds of our various industry sub-sectors.
The demands, expectations, benefits and constraints associated with Cloud adoption by an Insurance firm for example, are very different from those of an Asset or Investment Manager, and those in turn are different from the needs of a Venture Capital, FX trader or Private Equity firm. Further, the demands and needs of an Algorithmic or Low Latency trading strategy, are far different from those of a Long Only Hedge Fund. You get the idea.
It is my view that increasingly, Financial Services firms justifiably will expect their IT outsourcing and Cloud Services Provider partners to start to take on, and add value to the higher layers of the IT stack – they will initially value, increasingly expect and eventually demand value add in the layers where their businesses truly differentiate from their competitors. They will expect their CSPs to not only intimately understand their challenges – but also to actually come up with innovative solutions. CSPs will increasingly need to recruit FS specialists to compete in this world, and to invest in the development of solutions that are “high-value”.
But historically IT firms (with the notable exception of very specialised niche market Software Vendors) have been straight out woeful at understanding (let alone adding genuine value to) the businesses of their Financial Services Clients. They typically run around citing the name of the latest regulatory challenge as a means of engaging a client in discussion, but the conversation quickly descends to their comfort zone – “So, do you wanna buy some Tin/Cloud?”. They don’t explore ways of actually helping their clients address their specific requirements – that is left to the client side of the relationship. But there is a terrific saying in business: “Get Big, Get Niche, or Get Out”. CSPs who wish to succeed in FS – need to go with “Option 2, thanks Jerry”.
So whilst the UK’s Cloud Services Providers and Public Cloud providers have ticked the easy box (the generic Infrastructure as a Service layers that everyone uses) they have substantially more work to do to to really begin to add value to the highly specialised niches and business models that exist within UK Financial Services.
It is with this goal in mind that I have accepted a request by the CIF to become the Founding Chairman of the Cloud Industry Financial Services Special Interest Group – and my goal for the immediate future is to focus on helping close this gap.
I have defined our mission for the next few years as follows:
“To provide an environment of constant interaction and dialogue between UK Cloud Services Providers who wish to focus on the Financial Services sector, and Financial Services firms themselves, within which we can iteratively strive toward the development by UK CSPs of a much more specific and focussed set of value propositions for the UK Financial Services Market.”
I want this forum to be innovate, inclusive and educational, and populated by the many who come to learn from thought leaders from both sides of the discussion – Finance and IT. We have the good fortune to reside within one of the most diverse and successful Financial Services communities on the planet, and we now need to embrace Cloud Services to advance the sophistication of our various markets at pace. In the same way that London is now the global capital of FinTech and Block Chain, I want London to be the global leader for all things in those very specialised zones where the sub-sectors of Finance and Cloud meet.
If you think you have something of genuine and unique value to add to this discussion – please reach out to me – my role is just to facilitate and get the discussion moving forward at pace. Exciting times are ahead for UK Financial Services and the Cloud Providers who service them. My new contact email for this specific role is firstname.lastname@example.org