What is the Future of Finance? or is UBS a top performer?



“UBS never took enough interest in its risks”, Financial Times, 20.12.2012


Let’s start with the bad news – we did not win the Americas UBS Future of Finance challenge 2017. The good news is that we had the opportunity to pitch our RegTech vision and not less important, to get an inside look at UBS’s technology use (or lack of) in this field.

Our pitch was simple: you (UBS) need a regulatory compliance system (much like the one we’re currently offering for world laws – but much more advanced; a Smart system that can track, translate, map, compare and digest new regulatory change in less than an hour – globally. A learning system that will co-evolve with the bank systems and thus prevent future fines and minimize risk.

The justification was strait forward: according to a BCG recent report, the number of individual regulatory changes that banks must track on a global scale has more than tripled since 2011, to an average of 200 revisions per day. This is not a scale humans can handle efficiently. Hence it is no surprise that Banks paid $42 billion in fines in 2016 alone and $321 billion since 2008.

Technically speaking the Americas finals in which we participated were organized to the last detail. Though dietary options were not available (vegan, gluten-free etc.), the bank allocated relevant representatives to meet with each finalist and provide feedback on the pitch. For us these meeting felt like development meetings as the bank people offered great ideas to enhance our vision.

More importantly, it was an indication from a first-hand internal source that the bank (and other banks as well) is light years behind when it comes to RegTech and regulatory compliance. Given the bank spending in this field (in the billions) it is quite amazing and certainly was reassuring going to the pitching competition.

Inconveniently, while the mentoring session was held at the bank’s offices in Manhattan, the finals were held at the offices in New Jersey. This divide forced the candidates to move from one hotel to another and/or struggle with the massive transportation challenges that New York City has to offer.

With no expected diversity, the judges were all IT people. The America’s CEO Tom Natatil gave the opening speech but failed to stay for the actual competition. The judges were provided with feedback from the previous day mentors (ours was excellent) but did not provide any feedback or reasons for their choice of the winning pitch nor the 2nd and 3rd runners-up.

The winner, Authomate, pitched a mobile security system to allow the bank clients to log into the bank’s portal safely. While the technology may be new, this is by no means an innovative concept nor disruptive. Moreover, based on corporate logic, this will probably be the last technology UBS will adopt.

It is too early to say if the bank will be interested in our vision for the future. The same way that it was not clear whether the finalists were supposed to pitch a future venture that can be developed with the bank, or what they already have (Automate) to be used by the bank. Either way one thing was clear, as most big corporations, UBS structure is very fragmented and the chance to capture the attention of the relevant person is extremely challenging.

To summarize the experience, I would like to use the same citation I used at the end of my pitch: “Increasing regulation is here to stay – much like a permanent rise in sea level. In an era of rising regulatory seas, focus on management is mandatory, not optional. Top performers will use the opportunity to incorporate technical innovation” (BCG Report).

Whether UBS is a top performer is yet to be seen.