Fintech Interviews

Global Fintech Interview with Ram Nagappan, CIO at BNY Mellon Pershing

Global Fintech Interview with Ram Nagappan, CIO at BNY Mellon Pershing

Please tell us about your role and the team / technology you handle at BNY Mellon Pershing. How did you arrive at BNY Mellon Pershing?

I am a technologist at heart and have been working in the field for more than 30 years.

As the Chief Information Officer for BNY Mellon | Pershing, I oversee the firm’s technology strategy and deployment of digital, experience-centric wealth management solutions.

As a technologist, I’m always excited about innovation and new technologies. Over the course my career, I have been fortunate to work in projects which were at the forefront of innovation in our industry. I am proud to count building the first-ever market making system outside of an exchange floor, trading system and ticker plants among those projects.

I first joined Pershing to be part of a team building the firm’s order management system and the firm’s market making system. Later, I worked on building the first online trading platform (PC Financial Network, which became DLJ Direct) — a significant market disruptor. Over the years, I was supported by a great team which enabled us to launch award-winning, open architecture-based wealth management products (NetX360, NetXInvestor, NetXServices) in the U.S.

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Tell us more about BNY Mellon Pershing and how your business model evolved during the pandemic months?

Business continuity and resiliency is a top priority and a strategic focus for our organization, and BNY Mellon Pershing has weathered many crises and natural disasters over our long history.

We regularly conduct stress tests on our systems to be prepared in the event of a crisis. And while no one could have prepared for what we went through in the past year, having the right systems and procedures in place allowed us to pivot very quickly, with no disruption when COVID-19 was declared a global health pandemic.

From the very start we had three priorities: 1) migrating our employees to remote work and helping to protect their safety, 2) keeping up our systems up and running while the market was extremely volatile and 3) helping our clients as they transition their business operations to a remote set up.

Within a matter of days, we had approximately 95% of our global employee base working remotely. Simultaneously, we were experiencing trading volumes that were 3-4 times the peak volume that we had seen in the past. The investments we made in our infrastructure, operating platforms and information security enabled us to support this broad-scale remote working arrangement while keeping our systems up and running in an unprecedented environment.

The past year proved to be a big lesson for everyone. It demonstrated that future success will rely on organizations’ ability to act with agility; accelerate investments in innovation and digitalization to succeed in a remote-first world, and enhance preparedness.

To that end, we have accelerated our investments in two main areas since the pandemic: 1) Remote-first operations –assessing the digital maturity of operational processes and transitioning manual and in-office processes (e.g., handling of physical checks) to a remote environment, and 2) Adoption of digital tools – improving the adoption of digital solutions among clients (e.g., e-signature, e-authorization for asset movements, e-delivery etc.).

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Tell us more about your latest announcement and how it would benefit your customers?

Our next generation integration portal, the NetXServices portal, is part of our ongoing effort to deliver clients better efficiencies, deeper access to the solutions available on our platform, and better experiences.

NetXServices is a reimagined portal that builds on our existing integration capabilities. It provides complete transparency into our full set of integrations, making it easier and faster for clients to access the full spectrum of technology capabilities on the Pershing platform.

NetXServices also marks our foray into microfront ends, which are essentially screens that can be lifted from our platform and plugged into any third-party environment, instantly absorbing the characteristics of that environment.

Ultimately, our new portal is designed to empower firms—from fintechs to large enterprises—to rapidly deploy next generation applications for their clients.

How would NetXServices influence the global fintech markets? What kind of capabilities are you offering to the fintechs?

We are offering fintechs an unparalleled opportunity to access our full set of solutions so they can focus on the specific problem they are looking to solve.

Our new portal offers a convenient way for fintechs and start ups to tap into Pershing’s full suite of capabilities, including what we believe to be one of the fastest account opening capabilities in the market (on more than 100 available registration types), real-time trading and order management, real-time portfolio holdings and balances, and execution across a variety of asset classes.

NetXServices also affords access to capabilities offered through BNY Mellon Marketplace, including recently launched real-time electronic payment solution, as well as BNY Mellon ESG Data Analytics, Cash Management, and Card and Account Management solutions, among many others.

Ultimately, our focus is to create an ecosystem for fintechs and startups to build new, cutting-edge solutions around our platform, leveraging our integration capabilities.

With this new offering, we are essentially giving fintechs a playground from which to invent and drive their unique solutions.

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Tell us more about your digital forward, open architecture. How do you leverage the latest HPC and AI capabilities to improve customer experience?

Enhancing client experience and driving ongoing innovation for our clients is a strategic imperative for our firm.

We are conducting regular meetings with clients to keep a pulse of their emerging needs and assess our solutions and technology strategy considering those changing needs.

The past 16 months put a stronger emphasis on digitalization and delivering an optimal experience in a remote-first environment. It led to a shift in mindset both among our clients and the investors they serve. There’s no longer a part of the client journey that doesn’t involve digital interactions.

In response to these shifts in clients’ business needs, we have created a framework to focus on digital maturity of functional capabilities to excel in customer experience and achieve operational excellence in Wealth Management. We look at the inventory of each of business process to assess our digital maturity at a functional / sub-functional level.

Maturity Level What it entails
Physical At this most basic level, most operations are paper based, reliant on manual review and processing, with limited visibility and tracking of transactions.

 

Electronic The next level incorporates information exchange via emails, task automation with user defined technology & macros. Reviews and bookings are still manual, offering limited visibility and tracking of transactions.

 

Managed At the managed level, information is exchanged digitally, but there’s no systems integration, with high potential for duplicate data entries.

 

Automated In an automated environment, information exchange is done via Application Programming Interface (API) with end-to-end system integration. This level of integration maturity involves rules-based reviews and higher straight-through-processing (STP), with integrated workflows and real-time visibility.

 

Smart The ideal state of integration is what we call ‘smart” maturity level, which is where the entire user journey is paperless, with electronic consent, automated rules and information exchanged through APIs with STP/service level agreement predictability.

Once we assess where clients are in their journey, we analyze the results to prioritize and invest in areas that are going to be most impactful in improving the client experience, operational efficiencies and risk mitigation.

How has your role evolved through the pandemic crisis? How did you stay on top of your game?

Staying connected to my team and ensuring ongoing communications with our broader tech employee base has gained new importance over the course of the pandemic. Connecting the dots for a global team that’s working from disparate locations became a critical part of my job as a leader.

Further, the pandemic put a new level of urgency in building and delivering the solutions to support our clients’ needs. We had to stay more connected than ever to clients and our teams so we could roll out capabilities as fast as possible to match the urgency of the environment we were in.

To ensure collaboration and staying personally and emotionally connected, we ramped up communications with employees and clients, leveraging a variety of communications methods, including video touch points, emails, surveys, blogs. Among them were:

‘Critical Care Playbook’ touch point with the entire team to look at our technology platform, anticipate client challenges and needs and devise strategies to help them meet their needs; accelerate production of capabilities where most needed.

Employee pulse check to get real-time feedback on employee sentiments and engagement levels—so we can take the necessary actions quickly before pain points turn into issues.

‘Beyond Horizon’ Blog to keep the team abreast of what’s happening at the leadership level, what the management is thinking, and strategic priorities for the firm—and how those priorities connect to the projects team members are working on. In the absence of our regular, in-person meetings, these blogs helped keep the team engaged and connected to the big picture.

YamJam (video) sessions with teams across the globe to create human connections among our team, understand the unique situation team members are going through in different parts of the globe, and ensure adequate support to those in need. Particularly as the pandemic rifted through the different parts of the world at different speeds and time frames, these sessions became critical for us to connect, empathize, and support each other during this unprecedented time.

One lesson you learned by working with technology and people during the pandemic?

 I have long been a firm believer that every organization needs to move from a tech-enabled business to a tech-driven business environment—and the pandemic further reinforced that belief.

It forced people to make behavioral changes and adapt and embrace technology in a way we couldn’t have imagined prior to the pandemic.

Behavioral changes that we thought would take years happened in a matter of weeks. Many tech tools that were available but hardly ever used—such as e-signature or video chat/meeting platforms—prior to the pandemic became table stakes.

And now that we have overcome that initial hesitancy and realized the benefits of these tools, there’s a new sense of excitement and interest in doing things differently—and, as a result, a significant rise in innovative growth.

Overall, the pandemic taught us all how adaptable we are and created a breeding ground for accelerated innovation.

Where is the global fintech market heading to in 2021-22? Which markets are the most prolific ones when it comes to innovation and adoption?

 In general, it is important to look at the fintech market—and, in general, technology—in terms of how they are likely to affect business and what outcomes they are likely to drive.

I see four key business impact areas for technology in the wealth management space going into 2021-22:

  • Business Model Disruption: Digital Assets

Fintechs and traditional financial services firms are all trying to be part of this cycle and learn together. Many of the firms are starting to extend their core products and services to include digital assets (e.g., payments, investments). Next phase will involve deep innovations by each of the firms within their respective verticals, e.g., Investing through crypto exchange traded funds (ETFs), consolidated reporting of assets, trading, and margins to name a few.

We at BNY Mellon announced earlier this year the formation of a new enterprise Digital Assets unit that will accelerate the development of solutions and capabilities to help clients address growing and evolving needs related to the growth of digital assets, including cryptocurrencies.

  • Growing the Capabilities: Data enabled, insights driven, hyper personalized client engagement

There has been a significant shift in the wealth advisory space. Increasingly, advisors are being asked not just to provide financial planning but also holistic advice across client’s life and financial decisions, including tax and estate planning, generational wealth transfer and health insurance etc.

Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can provide efficiencies and insights that weren’t possible before. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) can help advisors anticipate clients’ needs and offer more personalized solutions and service.

  • Improving Efficiency: Digital Augmentation / Digital Push from Service Providers

Fintechs already have and will continue to revolutionize the digital service model. This will include digital onboarding of clients, digital only banking channels, paperless/contactless authentication, and support through conversational AI/chat bots.

While the B2C segment has lead the industry in deployment of digital models, we are increasingly seeing this trend expand to the B2B and B2B2C segments.

  • Reimaging the Experience: A Remote First Operating Model with Better Collaboration Technology

Within the wealth management world, the pandemic has permanently changed the way advisors interact with investors. Moving forward, the platforms or technology used by advisors need to be set for a remote-first environment, with integrated video platforms and seamless live collaboration tools. It is no longer enough to just do video conferencing. Advisors will need to get proficient in advanced presentation techniques, annotation capabilities, and collaborating live on documents so they can gain a personal connection without physically being present.

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Insights

Your opinion on the idea of reskilling needed for fintech industry: 

We are in an age of constant change and disruption. Success in this environment requires endless curiosity, an ongoing approach to learning and reskilling, and overall ability to see the big picture and connect the dots.

For example, we are seeing an increasing convergence of health and wealth. It is no longer sufficient for fintechs to focus just on wealth, they increasingly need to understand the health issues impacting clients and build solutions that help address both.

Your prediction on the future of CIO’s role in the post-COVID world: 

CIOs are increasingly playing a pivotal role in the business.

As all aspects of doing business and interacting with clients coalesce around digital experiences and technology, CIOs are going to play an immensely important role in bringing these different pieces together.

Looking ahead, CIOs will have a bigger and more serious role in business as everything runs through technology. The pressure to deliver faster and better solutions will require new approaches as well as an acute ability to prioritize.

CIOs will need to deepen their understanding across all dimensions of business—business strategy, client needs, desired/optimal experience, and build digital/technology solutions that will help tie everything together and power the business.

Thank you, Ram! That was fun and we hope to see you back on globalfintechseries.com soon.

Ram Nagappan is the Chief Information Officer for BNY Mellon | Pershing. With more than 30 years of information technology experience, Ram oversees the firm’s technology and deployment of digital, experience-centric wealth management solutions. As a member of Pershing’s Executive Committee and BNY Mellon’s Global Operations and Technology Executive Council, he is closely involved in setting the firm’s strategic direction and actively collaborates across the enterprise.

BNY-Mellon Logo

BNY Mellon is a global investments company dedicated to helping its clients manage and service their financial assets throughout the investment lifecycle. Whether providing financial services for institutions, corporations or individual investors, BNY Mellon delivers informed investment and wealth management and investment services in 35 countries. As of June 30, 2021, BNY Mellon had $45.0 trillion in assets under custody and/or administration, and $2.3 trillion in assets under management. BNY Mellon can act as a single point of contact for clients looking to create, trade, hold, manage, service, distribute or restructure investments. BNY Mellon is the corporate brand of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation

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