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Global Fintech Interview with Matthew Leaney, Chief Revenue Officer of Silent Eight

With the increased incidents of online threats and financial crimes, the right protective measures and technologies have to come together to help safeguard users and businesses; Matthew Leaney, Chief Revenue Officer of Silent Eight dives deeper in this chat:


Matthew, we’d love to hear about the Silent Eight platform…the story behind it…

The story behind our platform is a desire to solve a problem. In our case, that problem is the fact that terrorists, drug runners and other negative society elements win far too often and at the expense of those most vulnerable. Worse, we are spending more and more money globally, but still losing this battle. We’re not getting the results, despite increasing costs and manpower being used to try to solve for it.

So, we identified the key blockages to that progress:  cost and the inefficiencies of hiring a million people around the world to do what is reasonably manual work, but has to be precise and consistent and actually is perfectly suited for an AI-created model.

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Can you share a few thoughts on financial crimes today: what are some areas that financial institutions and banks should be investing in more to protect users?

In terms of financial crime today, we have to remember that the enemy is disciplined, creative, and wily. And they have almost unlimited resources in a system where crime does pay. And worse, they can afford to throw away an awful lot of their proceeds to get even just some money laundered.

So the challenge is, you’re facing an enemy with nearly unlimited resources, creativity and motivation. If they are not successful at laundering their money, then they can’t use or access their illicit funds. So they have an intrinsic, self-serving motivation to be successful. On the other hand, on our side, you have governments and political leaders (and less so regulators) that don’t always fully appreciate where technology can help.

As a result, we are seeing more institutions move towards advanced technology. If you consider mobile apps for example: Five or ten years ago, these were not the main way people interacted with their financial institutions. Now, for many people, it’s the only way they interact. So financial firms can be nimble. They can innovate. They can pivot to meet changing customer demand. We believe that they can demonstrate those same qualities when it comes to financial crimes compliance. You no longer need 5000 people anymore to do your customer and payment checks. Instead, you can reassign them into roles that capitalize on their human intuition, pair them with best in class technology,  and as a result move faster while providing solutions that use the best of technology and the best of people.

Can you share a few observations on the growing impact of AI in financial crime management today?

I think if you look at the last 10 years, AI has gotten a bad reputation, principally because it’s been over-promised and under delivered on consistently at a global scale. People have dressed up automation as AI. There’s been a lot of miscategorization and definitely a lot of overselling. But now, the technology and the capabilities have actually caught up to the sales promises. So while the messaging hasn’t changed, the reality and the ability to deliver on that messaging has fundamentally changed. And you are seeing that people understand the relationship between technology and regulatory requirements and controls an awful lot better.

Whereas once AI was maybe thought of as a change agent, as a disruptive force, now it’s grown up as a technology and we’ve grown up in how we present it. Today it’s just another tool to hit business goals. And the tools that an enterprise or business deploys should always be the appropriate one to accomplish the task and hit the respective goal.

What this means is that AI will not be the appropriate tool in all use cases, nor should it be. But it is the exact appropriate tool in some. And that’s the evolution, I think, the recabilatring of the message to actually reflect reality and not talk about AI as a catchall panacea. Rather, we should talk about the specific examples and use cases where AI is the perfect complement to existing processes and solutions.

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How do you think financial and online crimes will evolve this year (we saw a big rise in crimes through 2020); what are some ways in which you feel users should also ensure their own security at their end?

I think one of the main ways, and this is a tired comment, is to make your passwords more complicated. People do not because they don’t want to have to memorize them. They don’t want to go to a website and have google chrome not auto-fill their password. And when it doesn’t, most of us don’t want to go through the hassle of remembering a unique and complex one. It’s only 30 seconds, but resetting is perceived as a hassle in a world where we expect everything instantaneously. So the number 1 thing I think people could do is adopt proper complicated passwords.

And the second is really think before you click or when you take a call from unknown numbers. Really think before you get a text message or a call from an FI. Has your bank ever texted you before? If no, this probably isn’t your bank. If they have, does this message look like their other messages? Has your bank ever emailed you before asking you to fill in a survey?  If it hasn’t, this probably isn’t your bank. So I think criminals play on trust.  We trust our financial institutions, and that’s evident because we give them our money and access to our transactions. So, then they communicate with us that trust is maintained. And when someone is impersonating them, that trust is the avenue through which they can conduct their crimes.

So I think, pause, think about anything before you click or take any action and ask “is this consistent with my previous actions with my firm?” The biggest challenge is going to be around the capabilities around faking out people. Deepfake videos probably aren’t that relevant for these sorts of crimes, but when you look at the ability of firms to hoover up so much data about individuals, they can tailor and tailor their attack until people will think “this has  to be real. because if it wasn’t real how would they know all these things” and that i think it the biggest trend we will see going forward: The ability to tailor phishing scams and other types of crimes.

As global fintech trends change and the market shifts due to business environments (and also Covid-19), what are your comments on the state of fintech in 2021 and beyond?

For any Fintech or small business, I think you have to be solving a problem. Covid-19 might mean a major change in the way we all operate forever, but it also might not. I don’t know whether I would change strategy based on the current pandemic. However, I think the current pandemic has accelerated global trends that were already in motion. For instance, there was already a trend for people to relocate from cities to suburbs, that’s been sped up; there was already a trend towards remote working, that’s also been sped up. There was a trend toward internet and mobile access to financial institutions, that’s rapidly become the norm. So. I think there’s an acceleration of trends already in play, but I’m not sure I would be confident saying there are new paradigms or paradigm shifts just related to covid-19.

We’d love to hear about some of Silent Eight’s upcoming plans and innovations?

As far as upcoming plans, we view this across two levels:

The first is simply maintain BAU (business as usual). For us this means continuing to delight our existing customers and new customers in resolving their alerts. And to do so with precision and speed, solving more alerts, while of course explaining how every time.

The second, in terms of the future, is to do what our customers ask us to do. We are a customer-obsessed organization. Once we solve the problem of bandwidth in customer and payment alert resolutions, our customers will have other problems for us to solve. And we already have ideas around what those are, and of course our own strategies, but there’s no harm in having big customer input into our strategies — that can only help. So, which direction will we go in? That will be decided together with our major customers, the Tier 1 banks who tell us about their next big challenges.

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Before we wrap up, a few biggest learnings and tips you’d like to share with fintech innovators and leaders?

I have 2 tips and learnings I’d share:

  • Always remember why you got into this business: what problem are you solving? Stay on track and stay true to solving this problem. Chasing short term cash will always have an opportunity cost. If it doesn’t adhere to your strategy then maybe it isn’t worth it. Maybe it is. But I think temporary deviations from visions are one thing, but oscillating and chasing dollars and potentially losing sight of vision are another. so the #1 thing i would say is “as much as you can, manage toward your original vision.”
  • And the second one is work out where you are on the “go fast and break things” or “Better done than perfect” spectrum. In other words, what is your pace of innovation? What is your willingness to accept mistakes and address them  and move on. One of the benefits of being a small org or startup is probably the ability to recognize mistakes faster, change them, and keep moving, whereas a larger org might have more inertia and less ability to pivot quickly. I would say work out the culture around mistakes/learnings/development/growth. Is it too fast? Is it too slow? Are you forgoing innovation for stability. What is the middle ground that makes sense in how you want to lead your org? I think these factors will permeate throughout the organization and determine success.



Silent Eight

Silent Eight is a technology company leveraging AI to create custom compliance models for the world’s leading financial institutions. Our mission is to empower our clients in their fight to eliminate financial crime. Founded in Singapore and with global hubs in New York, London, and Warsaw, we are deployed in over 150 markets.

Matthew is based in New York City and is the Chief Revenue Officer of Silent Eight. As CRO, he oversees all aspects of growth and is constantly seeking new avenues for Silent Eight’s award-winning AI to aid organizations in their fight against money laundering and financial crime. Most recently, Matthew oversaw the multi-year partnership between HSBC and Silent Eight. Matthew volunteers with a number of charities principally focused on advancing underprivileged youth.

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