Sainsbury: What are your top IT priorities for the next 12-18 months?
Joseph: Over the past few years, we have implemented most of the applications required to support our business. These have been deployed using an extremely robust and scalable architecture. We have also implemented state-of-the-art disaster recovery capabilities, with real time data replication from the production site.
One of our immediate technology priorities now is to support the Eastspring Investments global expansion initiatives into US and Europe. We will focus on how to seamlessly expose our existing technology architecture to the new businesses in a cost effective manner.
With the growth of our business and expansion into new markets, it is extremely important for management to have accurate information on hand at all times. To achieve this objective, we are currently doing the groundwork to revamp our enterprise MIS framework. Among other things, this will include compiling and centralising key data buckets across the enterprise. This will enable us to meet existing and future business and regulatory requirements, as well as serve as an MIS repository that can drive strategic business decisions.
Given the current economic climate and the constant cost pressures on the business, looking for innovative cost optimisation avenues will always remain a focus for us. For instance, we will continue to leverage cloud based technologies wherever feasible and seek creative ways to increase the overall operational efficiency of systems, processes and people.
Sainsbury: How do you see the regulatory environment changing in light of the technological advances that financial services organisations are looking to leverage?
Joseph: A few high-profile, high-impact technology breakdowns over the past few years mean that regulators have had no option but to make guidelines stricter and exercise more control. While it is easy to perceive this as being a reactionary step, the reality is that regulators have had to step in because their confidence has been eroded. As maintaining confidence is one of their key responsibilities, I can see why they have taken a more prescriptive role. As such, it is in many ways up to the industry to help the regulators to regain confidence.
That said, regulators understand that increased regulations and general market conditions are impacting on profit margins for most financial institutions. I believe they are slowly beginning to take a more proactive stance and increasing their engagement with the industry. I think they will continue to do so, to create an environment with adequate controls and oversight and at the same time ensure that the regulations do not become too cumbersome.
Sainsbury: What opportunities are there to leverage IT for competitive advantage in asset management?
Joseph: As I mentioned, the asset management industry, like most financial services, is under increased regulatory and cost pressures. We see a significant advantage in embracing new technologies to drive the business in the future. As some of these technologies mature, for example Cloud computing, they will alleviate some of the existing cost and margin pressures the business is experiencing. Specifically, there are a few upcoming advice based internet platforms that can be used by sales channels to justify clients paying for advice. This will be especially important in the future, as European and Asian regulators impose advice versus commission based client fees.
Sainsbury: Do you see a role for customer-facing IT solutions with Eastspring Investments, and if so, how far along are you on the journey?
Joseph: While the focus on customer facing solutions and their role in improving customer experience is not as demanding in the asset management industry, we are indeed looking at a few concepts that we believe will add considerable value. We are in the early stages of reviewing mobile solutions that offer our institutional clients and distributors up-to-date information on their portfolios. Leveraging social media is also something that we are considering and is at an early stage of review.
Sainsbury: Where do you see the benefits of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD)?
Joseph: My personal opinion is that BYOD as a concept and a means to increase productivity has been slightly over-hyped. I believe it is a decision that companies have to make after very careful considerations.
Most firms, including Eastspring, have already rolled-out corporate devices that enable employees to securely connect to the company network while on the move. BYOD merely expands the scope of this mobility initiative by including personal mobile devices. This is attractive to employees because they no longer have to carry two devices. It also benefits the employee who was not allocated a corporate device in the first place.
However, there are several important considerations, the potential of a security breach being one of the most significant. While there are applications that allow a secure container to be installed on personal devices, there is still quite some way for these products to mature. Allowing a company-wide BYOD policy may also lead to higher support and device management costs.
Sainsbury: What opportunities do you see opening up in the future around Cloud computing?
Joseph: Purely in theory and concept, it is a no-brainer to move to the Cloud. Lower capital expenditure on infrastructure and the flexibility of a pay-as-you-use operational cost model is a very attractive proposition. But there are important considerations. Putting your corporate confidential data out in the cloud is a stumbling block. The fact that this data is probably co-mingled with the data of other corporations adds an entirely different set of challenges.
Given this, it is not surprising that regulators have not yet warmed up to the public Cloud. As I see it, the larger financial institutes with considerable volumes of data and their own private Clouds do not consider the public Cloud a significant game changer. There are still valid concerns that need to be addressed by the providers and industry, in consultation with the regulators. At the moment, the risks outweigh the benefits.
Eastspring is slowly looking at a couple of Cloud providers on a case-by-case basis, for services that make sense. We may look to leverage the Cloud to host some of our development and testing boxes in the near future. This will give us the flexibility to scale up or down based on specific project needs, without having to invest and commit capital. I see an increasing demand in this area. It is an immediate win and does not have the same challenges of a typical production environment in the Cloud.
Sainsbury: How do you encourage innovative thinking within your team?
Joseph: I believe the key to innovative thinking is to create an atmosphere where people are willing to think out-of-the-box; are not afraid to voice out their ideas; and there is some kind of affirmation for those ideas or a clearly articulated rationale as to why the idea was not accepted.
I believe in giving my team a great deal of responsibility and apart from some general principles, not setting too many boundaries on what is expected of them. I like to encourage people to ask questions. Even when fixing a problem in an existing environment, I often ask the team how they would approach the problem if they were to design the application completely from scratch. I have found this to be quite rewarding – all the ideas may not be entirely practical, but unless your team is given the freedom and assurance to break the status-quo, it is very difficult to encourage innovation.
Sainsbury: What technology do you like to use away from the workplace?
Joseph: I am not a typical technology geek that has to have the latest product hot off-the shelves. In that respect I am old-timer, there’s still just enough to keep the old passion burning. I am not a great social media person and though I do have Facebook and Linkedin accounts, I am not very active on either. I do love programming though, and still manage to do a great deal of it in my spare time. I like PHP and MySQL and have spent a lot of time over the past five years developing websites and applications for my Church. My son recently introduced me to Python and from what I have seen, I find it quite impressive.
Sainsbury: Every leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they would like to be remembered for. What is yours?
Joseph: To be frank, I have never really thought about leaving behind a legacy and it is quite humbling to even consider the possibility that I could be remembered for something. I do believe however, that if you go about your day to day responsibilities with passion and commitment; stand up for the things you believe in; be unwilling to make compromises that undermine your integrity; be humble enough to accept your mistakes and not gloat about your achievements; value relationships; respect individuals for who they are; and make yourself available to lend a listening ear to those around you, there will at least be one or two people who remember you as a person who made a difference.