Simon Gray, a Principal Consultant at Synechron Business Consulting, reflects on his time with the consulting firm, on the technology trends which have the potential to change the make-up of financial services and on the transition from Crossbridge to Synechron Business Consulting.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I have been working in the financial industry for 17 years covering a variety of functions from front office to management roles at different companies like Lehman, Barclays and Morgan Stanley.
After over fifteen years in banking you joined the consulting industry. What was your main motivation to cross over to the other side of the table? And what made you favour Synechron Business Consulting (Crossbridge at that time) above the rest?
Within the banks I worked for, I did a range of functions and became more and more an internal project manager. Driven by all changes banks are facing my job changed into being an internal consultant. I was responsible for different projects in regulation, cross savings and outsourcing. Here I worked together with external consultants in project teams.
Two years before my move I was asked to start working for a consulting firm. Because of the huge career change, from a ‘safe’ large bank line role environment into a more uncertain consultancy environment, I wanted to make sure I would choose the right firm. I took the time to look at different consultancies. I decided to move to a small consultancy organisation, because this was all new for me and a big challenge. I liked the small scale, dynamics and variety of work. Moving around more between different projects and clients and handle more stakeholders.
The choice for Crossbridge at the time was, besides being a small firm to ease my transition into the consulting industry, based on the fact that I had a better feel for the people, having already worked with them on prior projects in my banking roles. I also felt they had strong relationships and presence within the financial services industry. Now that Crossbridge has become part of Synechron Business Consulting, we have that same financial services specialist expertise that was important to me added with the unique technical and digital delivery capabilities required to offer an end-to-end solution. We in addition have significantly expanded our resources as part of the team, with the ability to scale any project globally.
Whilst in banking you held several leadership roles in Treasury and Finance. Since joining Synechron Business Consulting, what kinds of programmes have you delivered?
Mostly finance and regulatory work, using my background and experience in finance and treasury. I did a lot of business transformation projects because I am able to understand the business and reduce costs. I can leverage on my industry knowledge and leadership skills in programs and project management. What I like about business transformation in combination with regulatory challenges is the strategic opportunity that being compliant can bring to our clients.
We’ve previously heard Synechron CEO Faisal Husain on the benefits of being part of a large global financial services player, and Synechron Business Consulting CEO Bas Heijnen on the advantages of now operating as one global consulting brand. In your work with clients and on engagements, what differences are you seeing?
The scale we bring for our clients. Most problems our clients face we have seen and solved somewhere globally. We can leverage opportunities and re-use results. We work with some of the leading global banks and financial firms and collaborate globally together from a practice (knowledge) and account perspective to achieve results. Our ‘Power of 3’ strategy – with its unique combination of business consulting, technology and digital capabilities – is where it comes together and where we can benefit from each other.
A great example is our blockchain initiative. This has been scaled up fast to six working accelerators, where we have already developed the business case and working code our clients can experiment with and build upon in the cloud and on a sandbox environment. We are able to develop these accelerators because we have the business knowledge, the tech developers and a world-class digital team that can work on the user interface in-house and the scale to invest in the R&D to roll it out at a global level.
How would you describe Synechron Business Consulting’s culture? You’ve first hand been part of the integration from Crossbrigde to Synechron Business Consulting – how do you believe has the culture changed as a result of the transition?
Nothing really changed. The fundamentals are built by the same values, we focus on the same clients, and work with the same people. Our main goal is doing a good job, servicing client needs instead of just selling business. Also, our focus is the same: we all work for financial services, we understand the same pain and business and want to fix it and work in our clients’ interest.
Now that we are a bigger firm, we need more structure to share knowledge and know what is going on around the globe. We have regional company huddles to discuss major initiatives across the company. One of the other things that has allowed us to align Synechron Business Consulting strategically across the globe is a simple idea. We have a monthly call with the practices and account teams where we discuss opportunities, recruitment and share knowledge.
Technology has in recent years emerged to the forefront of the financial services industry. In the areas in which you specialise – Finance, Treasury, Trading and Asset Management – what do you see as the top trends that are set to reshape the face of today’s business and operating models?
Regulations and financial markets being less revenue-driven has pushed banks to focus more on efficiency. Blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) are pivotal to addressing shortfalls and cost constraints, while providing better services to clients and servicing shareholders and regulators. The changing client dynamics is a major influencer – clients changed the way they look at banks. Banks now need to review clients from a different perspective: risk and costs. Their biggest challenge is: a complex infrastructure. Banks are much like big ships, which are not easy to move; they have to become more agile.
To help clients understand the power of technology, Synechron recently opened a ‘Digital Innovation Centre’ in London. What can clients learn when you take them there?
Our Financial Innovation Labs (FinLabs) are a place where clients can come touch, play with and feel the latest digital technologies and experiment with how these can help them to solve business challenges. They can see opportunities for the future and how challenges can be solved by various technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence. We’re actively working with clients to develop AI accelerators that will allow them to evaluate business challenges like credit risk or liquidity risk, and see how artificial intelligence can help them to automate business processes and enhance operations.
What do you like most about working for Synechron Business Consulting?
You get a much more blended view of the industry from both banks and individuals and can help and challenge the industry. We have technology, digital and financial backgrounds and are working together to bring something new to the table. You are part of a bigger thing, making bigger things happen, leveraging other people with different backgrounds, knowledge and experience within the firm.
From a professional development perspective, Synechron Business Consulting is very focused on individuals and their development. We all have training plans that are part of our performance plans and we are stimulated to develop ourselves in both industry knowledge, consultancy skills and personal development. No idea is a bad idea. You can bring in ideas for clients and for Synechron. I feel really appreciated. We like to do things together and have fun, also after work.
On a personal note, what has been your highlight since joining Crossbrigde / Synechron Business Consulting? And why?
I am really proud of a consulting project for a client that lead to creating a technology solution for them: a pre-trade check. Regulatory reporting and process-driven checks trades have to go through prior to execution to reduce risk and time in a real-time platform. I created it from the first idea addressed, found a solution and built it. This project brought the ‘Power of 3’ together and into practice. The solution supported both the individual traders as well as the whole organisation. It is Synechron’s approach to innovation that allows us to constantly be driving forward these new ideas for and with our clients.