Interview with Faisal Husain, CEO and Co-Founder of Synechron

14 August 2017 Consultancy.uk

Faisal Husain was 26 when he together with two co-founders established Synechron. Since the launch in 2001, just as the dot-com bubble burst, the CEO has grown Synechron into one of the globe’s largest and renowned technology and consulting companies for the financial services sector. In discussion with Consultancy.uk, Husain reflects on the firm’s strategy and client service portfolio, on Synechron’s talent edge and shares his personal experience on entrepreneurship. 

Technology, competition and changing consumer behaviour are redrawing the face of the financial services industry. How is Synechron helping financial institutions with improving their business models and operations?

Our financial services clients are seeing many drivers forcing their businesses to change which require them to rethink their business models and operations.

In terms of Run the Bank (RTB), Synechron is working with clients to find ways to make their businesses run more efficiently. This can include everything from large-scale cloud migration projects that lower infrastructure costs to more advanced operational consulting work related to workflow optimisation, and advanced robotic process automation (RPA).

In terms of Change the Bank (CTB) initiatives, we are helping them push the boundaries of digital innovation and simultaneously their existing business models and operations. Our Financial Innovation Labs (FinLabs) and our Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain Centers of Excellence are helping banks reimagine their existing business operations and to create a transformed future state powered by these technologies. 

Two developments that in particular are touted to disrupt the industry are FinTechs and blockchain. As it stands, FinTechs are hyped yet their market share is still very small, while blockchain still finds itself still in its infancy. You recently have been recognised for your leading role in the field* – where do you see the impact of these two developments heading at?

When we look at the FinTech start-up community, while its market share is still small compared to the financial services industry as a whole, the investment and innovation emerging from this space has provided a wake-up call to banks, who have started their own innovation groups and FinTech arms to advance innovation. In some regions, like Europe, banks are setting up FinTech challenger banks to compete with their own businesses. In other cases, businesses are taking a hybrid approach to offer FinTech-enabled solutions alongside their traditional capabilities to better understand customer needs, collect data, and create cross-sell opportunities. While the FinTechs themselves have the potential to be disruptive, FinTech-minded banks that have the agility to adapt and the market power to move their customers and other banks with them could have an even greater impact.

Faisal Husain, CEO and Co-Founder of Synechron

This is the same case with specific technologies like Blockchain. While Blockchain is still a new technology, the start-up community and leading banks have proven its potential transform businesses and are working on advanced use cases in areas like KYC, Trade Finance, and more. The Blockchain revolution will not happen overnight, but the pace of change is moving rapidly, and those that are aiming to be first followers may find that the time, resources, and effort needed to catch up may be greater than they’ve anticipated. 

About Synechron: early 2016 you launched a new company-wide strategy, the ‘Power of 3’, with the aim of growing the firm’s global revenue to $1 billion by 2020. How is Synechron performing against the plan and its key strategic pillars?

Financially, Synechron’s business goal is to become a $1 billion-dollar company by 2020, but that is just one measure of our success. Philosophically, that means being the leading digital, financial services consulting firm in the world. By both measures, we think we are well on our way. 

There’s tremendous opportunity for Synechron to continue to grow with and within our existing clients across our three core service areas to show them the full potential and impact of our capabilities and Power of 3 strategy. Some of these companies have been our clients for more than fifteen years, but we think we have new perspectives and capabilities to offer them, particularly when it comes to or work in Digital Innovation. We also recently have signed on new clients in our Digital practice where we’re doing industry-leading, cutting-edge work in areas like Blockchain which demonstrates the impact of our Power of 3 approach where we are building on that foundation to offer our domain, technical and digital expertise across the business. Synechron is now a $500 million company and is growing at a rapid 30% Yreay-on-year. I am confident that through both organic and inorganic growth we will be able to sustain that pace. 

Business Consulting is one of the three service lines of the firm (the others are Digital and Technology) – could you tell us a bit more on where the unit stands and what the consultancy ambitions are?

Business Consulting is a highly-strategic component of our business, and a key pillar of our ‘Power of 3’ strategy. Synechron is unique from our competitors because of our ability to deliver end-to-end capabilities across Business Consulting, Technology, and Digital with specialist domain knowledge in financial services across all three. Other companies only specialise in one or two of these areas requiring multiple service providers to achieve the same outcome, with gaps between capabilities. As part of our end-to-end service offering, our business consulting depth gives us the ability to work on deep digital transformation projects that change the day-to-day operations of the way businesses function. Our Business Consulting team also helps our digital and technology teams to understand the key market drivers for change to position our investments and decisions in the right direction related to areas like Regulation, Infrastructure, Data, and more.

Business Consulting is a highly-strategic component    of our business, and a key pillar of strategy at Synechron

We are constantly looking to add on top talent to our teams in New York and London especially, where we’ve proven ourselves as a boutique alternative to the Big Four firms, with a better career trajectory and the ability for entrepreneurial self-starters to make a high impact at Synechron and for our clients. 

While Synechron is growing its mark, there remain players with a larger global footprint (the firm now has 8,000 employees in 18 offices globally; around 60% of revenues come from the US) and competition never stands still. How does Synechron set itself apart in the marketplace and what major differentiated propositions can we expect to be rolled out in the coming months?

We now have nine Financial Innovation Labs (FinLabs) around the globe in major markets including: New York, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, London, Amsterdam, Dubai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Pune. This is a testament to our commitment to R&D and innovation work and one of the key ways we set ourselves apart from the competition. 

On the innovation front, our Blockchain accelerators were met with tremendous success, having won eight industry awards over the last year, which is more than any other firm. Our AI accelerators have seen significant adoption and pick-up from the industry, especially in Automation areas bringing together Chatbots, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Natural Language Processing / Generation (NLP/NLG). We continue to push the boundaries with new innovations and this focus and investment helps us to stand apart from our competition.

Our domain focus and expertise within financial services across our P3 service lines is also a major point of differentiation from our competitors. 

Talent lies at the heart of any professional services firm. With the market for tech and consulting talent heating up, how is Synechron ensuring that it gets and keeps the best people on board?

Synechron is doing a number of things to attract and retain top talent. We’re investing in innovation, and thereby giving our teams the opportunity to work on the most cutting-edge technologies and challenging problems. We provide global opportunities for our clients and the opportunity to develop tremendous domain expertise from working with a seasoned team of specialists across all areas of capital markets and wealth and asset management. We strive to always remain agile and entrepreneurial in our approach so that we can always work on high and mid-end challenges and projects that motivate our employees.

On a personal note, your progress with Synechron is a text-book definition of self-made success. You launched the firm at the age of 26, built the firm from scratch without any external funding and co-founded plus still lead the firm with one of your original co-founders, Tanveer Saulat**. Looking back, what do you see as the biggest lesson from Synechron’s story for each of these three remarkable feats?

When we started Synechron in 2001, it would have been hard to imagine that it would one day grow to a $500 million firm without taking any outside funding, and I am incredibly proud of that aspect of our legacy. It allows us to remain entrepreneurial and agile even today with how we spend our R&D dollars and with our business focus that allows us to beholden to clients and employees first and foremost. I’m also incredibly fortunate to have been on this journey with two very close friends who equally shared in this vision with the passion and commitment that has lead us this far. As I reflect on this, one of the greatest lessons that comes to mind is one I have shared time and again, “don’t chase the money.” Yes, Synechron has grown into a highly-financially successful company, but that has never been our main driver. We have always been guided by our vision, passion, and commitment to helping our clients solve difficult problems that require deep domain and technical expertise. 

Lesson of Faisal Husain

In interviews, you’ve repeatedly highlighted the passion of yourself and the co-founders as a key factor for Synechron’s success. How are you and your leadership team keeping that entrepreneurial spirit from the early days in place?

The Synechron management team firmly believes that we need to lead by example and that passion, enthusiasm, and a clear vision and strategy set at the top and shared with our direct reports will align our leadership with the entrepreneurial vision of the company. We have in-person Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) with the top leaders to help formalise this type of alignment. But, we don’t just take a top down approach. We also work bottom up with frequent, global Town Halls that include ask the CEO sessions to give all groups and levels across the company an opportunity to contribute and have their voice and ideas be heard.

We run global Hackathons and Digithons and have dedicated innovation teams via our FinLabs that look to engrain a focus on innovation and lab mentality within the company at every level. And, at the end of the day, we try to empower each and every person at the company to be able to have the autonomy and opportunity to be a self-starter and be driven by their own passions to contribute to our shared vision without behind held back from too much structure or restriction. All of this in combination is helping us to continue to grow at 30% each year and to keep us on track to achieve our $1 billion by 2020 goal.

* In May this year Faisal Husain was named FinTech Person of the Year by the Financial Technologies Forum (FTF). 

**  Faisal Husain met co-founder Tanveer Saulat when he was a teenager and met the third co-founder Zia Bhutta just after he started working.

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