A tech expert has a technical background, experience, and skills to fulfil IT tasks. Such a specialist is qualified to use technology to solve various problems. The role of tech leaders is much broader. Tech leadership requires excellence in the field, awareness of the business and technological environment, and the ability to optimize speed, quality and resources.
Tech leaders are enthusiastic learners with constant endeavor for professional development. A strong leader possesses a holistic vision of a project from the ground up. They are adept with technical details, know business processes, clearly understand the overall project, and efficiently perform management functions. Standing out as one of the eminent leaders with such a significant skillset is Dr. Henry Balani, Global Head of Industry & Regulatory Affairs of Encompass Corporation.
At Encompass Corporation, Dr. Balani advocates for regulations supporting technology firms and writes about new technology that can impact the financial services industry.
Along the way, he also obtained a Finance Doctoral degree, recognizing his passion for academia and teaching.
In an interview with CIOLook, Dr. Balani shares his professional tenure and highlights his journey so far as a tech leader in the dynamic business arena.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at your company. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
I started my journey way back in university, where I was fortunate to join AIESEC, a student-led business society focused on raising internships in foreign countries. , One summer I worked in Istanbul, Turkey, followed by a placement with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in Chicago, USA. The fundamental lesson learned here was the ability to interact confidently with colleagues, associates, and friends from all walks of life and worldwide.
My career has been international since working for global technology firms supporting financial institutions in the fight against financial crime.
Challenges, as expected, are numerous. Life gets in the way – both positive and negative. I recognized early the need for managers and senior executives that could support my career path. I have actively looked for mentors/other leaders to collaborate and discuss with. Creating these types of deeper relationships can be challenging – you need to demonstrate your value, be willing to take their advice and show progress – but the rewards far outstrip the effort.
I was fortunate to move to roles where I could exercise my leadership skills and contribute to growth at the same time—raising a family, while not a challenge in the traditional sense, forces one to make choices in terms of where to allocate your time. One can plan for life as much as possible, but unplanned events can take your career off track.
I recall one leadership role I had, where I had to terminate 13 staff before I was made redundant, as one of the most challenging experiences I have had. Flying around the country, meeting staff at public locations like coffee shops and airport lounges while terminating them and asking for their laptops was not at all pleasant – especially when I knew I had to leave after the exercise. Staying professional at all times was vital. One can be empathetic and understanding, but representing the company was paramount.
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.
Founded in 2011, Encompass Corporation transforms regulatory compliance and customer onboarding with Know Your Customer (KYC) automation. Its advanced technology, unrivalled data coverage and industry expertise help clients to grow their businesses and fight financial crime safely.
The Encompass Corporation platform reduces the cost of KYC and improves time to revenue by providing KYC due diligence on demand, powered by intelligent process automation. Customers include leading global banks and financial institutions.
Enlighten us on how you have impacted your niche through your expertise in the market.
There is a common perception that any regulatory penalties or introduction of new anti-money laundering regulations on banks is a negative for the financial services industry. It would seem logical that if a bank receives a fine for failing to address regulatory compliance issues, there would be negative consequences beyond just the fine – for example, customers will close their accounts, or the market would dump their shares, leading to lower valuations.
I pursued a Finance doctoral degree and, over four years, managed to research and publish my findings. I examined European banks and their stock valuations over a period of 10 years using thousands of data points with the introduction of the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AMLD) and established the opposite was, in fact, true – that, with the introduction of regulations, the valuation of bank stocks over actually increased.
Regulations provide structure to banking operations and, when introduced, provide clarity to compliance operations, meaning banks can follow processes developed to minimize money laundering within their banks. With the 4AMLD, investors now feel more comfortable that banks comply, leading to greater stock buys in these banks.
I published my findings in academic journals, meeting frequently with regulators and bank executives globally to demonstrate the results and was able to influence the banking industry by showing that regulations are, in fact. good for stock prices.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
Encompass Corporation has been rapidly growing over the past 12 years, with locations globally in New York, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Singapore, London, Glasgow and Sydney. From a ‘start up’ to what is now a ‘scale up,’ the focus has always been to put the employee first. The recent pandemic certainly put a strain on work-life balance, with employees having to work out of their homes instead of physical offices.
Technology firms have been more fortunate in that virtual conferencing and other remote working tools were not unusual even before the crisis, which helped with maintaining productivity and keeping a positive spin on work.
Understanding why we do what we do is also very important. We are not writing software or creating widgets; rather we are helping in the fight against financial crime. As a regulatory technology firm, what we produce directly makes a difference in finding the ‘bad guy.’ Banks need our solution to not only comply with regulations but also stop the proceeds from illicit activities that lead to money laundering. This difference Encompass Corporation makes is a powerful driver for all employees and helps them stay committed. Employees are also given time off to support charitable work and various ESG activities are always in play. Each office tries to reflect the company ethos and, being a technology company used to remote offices and employees, this comes across well, with employees regularly recommending Encompass Corporation as a great place to work.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
Because we are a technology company, innovation is our lifeblood, to ensure our clients receive maximum value from their investments. We are all exposed to new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotic Process Automation, Web 3.0 and other cutting-edge applications.
Our Product and Engineering teams review the market, attend technology conferences, and develop sandbox solutions in the name of developing efficiency and scalability in our solutions. In today’s world, the use of sanctions to punish errant jurisdiction and individuals is becoming more pervasive. Banks need to comply with increasingly complex rules and regulations to identify the ‘bad guy’ with more and more penalties and bad press.
Encompass Corporation’ focus is to make the complex act of mapping out corporate structures and ultimate beneficial owners more consistent, reliable and scalable, all while making it cost-efficient. Cloud technologies and ‘Software-as-a-Service’ have been introduced, allowing banks to sign up for a license to use the platform, with new features being continually added without having to conduct expensive software upgrades.
Clients can turn features ‘on and off’ as needed and change how they comply with policies without having to change code (a new advancement known as low code applications). With the introduction of ‘Application Programming Interfaces’ (APIs), different applications are easier to connect to.
However, what is important is to ensure these new technologies create efficiencies that positively impact the Compliance Officers and Operations teams. It is not just new technologies, but the application of these new technologies, that is important to success.
What change would you like to bring to your industry if given a chance?
Understand that technology solutions will actually make life easier for Compliance and Operations teams. Internal company inertia and a lack of budget often prevent banks from investing in new technologies.
As an advocate for these solutions, I have seen where technology has failed, not because of the technology but because of the politics surrounding the implementations. Existing staff are entrenched in their current ways and reluctant to change. Processes that used to take hours can now be completed in minutes through using technology.
What, according to you, could be the next significant change in your sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
Artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are the next new technologies that can make a significant impact. The challenge facing banks is the mountain of data they have to process in order to find relevant matches – akin to finding a ‘needle in a haystack.’
There is just too much data out there, and these new technologies can be used to identify financial crime by analyzing large amounts of data, such as transaction records and customer information to detect patterns and anomalies that may indicated illicit activity.
Models can be developed and trained on historical financial crime data to recognize specific types of money laundering. Statistical analysis can be used to identify patterns of financial data. Clustering algorithms could be used to group together similar transactions based on various features, and then identify the clusters that are most likely associated with illicit activity.
Natural language tools can be used to generate language explanations of its findings, making it easier for compliance offices to understand and act on the results.
APIs continue to be refined, making data integration across multiple platforms easier and more scalable. As a company, we will continue to monitor these emerging technologies and apply what we feel is beneficial.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for your company?
I have always felt that technology solutions have a central role to play in productivity improvement, especially in financial services. I have always attempted to introduce this across my different roles.
As a company, we will continue to work with both our clients and strategic partners to create relevant solutions that will benefit the ecosystem. In terms of my individual aspirations, I will continue to indulge in the academic world, researching, teaching and sharing my experiences with students.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into your sector?
Technology trends come and go; fads will always be introduced. It is important to be at least aware of these trends and do your research into what you feel will make a difference. There will always be misses and be prepared for these.
Venture capitalists are happy when 2 out of 10 of their investments bear fruit. Failure is an opportunity to continue to improve. For the long haul, there will be opportunities to get it right. Perseverance and a positive attitude are key.