Q&A: Accuity’s innovation junkie CEO

By Alex Hamilton | 23 April 2019

David Wilson was appointed chief executive officer of Accuity in January, having joined the compliance software firm as chief operating officer in July 2017. Prior to that, he held several senior management positions within the RELX Group, Accuity’s parent company. Bobsguide sat down with the self-described “innovation junkie” to talk about emerging technology, the changing concerns of banks, and the parallels between financial services and the agricultural sector.

What brought you to Accuity?

Although I’m relatively new to both Accuity and the financial services industry I’ve actually been with the RELX Group for 19 years. Prior to joining Accuity I was running the agriculture division at RELX, Proagrica. I had a lot of fun in that industry for a number of years, but what attracted me to Accuity was that there seemed to be a lot of problems in financial services that needed to be solved.

I’m an innovation junkie at heart and I saw a lot of similarities between financial services and the issues that the agriculture industry had, and how disruptives had changed it. The agriculture industry had been a very traditional one in terms of its approach to a lot of processes, systems and methodologies which had been in use for decades. But it had to evolve to keep up with the demand from a growing world population by producing more food with less resources. A number of different disruptors began to emerge in the market using new technologies to provide data and insights.

In agriculture you have some very large businesses which are now heavily investing in new technologies and actually acquiring some of the newer startups, while being very open to working with others when it comes to sharing insights. That’s not to say that in both financial services and agriculture there aren’t firms out there that are unsure whether or not it’s the right time to jump, even with this large ground swell for change.

Accuity is probably not seen as the most innovative brand out there, and that is something I am very keen to change. What we are seen as is a very trusted, safe and secure partner. At the same time, we are very lucky to have a large research and development division which allows us to send out product and technology teams to experiment when we see an area that is evolving. Whether it’s blockchain, data analytics or payments routing they have the ability to just experiment and share results with our clients. Tis is particularly the case with the Tier 1 banks, where I feel we have a responsibility to say “look, this is where the industry is going.”

What major concerns are clients bringing to you – what are they hoping to solve quickly?

Banks are still struggling with the traditional issues they’ve had with KYC onboarding and processing. They want those operations to be as efficient as possible, producing the most effective outcomes. I believe that the issue has moved away from cost now, with firms no longer wanting to be seen to be just complying. Now they want to be turning the needle, detecting fraud and anomalies that will benefit the business by protecting it from risk.

Another major driver we see is explainability, it’s something we hear all the time. Increased scrutiny from regulations and increased expectation that firms and businesses can now explain how their filters work, how their systems work, and how their policies and procedures operate, has been a big change. We’ve moved into a world where everything has to be documented, everything has to be auditable.

If we look at payments, we hear a lot of demand for faster, real-time payments routing. There is a lot of growth in fraud, too. As consumer preferences have shifted towards payments we’re seeing a massive rise in fraud, particularly around things like card not present. It’s our job to understand what those problems are, what the market trends are that are most likely to solve that problem and then look at how we can develop them in Accuity.

What emerging technology do you find the most exciting right now?

AI and advanced analytics have shown the capability to provide tremendous value if providers are able to bridge the security, confidence and explainability gap between themselves and the banks.  There are a lot of interesting developments around payments, there has been an explosion in the different technologies and systems. We’ve been working with a big payments supplier to take our screening technology and apply it to millions of transactions at speed in milliseconds. The technology we need to provide that kind of service just wouldn’t have been around a few years ago, and that demonstrates just how quickly this sector is moving.

There are a lot of interesting new models around digital identity and trying to solve the problems surrounding card fraud. Things have gone a bit quiet for blockchain but people are still looking at use cases. We’ve done proofs of concept with Corda and R3, and we’re starting to see some examples now where banks are viewing distributed ledger technology as an opportunity and there is a lot of interest around tokenisation in general.

Sometimes it can seem hard to keep up with how quickly things are moving, and we often see a difference across different regions of the globe. For instance, in Singapore and Asia there has been an even greater focus on payments with the explosion of Alibaba and WeChat. That sector naturally moves faster than somewhere like the US, but we’re lucky at Accuity to have teams across the world able to pick up on these trends.

What major challenges do you see facing the industry in the years to come?

You only have to look at what is happening with sanctions and the frequency of changes to regulation to know that it is getting harder and harder for firms to comply. That will continue to be a major challenge for the industry. Detection will play a much bigger part in the years to come, with firms having to prove that they have a really proactive approach to finding bad actors within their networks.

What we have seen is that something that once might have been much further down on the list of priorities – cybersecurity – has become a much more prevalent concern. I think that there has perhaps been some complacency from software providers and banks that deployed software has meant that they don’t have to be as concerned as some of the more open B2C companies in the technology industry. One of our biggest internal focus areas over the past two years has been on security and making sure we are continuously looking at our software and testing for different probabilities, as well as legislating for bad actors that might penetrate organisations using our tools.

Navigating the fintech landscape will be a difficulty for incumbents. Staying abreast of who’s ahead of the curve is one problem, but the demand from consumers is going to continue to force them to be more agile and more responsive. Everybody wants to be able to switch their debit card on and off when they lose it in one pocket and find it in the other. Consumers, of course, want a lot of the benefits but they don’t want to pay for it or face a pricing model that says you have to walk down to the high street if you want to open a new account. People can’t understand why today it can still take two hours to make a payment of £50. That demand is going to continue to drive banks to respond, or its going to push consumers to emerging technologies and startups.

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