STRENGTHENING THE CUSTOMER BONDS.
Haytham Kaddoura, CEO, SmartStream Technologies explains how he is making the company more client focused.
Haytham Kaddoura has been the CEO of SmartStream Technologies Group since May 2016 after serving as a member of its Board of Directors since 2007. Kaddoura brings over 20 years of experience in investment advisory, asset management, corporate restructuring, strategy formulation and execution for boards of some of the most prominent corporations across the GCC and the greater Middle East and North Africa region.
He started his career working with leading management consulting firms, including; Accenture, Booz Allen and Hamilton, PricewaterhouseCoopers and BearingPoint; advising corporations such as; American Express, the Abu Dhabi Offsets Group, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Dubai Aluminum, and Qatar Foundation. In early 2004, he joined a Dubai Government initiative to establish the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and subsequently helped found DIFC Investment, where he managed part of the quasi-sovereign wealth fund’s portfolio.
Kaddoura holds a Masters Degree in Finance and International Business and a Bachelors Degree in Computer Sciences.
You became CEO in May 2016 after having been involved in the company for the past ten years, can you please share some details on your background?
I’ve been a member of its board of directors since 2007 but I started my career in the 1990s with Accenture in an area that is now called ‘fintech’ which in those days focused on core technology systems. I then spent the next 10 to 11 years consulting in technology, as well as strategy and M&A, for management consulting firms, including Accenture, Booz Allen and Hamilton, PricewaterhouseCoopers and BearingPoint. I worked with a range of companies such as American Express, the Abu Dhabi Offsets Group, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Dubai Aluminium, and Qatar Foundation. In early 2004, I was approached by the Dubai Government to support the establishment of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in order to better position Dubai as a major global financial centre. Subsequently I helped found DIFC Investment, where I managed part of the quasi-sovereign wealth fund’s portfolio focusing mainly on the fintech sector. One of the holdings was SmartStream and I was asked to join the board, and then in 2016 I was asked to replace the CEO and initiate a turnaround programme for the company.
How have you gone about turning around the company?
Due to my background, I had a lot of experience in advising companies on turnaround programs, but one of the advantages of being on the board for the past ten years was that I knew the executive team and had good relationships with people at various levels of the organisation. Effectively, my strategy was to make SmartStream a more client-focused company and to re-prioritise our clients’ needs. Part of this included bringing on board a new CTO, and establishing the role of Head of Client Delivery whose main responsibility was to ensure customer happiness, and by aligning all aspects of our business that directly impact our clients. Years ago, a solution may have been built in the basement but the days that vendors can push products onto the client are gone. Today, solutions are being driven by clients, regulations, and the greater stakeholder community. As a global vendor we have to facilitate the journey and ease the deployment of solutions across the different global jurisdictions
Have you re-organised any of the business streams?
The SmartStream Reference Data Utility (RDU) continues to be one of our main focuses and we have partnered with three major banks and complimented our reference data service to meet the requirements of MiFID II. I think the main challenge is having the financial institutions ready on time. It is clear what has to be done, but how a bank goes about it is a different ballgame. The aim is to help companies and institutions with pre-trade price transparency, reports regarding post-trade and transaction stages, and receive data and enrichment feeds from ANNA (Association of National Numbering Agencies), GLEIF (Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation), ESMA (European Securities and Markets Authority), different trading venues, the National Competent Authorities, and others.
We also strengthened our Managed Services for reconciliations. Banks are leveraging our experience in order to take another level of cost out of the system and to gain greater efficiency. We are also positioning our investment products to have an even greater focus on fees and expense management. We are currently providing managed resources to run the back office operations of the world’s top banks. We are better at leveraging our expertise and are focusing on reconciliations as we do not want to compete with the generic outsourcing companies of the world.
What are your plans for 2018?
We are not looking to reinvent the wheel, but I believe that the onus is on the vendor to maintain state of the art technology that drives greater efficiency and lowers the total cost of ownership to clients. We will also continue partnering with other financial institutions because we believe that it’s one of the key ways that our initiatives can gain momentum. To that end we are in the advanced stages of discussions of developing partnerships in the regulated reporting space. Banks do not want to do the processes themselves but want us to develop the processes for them. We are also looking at artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, and assessing areas that they might be applied. However, we are cautious and do not want to jump into anything too soon until we have an inclination from financial institutions that it is worth investing in. It is perhaps not yet mature enough for firms to test the waters and we are waiting for the amber light to turn green before we apply the technology.
There has been a lot of hype about fintech but how do you define it?
I think the definition of fintech is blurred but, I believe, there are two main types: conventional and mature firms that have rolled out solutions, and then there are the more disruptive types of technology. For example, with retail offerings, banks tend to prefer existing and tried and tested solutions but then they are also looking at new technology such as blockchain or distributed ledger technology for other purposes such as solving the data management challenges.
What are some of the data management challenges facing the industry?
I think one of the main challenges is that the quantity of data is growing and banks have to dig out the data from different sources. The correctness and validity of data is another challenge faced by the financial services industry. They not only want to use that data to meet the various regulations but also be able to analyse and utilise the data to make better management decisions.
Aside from regulation, what are the other challenges for the industry?
It is what is on everyone’s radar – the post Brexit scenario and what implications that will have on the business and whether we will be able to attract and retain the right talent.