For this week’s profile we are talking to Bill Gourlay, CEO of Idea Group. Our questions are in bold.
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What is your job title and what are your general responsibilities?
I am CEO of Idea Group and, aside from setting our corporate strategy, my focus tends to be primarily on the commercial and product aspects which have been my traditional skillset. I am fortunate enough to work with a group of frankly brilliant technology people, so am always aware that they are the ones who are actually creating the products and solutions that we offer. When I took the job a friend reminded me that, as a CEO, the difference is that however big your roles were in the past, being a CEO means you have responsibility for ensuring that your team can put food on their family’s tables. No pressure then!
Can you give us an overview of your business?
Idea Group was founded in 1995 by Ian Lyall, our current COO, and quickly built a well earned reputation for designing, creating and managing bespoke investment management systems for Legal and General Investment Management. Later on they branched out into financial messaging market practice leadership, proving themselves across high profile initiatives such as ViaNova for UK pensions, SHarP for hedge funds and in the Australian domestic mutual fund space. Over the past couple of years, we have leveraged this heritage to bring improvements to our client’s business processes through the effective use of technology, supported by a real understanding of the business which allows us to clearly see things from our clients’ points of view. We have worked with some of the leading alternative investment administrators to launch the new GAIA market practice, which will allow operational messaging flows to be automated in this sector. We have also launched a full range of messaging gateways which allow financial services firms across the investment, alternative or pension fund spaces to easily obtain the benefits of automation, without having to worry about understanding all the complexities of ISO or SMPG messaging standards. Probably our most “FinTech” product is “Prodigy”, which completely revolutionises the way in which product management is carried out in a business, whether they are a financial services firm or from a different industry.
Tell us how you are funded.
Idea Group is a privately owned organisation
Why did you start the company? To solve what problems?
As mentioned earlier, Idea Group has been around for a long time and was originally created to help solve some of the challenges being posed to an investment manager. However, it was this principle of wanting to solve some of the big problems that lead us to create Prodigy. I had previously been working in a large investor services business and was tasked with putting a global product management infrastructure in place but, whilst this was possible, I was frustrated by the inability to use technology to give a real time view of where we stood as a business. We took my business knowledge, the technical expertise of Idea Group, and the product management expertise of an external consultant to build something that we are all very proud of. Our main task now is to make firms aware of how poorly their product management processes work today, and the huge value that Prodigy will bring to them operationally and financially.
Who are your target customers? What’s your revenue model?
With so many years of financial services expertise, it’s probably not surprising that our focus tends to be on that sector and primarily the funds business. However, we are increasingly seeing that the mantra we follow of bringing improved business efficiency in something which is valued in a number of adjacent areas – not least given the increasing regulatory focus on good business practices. That has seen us working further afield with banks, insurance companies, technology firms and into the manufacturing sector too. We have fully embraced the benefits of the Cloud model, and also work with Salesforce.com, so the majority of our relationships are now based on a licence model.
If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change in the banking and/or FinTech sector?
Given my business background I tend to like to get to the point and address the issue in hand, but I am concerned that there are too many entrants to the FinTech sector who have a solution looking for a problem. Unfortunately that can lead to the sort of overhype that we saw many years ago with the Dot.com bubble, as firms resort to high profile marketing exercises to try to generate investment into a firm that might not actually be working on a challenge that the industry actually has. I believe these firms generate too much “noise” which distracts from more important issues, and they also have the ability to seriously damage the credibility of the sector in the long run.
What is your message for the larger players in the Finance industry?
Take advantage of the strength of the FinTech sector to outsource more of your development, experimentation and complexity. There are so many firms who are now concentrating on solving specific problems, and have built up such a significant expertise in these areas, that there is no need to work on them yourselves. FinTech firms can be lean, mean and have a much more open attitude to “permission to fail” than an large financial services organisation is ever likely to have.
What phone are you carrying and why?
An iPhone 5S for work, and an old Samsung for personal. The work phone tends to be based on the good advice of all the technology experts that I work with, and the personal phone simply has to be something that fits in my pocket if I’m riding my horse.
Where do you get your industry news from?
I am a long time reader of Funds Europe, Financial News and Bobsguide. LinkedIn is rapidly rising in its value too. However, I also think the grapevine continues to be the most effective route of all.
Can you list 3 people you rate from the FinTech sector that we should be following on Twitter?
I have been hugely impressed by Carrie from Cruxy, who bring a real focus to marketing ; @carrie_loves_
From a marketing perspective, I think Ryan Watson @TheMktngGuy has some interesting things to share
I also think Dominic Hobson has some good, fearless views, but you need to see these at @COOConnect
What’s the best FinTech product or service you’ve seen recently?
I am biased, but it is our Prodigy product management tool (www.prodigyproduct.com) as it brings such a fundamental change and benefit to the core workings of a business.
In terms of other products I like what Currency Cloud have been working on, and was very impressed by the guys from Allocator in the hedge fund space. I should also mention Return2Play (www.return2play.org.uk) as, even though this is outside FinTech, it has been created by some financial services people and fulfils an extremely important role in a sport that is close to my heart.
Finally, let’s talk predictions. What trends do you think are going to define the next few years in the FinTech sector?
Whilst the growth of the sector will probably continue through most of 2016, I think that we might start to see the market tighten up a little as firms who have not been able to prove their value through addressing a real market need, or have started to become profitable, start to disappear. We have already started to see industry publications reporting on end clients being underwhelmed by supposedly disruptive technologies, which could be the start of a slippery slope. The investor landscape will also change as a result of this, with opportunists moving away and the remaining “smart” money will be harder to attract to anything that doesn’t have a solid business case. Having said that, there are still masses of inefficient business processes out there that badly need to be improved, and that takes me back to the need for larger financial services firms to work with innovative FinTech organisations in order to let them be creative on their behalf.
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If you’ve any suggestions for other hot FinTech companies (startup, or established ventures) that we should be profiling, I’m all ears. Don’t hesitate to drop me a note at email@example.com. There’s more information on this page.