The Power of Data Podcast
Episode 26: Joining the Dots
Guest: Vishal Marria, CEO and Founder, Quantexa
Interviewer: Edward Thorne, UK MD and Head of International Sales, Dun & Bradstreet
Welcome back to the Power of Data podcast. I'm Edward Thorne, the CEO of Dun and Bradstreet UK. And I'm delighted to be joined by Vishal Marria CEO and Founder of contextual decision intelligence company and FinTech, Quantexa.
Lovely to be here Ed, good morning
Vish, to help our listeners get to know you a bit more could you tell us a bit more about Quantexa and how your experiences in financial crime compliance across financial services prompted you to take the plunge and set up your own company.
Fantastic. And pleasure being here as I say. So, the whole journey within Quantexa sort of started tail end of 2015 and beginning in 2016. And it really came about from some of the challenges I saw firsthand working with some of the largest banks in the world, a constant challenge to better understand their customer, better understand the context of their customer, so they can make those better decisions when it comes down to financial crime. KYC or in some cases around prospecting and marketing. And the continual challenge I saw was our clients today fundamentally needed to join up a number of different data sources together, both internal to their organization and external to understand the full context of their customer and their relationships. This causes a number of different challenges, volume, disparate data, data that's inherently not connectable and more importantly, bad quality and lots of quantity of such data. So, this is when a few of us came together to say there must be a better way to tackle this problem and started Quantexa on March 2 2016.
Okay, thanks, Vish. So, I think this links back to what we've talked about in the past, which is around the importance of connecting the dots. And I know that we work together to help some customers in that area. Why do you think so many businesses struggle to manage data effectively? And how do you feel data and analytics is helping them navigate this and providing more of a transparent view.
We are in a digital revolution today and in years to come this is going to be a pivotal time in people's careers, people's way of working, people’s way of going to market. It's a huge challenge where traditionally many organizations have been collecting a lot of data, there's been a huge increase in things such as data lakes or data swamps or data reservoirs, however you want to term it. But it's fundamentally an area within an organization where they've collected such data. Now, being able to make sense of this data is the heart of the problem. Just knowing and collecting data doesn't necessarily mean that you are allowed to provide better insights into that data to empower people to make those better decisions. So this is a common challenge and we are in the midst of this. A number of organizations have been collecting petabytes, terabytes of data, and how do you make sense of that data in real time, in stream to say, Okay, I'm about to onboard Ed, what do I know of Ed? Or I'm about to investigate in alert coming from Ed based upon his transactions, what do I know about Ed and this is the challenge we've got, and this is where we are today. Organizations have had these challenges for a number of years, this is not a new challenge. But I think with the advances of underlying tech, the scale of tech, the platform of techs, we are now in a journey where we can actually fundamentally change the way we do our business.
So to all intents and purposes we're in a digital revolution right now in terms of the way that our customers are looking at how they use data and how they use technology to help them drive both operational efficiency, growth and mitigate risk. Quantexa seems like it's well placed and right in the middle of this, and as a result, I've seen you rapidly grow over the last three years. I think you grew from originally having six people to 250 employees and seven offices across the world. What's next for Quantexa?
It's been a fantastic journey. And sometimes in the morning, I do pinch myself to say, Okay, what have we achieved in such a small amount of time and, you know, another interesting statistic to that journey is in December of 2019, we celebrated our 4,000th user on the platform, which is tremendous growth. And, you know, I look forward to the next 12 to 18 months as we continue that growth at the same sort of trajectory, but more importantly, to become the arsenal within our clients of managing that data, providing them that context so they can make those better decisions. And as you say, if it's around effectiveness of controls within say compliance, or more upstream in supporting our clients to make those better decisions on the onboarding and the prospecting to clients, that's definitely within our journey. Now from the organization, as you correctly say, we celebrated our 250th employee last month and you know, our growth continues on even till this week, we're now 270 people in Quantexa, which is just in three weeks, we've gone up by another 20 people, which is fantastic for the organization and that brings, you know, a number of different opportunities to our staff, our clients, our partners, and you know, gives great return back to our investors as well. So very excited. And it's been a great journey to date. And I look forward to even more success with our clients and our partners over the next 12 to 18 months,
And we're very excited for you as well. So if I track back to the, I guess, focusing around the regulatory environment and money laundering and financial crime, obviously, money laundering, financial crime is still a huge, huge issue for the UK with 90 billion estimated to be laundered through the UK on one year alone. What's your thoughts on the impact of I guess, human trafficking? I know this is a subject you're passionate about, and what role do you feel like businesses should be playing to help prevent this?
You know, almost an eye watering scene is when you see the consequences of getting the controls wrong when it comes down to money laundering. And one of those consequences as you say is human trafficking, sex trafficking, you know, other consequences is things such as wildlife crime, such as terrorism activity, and so on, and this is fundamentally what goes wrong when we do not have those controls in place within financial crime. You know, when you see in the data, a cost of a young human between the age of say 11 to 14 being trafficked into the UK for around 700 euros, it's, as I say, it's eye watering. And as society, we need to raise the awareness of human trafficking. And it can start very small, you know, from a cleaner in a house all the way up to large rings of the actual traffickers, you know, could be part of a vicious gang. So, as society we need to raise that awareness, even things such as you know, buying fake watches or buying fake garments, again, you are fueling that industry. And you know, some of the work we do with our partners, including your organization as well, of connecting those silo data together, bringing to surface those insights and then working closely with law enforcement or with organizations, which are there to prevent such gangs and such patterns. It’s something that we know we should be doing more and you know, as part of Quantexa, I've invested into a number of different programs with our clients and partners, so that we can actually put these better controls in place. It all comes down to the data and it all comes down to piecing together that information to drive that intelligence. We are trying to do everything we can as a scale up in the UK and global to mitigate such bad things in society.
Thank you Vish, I fully agree. I think we both have roles to play both for Dun and Bradstreet as a data provider and you know, Quantexa as a technology provider to help businesses combat this.
Agreed. And I think we cannot do this in isolation. data such as yourself, tech, such as myself, consulting firms out there who have tremendous people, our clients in a large F.I. or small F.I. or even the public sector, it has to all come together, the collaboration between the public sector, the private sector, and I will call it in broad terms, the vendor community, which includes data tech, and consulting all needs to come together, we kind of need to put, you know, our, our organization definitely like this, but putting our egos outside of the room come into the room and work together to solve this problem. I'm about to kick off an initiative with an organization that one could say, you know, is our competitor. But we're coming to the common goal here of stopping, deterring and preventing human trafficking. So we must do this, this is not a luxury item that we should be thinking about. We have to be doing this.
I fully agree Vish. So to use a sports analogy, so when people think about Quantexa and when I initially thought about Quantexa I always thought about it from a compliance perspective and a financial crime perspective, but my understanding of the way that you're helping business at the moment is as both a defensive strategy and an offensive strategy. So the defensive in terms of focusing around mitigation of regulatory risk and financial crime. But from an offensive perspective, your solutions are also being used to better identify growth opportunities. Can you tell me a little bit more about those solutions and how that works?
For my sins, being a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, I have to go through the ups and downs of a of a premier league season and I've done so for a number of years. Especially this season. So yeah, I think I think an analogy here is great. And, as mentioned, I'm a keen football supporter. Now you are right. So for me for all controls. Getting the defense tight, is very important is no matter how many goals we score up front, if you've got a leaky defense, it then becomes a pure competition or how many goals can I score in how quickly I can do it. So, coming back to your analogy of getting the defense right from a compliance and a risk point of view. better understanding that risk and those controls and putting those controls in place is first and foremost, a fundamental part of any organization. You know, when I started Quantexa back in March 2016, it was very important to go and speak to clients and get the client journey starting. But if I didn't have a product, and with the right security measures in the product, with the right security controls, etc., all in place, it doesn't matter how many clients I acquired, it makes no sense if I couldn't deliver a sustainable platform for large organizations such as HSBC. So it's really important to get our controls in place, get our governance in place, you know, looking at from a scale up like Quantexa but the same is true for large organizations and large F.I.s, where they need to get those right controls in place from a compliance and a risk perspective and their onboarding. However, you know, to be shrewd about this, we all need to increase our top line. Putting a lot of cost in place, from a controls point of view is important and absolutely categorical. But we have to make money for our investors, for our people. And therefore we need to understand that top line growth. So once you've got those controls in place, you know, being able to sweat those assets is a key theme. I speak to my clients about, you know, we've invested both of us the client and Quantexa into this asset, which is giving you those best controls in place for financial crime or more broader compliance and risk. How can you sweat those assets? How can you monetize those assets upstream to use it in things such as prospecting, marketing, go-to-market, because fundamentally it does come back to the data and the context of that data. If I can tell you who your high-risk clients are. On the flip side, I can tell you who your good clients are, I can tell you who your clients with a better ecosystem and a better supply chain you should be targeting. And therefore using that I can then also tell you all your prospects and understand those prospects that you're not currently working with that you should be working with. So you're absolutely spot on. You can't just focus on one or the other, you have to do both. But from a Quantexa point of view, what we sort of mastered over the last sort of three years, is, when we put our platform in place, the way we've architected our platform, it allows our clients to use the platform across multiple use cases, without copying the data multiple times. Because the challenge would be if you then become siloed, again, within Quantexa that's a bad thing is actually a thing that we're trying to stop. So if you look at some of our deployments today, in some of the larger organizations, say at HSBC, or even some of the smaller organizations such as OFX out in Australia, what we've mastered here is one platform that can service multiple applications, both on the defensive side, but also the offensive side.
From a personal perspective, I think it's critical for a couple of reasons. Partly because if you're focusing on your new prospects in that way, it means you're actually assessing your regulatory risk earlier, which ultimately means you're combating some of those challenges earlier. But equally it also saves a huge amount of time and effort for our customers. So I think we also see it from a data perspective and it's definitely where the future is going in terms of actually managing data once but using it across all of the multiple use cases.
I wholeheartedly agree. And you can feel for sometimes the relationship managers within organizations, you know, they think they've got a great prospect that they've worked weeks or months trying to acquire the business for. And then suddenly, it goes through the credit decisioning process or the compliance process. And for the right reasons, it's declined or reduced or whatnot. Wouldn't it be nice to have had that information right up front, obviously, you still go through the same checks and balances internally, but you're getting a higher confidence up front to the RM that this customer is likely to be onboarded by your organization. So therefore, it gives them more power when they are aggressively in the market trying to acquire this business. So I completely agree from a sales point of view, that's a huge I would say tick in the box. And as you say, the use of your type of data, specifically your data that we've used with our clients, has been fundamental in understanding that broader context. Because what your data provides our platform with the client’s data is not just who the client is currently banking, but also the connections from those banked customers, to the other stakeholders, that the bank potentially is not banking. And that's a powerful part of your data that we've used quite extensively in one of our clients, where we brought together the richness of their data, in this case being HSBC, richness of their data, but also the richness of Dun & Bradstreet data within the Quantexa platform, to understand that broader context. And it's been a fundamental case study for the bank.
So final question before we finish. We often ask our guests for a piece of advice or learning to leave with our listeners. As the founder of a startup yourself, would you do anything differently if you were doing that again?
Great question. How long do we have left for this podcast? I would say we've done more things right than wrong. Hence, you know, we've been reasonably successful over the last sort of three and a half, four years. But I'll go with a couple of points here. And I'll try to answer your question, but I will also give you another flavor as well, if that's okay. So, some people said, you know, what have been the critical points around the journey, and I cannot stress enough when you're a startup, when you're taking that brave step of starting your company, I always come back to a film that I used to watch when I was a little kid, a film called Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And it's a piece when Harrison Ford, right at the end needs to go and get the cup. You've got to the part of the journey, all these obstacles are all flying around with him where he needs to cross, what seems and looks like no bridge, and he's there and he's looking across and he knows I need to go from A to B. And he's thinking and his dad,Sean Connery, you know, is pretty much dying to death, a few meters behind him and he's sitting there and he's going, Okay, I can't jump this. The book is telling me that there is a path here. What do I do because I can't see the path. And then you know, the music goes up. And you know, he puts his hand on his heart and he looks and he takes a step back. And then he takes a step forward. And miraculously this path comes and then he walks across. In business sometimes you can have 70 80% of the truth, but you need to make that step. You need to be able to say, I'm backing my vision, I'm backing my founder’s vision, and we need to execute this. And I won't have all the truth, there is no CEO in the world will have the time to gather hundred percent of all the information to make the full decision. You rely upon your experts, your SMEs, your advisors, your own team, your clients or partners, etc. You get 70 to 80% of that fact, and then you make that decision. One thing I would say as a learning is, and we've done tremendously well as the organization being agile as where we are, is making and backing that decision. You know, when I resigned from E&Y to start Quantexa, you know, it was on a vision, it was on a strategy that you know, context will empower people to make those better decisions. And it was a bit of a hand on heart, you know, consulting my wife, who was kind of looking at me going, are you mad, but then, you know, getting to the journey with me was a big step. The second thing I would also come back to is money and cash is king, I cannot stress that ensuring you have the right payment terms with your clients. You know, keeping a very strong eye on the balance sheet is unbelievably critical when you're starting your organization. You can talk about big, large contracts, you can talk about, you know, a framework agreement with the bank, but when the tyre hits the road, what are your payment terms with the client and some of these large organizations, you know, it's a 90 day payment term. So therefore, I could be 120 days in debt before I even get paid or 60 day payment, and then I'm 90 days in debt and so on.It's so important that when you go to start your business, if you think you need six months of cash flow, you need 12 months, just double it. Always, always double it because cash is king, you need to pay those salaries, you need to pay the rent of the floor you're sitting on. You know, there are so many other hidden costs that you come across. It's so important that when you go and embark on this journey, anyone who embarks on a on a startup journey, make sure you've got the backing of your family, because the last thing you want is coming home after a 15 hour shift at office to have a lot of challenge at home. It's so important you have the support of your family. Cash, make sure you've got enough cash. And the third point I would say, you will only ever get 70 80% of the story. You've got to back your instinct and back your founders and back your team, and most importantly, back your vision and make that step. Those I would say are three or four things I've learned quite in the sharp end of business over the last three or four years, but it's been very important.
Well thanks for the insight Vish. I didn't have you down for an Indiana Jones fan. But it does feel like calculated risk is paying off. And I hear you but your third round of funding, hopefully this year?
Yes. So it's going to be exciting2020. So when I started Quantexa it was all about a five-year journey. We've got to our five year in four years, which is great. Now we're starting to plan together, my investors, my advisors around what does the next journey look like? And how do we go from where we are today to that next big step? So yeah, 2020 is going to be exciting, you know, partnerships, such as yourself, will play critical to our strategic objectives within Quantexa. And yes, 2020 will be a big raise, I won't put a date on it! But it will be in 2020 we will do a raise and it will be exciting for everyone involved, both from internal but also our clients. We will be expanding to more geographies, we will be expanding into a double downing in our existing geographies, to better support and be there with our clients. It always comes down to the people, so you know, continuously recruiting the high caliber people that we have to date, it's going to be an exciting 12 months.
Well, I wish you the best of luck with 2020. And you know, personally, I look forward to working with you during the year. It's been enormous pleasure interviewing you today. And thanks very much for your time and insight.
No, thank you, Ed. And thanks for Dun & Bradstreet for hosting me this morning. It's been a pleasure being here, and I look forward to working with you in the broader group across 2020 and beyond.