Nicholas Pratt talks to the twin brothers behind ‘low-code’ regtech firm Governance.com about how their backgrounds brought them together and why there is a need for greater inclusion of business users in IT development.
If you were to search for a physical embodiment of a modern-day fintech, you may well find Dutch identical twin brothers, Bert and Rob Boerman. They are behind Luxembourg-based regtech firm Governance.com.
One (Bert) has a background in banking and the other (Rob) is a technologist. And back in 2013, the two decided to join forces and establish their own fintech company.
In a familiar story for fintech conceptions, the rationale was based on the asset management market’s inability to deal with a rise in regulatory requirements that has seen many firms dedicating up to 20% of their workforce to compliance processes.
“The sheer volume of regulatory requirements has become so complex and overwhelming that many firms don’t see the wider view, they get lost in the details,” says Bert Boerman, who as well as co-founder is also chief executive at Governance.com.
“We are trying to bring back some manageability. Whenever you see a fine for anti-money laundering failures, it is generally because of a lack of organisation rather than malicious intent.”
In 2012, Bert was head of the depositary business for ABN Amro. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, asset managers were facing a rise in compliance owing to the like of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II, and the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive. Similarly, the service providers from fund administrators to depositary banks faced a much greater responsibility for oversight.
On the one hand, this represented an opportunity for service providers to pursue additional revenue streams as compliance consultants and for asset managers to get greater visibility over their processes and to unearth data that could be the source of valuable analytical insight.
However, it also brought home to asset managers the enormity of the data management task ahead of them. For years, firms had operated in separate, departmental silos and had managed their data and developed their technology in a similarly decentralised way.
“My problem was that we were running the depositary business on spreadsheets,” says Bert. “I wanted a more structured approach.”
Business people feel ignored
Another huge barrier to a more structured approach was the lack of communication between the business and the IT teams. Consequently, much of the software development was being led by the IT team rather than the actual users. “This is the reason why business people feel ignored. It is difficult to get a solution. The IT people don’t understand the problem we are trying to solve, but likewise, business people don’t understand the complexities that IT people face when trying to build applications,” says Bert.
Meanwhile, Rob was working as the chief technology officer (CTO) at Tevreden.nl, a Netherlands-based online customer satisfaction company. After Bert explained his business challenge to Rob, the two of them worked together on producing a solution.
By 2013, both Bert and Rob decided to formalise their partnership. They left their respective roles, established Governance.com and began rolling out an improved product to third parties.
Bert had initially wrongly assumed that every bank would want a DIY approach where they could configure a customised application using a platform. But banks and asset managers were increasingly looking to buy rather than build their technology. The cost of employing an in-house IT team and maintaining in-house systems was simply too prohibitive for all but the largest players.
“Our biggest assumption however later turned out to be our biggest benefit,” says Bert. “While most companies don’t want to build or even configure everything themselves, they did want the benefits of speed and agility that a low-code platform offers. So we returned to our original concept but redesigned it into something that could also allow dedicated implementation partners to adapt it to banks’ infrastructures.”
Lack of data governance hinders change
The first thing that needed to change was a stronger focus on solving the lack of organisation, data quality and data governance, says Rob. “A lot of firms have recognised the need for operational change but without a solid data governance you cannot start to address processes.”
One of the differentiating features of Governance.com is its use of low-code technology, a software development approach that requires little or no coding to build applications and processes. This approach has been in existence for more than a decade but the low-code term was not coined until 2014.
The principal benefit of low-code is the speed of development and the accessibility. However, there are also concerns about compliance and security if asset management firms create their own apps outside of a solid and secure IT governance framework.
“There are so many variations to the same technical problem and many different use cases,” says Rob. “We look at the business cases to put into the data and processes of our clients. They need a tool that is highly configurable. This is where low-code comes in.”
He also says it is possible to avoid the security concerns. “It is not changing the underlying code, logic or structure but it enables change from the user’s perspective,” says Rob. “For us, coding is the source code of the application which should never be done by business people or even analysts. There are too many ways that this would allow for security leaks, which we obviously don’t believe is an acceptable risk
“Every time you write a line of code, you need to test, test, test because every new line of code opens up ten new possibilities for data breaches. You also have to ensure that you are protecting the data quality and integrity,” says Rob.
Involve the users in digitalisation
But while the two brothers do not believe in the ‘citizen developer’ phenomenon, they do believe that business users have to be included and supported from the outset of any IT development project. This is especially important for any firm looking to embark on a digital transformation project.
As Rob says: “The first decision in digitalisation is normally made by management but you need to involve the users in the development process. They are the ones that will be using it so it is really important that they understand it.”
“When you implement a low-code programme, the way you operate and the way you collect data changes,” says Bert. “Some business users are more technically-minded than others and they need to be included. Ultimately, you need to know how the platform will be used and test it. For example, who is going to sign the documents? How will digital signatures be used? There are often questions that the business users have not thought about until they test out the platform.”
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