Working lunch interview with Stephen Platt. Written by Julia Hunt, Connect Magazine
Stephen Platt’s Linkedin profile is one of the most diverse you will find. A successful barrister and former Chairman of a Channel island law firm; a visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University, Washington D. C. The author of Criminal Capital’ one of the most highly regarded tests on how financial institutions facilitate money laundering. A former consultant to the World Bank. And now, the Chairman and Chief Executive of KYC Global Technologies, a Jersey-based RegTech business offering next generation customer screening and data analytics technology solutions.
After working on the legal side of regulation for over 25 years, Stephen has seen what happens when financial institutions fail to carry out due diligence on clients. His new business, KYC Global technologies in partnership with Dow Jones, uses the most comprehensive datasets and up to date technology to help companies screen customers in real time, helping them achieve 24/7 compliance to combat financial crime.
Formula One and finance might not seem to have much in common, however, behind the scenes, both are coming to rely on one thing – data. In sport, like in business, managing data successfully is the difference between being a winner or an also ran. In financial regulation, good data management can mean the difference between having a flourishing business, or facing prosecution, reputation damage, or worse.
“With the right real-time data analysis, a Formula One team can predict problems before they happen and improve performance. It’s similar for airlines and for sport coaches. So it’s hard to believe financial services aren’t better at this considering how much more is at stake. My dream was to create a product that would allow financial services to benefit from next generation screening and data analytical tools akin to Formula One teams, to help optimise AML performance.
“With the new technologies AML failure has become a choice. It’s no longer acceptable for businesses not to screen customers in a manner that is risk based and I don’t believe it’s acceptable for compliance functions to continue to rely on Excel spreadsheets that are out of date the moment they are produced. The finance industry is running out of excuses for failures in anti-money laundering.”
Stephen has used his legal and regulatory knowledge to develop three key RegTech products: RiskScreen Core for on-boarding customers, RiskScreen Batch for on-going risk based customer screening and Panoptic a data aggregation and real-time risk profiling, alerting and reporting tool that sits over existing data sets.
Just 18 months after launching, KYC Global Technologies products are used by over 400 financial institutions, corporates, governments and regulators across 64 countries and RiskScreen has recently partnered with Dow Jones to use its data covering PEPs, watch lists, sanctions lists, and adverse media.
“We’re not like most tech businesses because we have genuine subject matter expertise that we apply in the development of our tech to help businesses take advantage of solutions for managing and screening data. We have developed world-class, next generation tech products to help companies comply with international AML and anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) regulations. We recently installed our new Batch screening tool at a business and within a week they told us that it was identifying more PEPs than their old screening system.
“Taken together our three tools comprise a complete end-to-end AML ecosystem. Panoptic is the most comprehensive data analytical tool I have ever seen. We showed it to a Tier 1 bank that said ‘we’ve spent $10m dollars and two years trying to develop something like this and haven’t got there yet. How have you done it?’ Panoptic enables businesses to suck data from disparate, underlying data sets – CRM systems, book keeping systems, payroll systems, etc. and then make it work for them. Businesses spend less time trying to find the data and more time making qualitative decisions based on it. Historically, organisations have tried to cope by massively increasing compliance headcount but with these solutions, that really isn’t necessary.”
According to the National Crime Agency, £90 billion of criminal money is laundered through the UK each year. The UK Government’s latest anti-corruption strategy includes creating a new economic crime centre and a new minister for economic crime. With the Jersey Financial Crime Strategy Group (JFCSG) also about to conduct a national risk assessment of threats posed by money laundering and terrorist financing to the island, organisations have a short time-frame left to get data in order.
“RegTech is about much more than compliance. It’s about helping fight terrorism, human trafficking and the drugs trade, by tackling the way criminals finance their operations. Having instant access to the best, most recent data allows companies to stay one step ahead of criminals, rather than be several paces behind them.
“Many banks say they’re not aware the tech is out there, but while people don’t know what they don’t know, if you’re running an organisation dealing with significant levels of funds, it should be your business to know.
“Some businesses are frightened of what more accurate data might reveal about their book of business, but in the long run ignorance is not bliss. You’re much better off finding out what the problems are sooner rather than later. Senior people are starting to be held more accountable for failures to screen clients and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing, and this is a big step towards making companies embrace new tech instead of hiring more people to square the data circle.”
Stephen’s crusade against financial crime and corruption began at university when he wrote a dissertation on money laundering. It was the time of the BCCI scandal, when investigators were closing in. Dubbed the Bank of Crooks and Criminals, BCCI had become one of the world’s biggest financial laundromats, looking after billions of pounds of illicit assets for the likes of the Medellin Cartel, the Abu Nidal terrorist group, and Saddam Hussein. He now counts the undercover agent who infiltrated BCCI as one of his closest friends.
“Governments are starting to recognise if they tackle the way money is looked after, they can tackle a lot of issues. Serious crime can’t function without financial institutions as accomplices. In a place like Jersey where finance plays such an important role in the economy it’s even more important to ensure local firms up their game. The Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC) will increasingly require information from licence-holders in a digitized format, which is a good way of getting firms to digitize and organise their data and keep it up to date.”
With backers such as MoneySupermarket.com founder Simon Nixon, and Stephen Chandler, Managing Partner of Notion Capital, one of the UK’s largest Fintech Venture Capital Funds, and a board that includes feelunique.com founder Aaron Chatterley and former Premier-league CEO Peter Kenyon, KYC Global Technologies has got off to a good start.
“Setting up a digital business in Jersey was very straightforward. We have a great team. There are some very talented people in the Island, however, if Jersey wants to achieve its ambitions for a digital economy it will need to do more to develop its digital skill set. As we grow, we can already see skill gaps that we will have to go off island to fill. It’s one of the reasons we are opening an office in Tokyo early in the new year.
“RegTech is at a cusp and I expect to see huge developments over the next year as more financial institutions looks at ways to improve processes for client screening and advanced data analytics. As a tech business we’re constantly evolving. We’re already developing new versions for products. AI has a role to play in the future of data, but when it comes to the nuanced judgements required to detect financial crimes, no matter how sophisticated the tech, there will always be a role for humans.”