KPMG has joined the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance as a corporate member and has declared blockchain as “critical to the industry,”
Blockchain is gaining momentum across different industries as its benefits start to become clear. The concept of a distributed and transparent ledger gives businesses a way to improve efficiency, cut down waiting times and open new revenue streams.
KPMG is the latest major firm to publicly commit to furthering adoption by joining a working group.
The Wall Street Blockchain Alliance (WSBA) is a non-profit trade organisation that’s working to advocate the introduction of the blockchain in financial services markets worldwide.
KPMG said it’s joining the group so it can work with leading blockchain experts and help to promote use of the technology within the finance industry. It’s pursuing several long-term goals, including an improved customer experience and reduced operating costs.
“Blockchain is maturing toward the production phase and it is clear that it has the potential to dramatically impact financial services by improving outcomes critical to the industry such as cost of operations, capital consumption, customer experience and in some cases new business models and revenues,” said Eamonn Maguire, global leader of KPMG’s Digital Ledger services.
KPMG’s decision to join the WSBA will give the alliance more visibility as it develops standards for blockchain use within the financial markets. A common set of standards will allow for those within the industry to collaborate on a shared blockchain platform.
Existing corporate members of the alliance include Calypso Technology, RiskSpan, OTC Exchange Network, BlockEx and blockchain analytics platform Blockchain Intelligence Group.
The addition of KPMG will provide a direct bridge between the predominantly tech-centric existing members and the industry that the alliance intends to transform.
“We look forward to collaborating with them, as our global members and indeed the world, begin to implement blockchain innovations across financial markets and beyond,” said Ron Quaranta, Chairman of the WSBA.
How Wealthsimple grew to more than $2 billion in assets in less than 4 years
Founder and CEO Mike Katchen on the crucial balance between steady growth and creative innovation when scaling a financial services company.
#ScaleStrategy is produced by DX Journal and OneEleven. This editorial series delivers insights, advice, and practical recommendations to innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Our in-depth Q&A with Mike Katchen can be found here.
It’s February 2017 and Wealthsimple is woefully unprepared for tax season.
“We didn’t anticipate this huge spike,” says Mike Katchen, Co-Founder and CEO, Wealthsimple, which got its start at OneEleven. “The industry talks about taxes being super seasonal and it’s the busy time of year, but we never experienced that before. During last year’s tax season, we were wholly under-resourced on our customer support team, which led to delays. People were working 120-hour weeks for a couple of months straight to try and dig our way out of that hole.”
Since its launch in September 2014 with 3 people, Wealthsimple has grown to over $2B in assets under management, 175 employees, and raised $165 million in capital from Power Financial Group. In 2018, it landed on the 2018 Narwhal list, a University of Toronto report that highlights Canada’s 50 most financially attractive tech companies. The story of its scale up is filled with moments of challenge where Katchen and the Wealthsimple team learned on the fly how to best balance steady, consistent growth with innovative leaps forward.
For tax season this year, Katchen wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. It was time to innovate.
“Rather than hiring an army of customer service people, our technology team tried to figure out if there was software we could build that would both support our customer support resources as well as eliminate the need for customers to call in,” says Katchen.
It worked. In 2017, there were more than 35,000 interactions in the month leading up to the RRSP deadline. In 2018, despite tripling their customer base, there was only 5,000 more interactions and no additional customer service people. “People were working harder than they normally worked, but nowhere near 100-hour weeks and it was a very manageable process,” he says.
Gardening vs Planting
Tax season 2017 is a stark reminder for Katchen that Wealthsimple must ensure it is two things: robust and scalable.
“Historically, we like to do a lot of things,” he says. “We get really excited about big ideas and don’t always see the ideas all the way through.” Katchen realized that they needed to be selective in what they pursue because “real technical debt accumulates if you build things you’re not going to commit to, and it becomes more difficult to manage as you scale.”
In the last year, Wealthsimple has refined their product planning process to better activate the great ideas within their team. Now anyone in the company can pitch their ideas, but with a process in place to determine what actually gets built and what gets killed.
In an effort to balance growth with innovation, Katchen recently introduced a new framework for thinking about how teams can be more disciplined about allocating resources: “gardening” and “planting”. Gardening is about tending to the current business. Planting is about new ideas.
Katchen says 75 percent of team effort is now spent on gardening in order to grow their market share, optimize on delivering a better experience to customers, and to continue improve the business fundamentals.
The other 25 percent is reserved for planting new ideas to support Wealthsimple’s much bigger aspirations.
“We want to build a business around the world that truly transforms the landscape of financial services. And to do that requires some big bets,” he says.
Whether gardening or planting, Wealthsimple teams are empowered to build processes and develop solutions to get work done. Plus, some of Katchen’s favourite moments are when his team accomplishes something he has no involvement in.
“The ethos of building a team is to find people who are way smarter than you,” he says. “If I feel the need to exercise control, then I’ve hired the wrong people. If I am exercising control over people who are much smarter than me, then I am not letting them reach their potential and I’ll never know what they could possibly bring to the table. I want the company to do great things that I have nothing to do with.”
Power of Transparency
One key way Katchen supports his team to get work done is with practices that promote and support transparency.
Consider the company’s long-standing weekly all-hands meetings; not only does everyone on the team get to hear at the same time how the business is doing that week, along with priorities and challenges, each of the members of the leadership team also take turn leading the meeting. This allows for different perspectives to be openly shared.
Another example is a practice from within the weekly meetings called FUD (which stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt). The practice invites anyone in the company to publicly or anonymously share an “an existential concern” — aka a fear, uncertainty or doubt — that they have about the business. Katchen was inspired to adopt FUD by Stripe and believes it re-enforces that it’s okay to have tough conversations at the company.
The last transparency practice is a bit unorthodox: Katchen makes Board documents accessible to the whole company. Again inspired by Stripe, Katchen says that when smart people are given access to information, they make better decisions. Katchen would much rather err on the side of transparency than hiding things from people, or labelling documents “privileged information.” The only thing he removes is highly sensitive content such as compensation, but company financials are available to any employee who wants to see them.
As a first-time entrepreneur Katchen readily admits that Wealthsimple has more work to do around building a scalable process. “[Good process is] something you can’t even see. It’s just a way of operating that makes everyone better, but not something you pay attention to or gets in the way of work,” he says.
As he continues to grow Wealthsimple, Katchen welcomes the unforeseen challenges and remains committed to his larger vision.
“I’m on a personal mission to build a Canadian champion globally. I want to see more companies in Canada take on the world and build long-lasting global institutions,” he says. “The only thing that’s true is that if you’re scaling a business, every six months it’s going to be a different business. In order for you to be successful in your role, you just have to keep learning and stay one step ahead of where the business needs to be at the next journey.”
Up next: Learn more about Wealthsimple’s ScaleStrategy story in our Q&A with CEO Mike Katchen.
Q&A: Wealthsimple CEO Mike Katchen talks process, culture and scale pressure
In three-and-a-half years, Wealthsimple has raised $165 million in capital from the Power Financial Group and scaled from three employees to 175. And in early 2018, the company announced a milestone of more than $2 billion in assets under management and cemented itself in the vanguard of Canada’s new breed of financial services businesses.
“I’m on a personal mission to build a Canadian company globally,” says Co-Founder and CEO, Mike Katchen. “I want to see more companies in Canada take on the world and build long-lasting global institutions.”
Wealthsimple’s scale-up story is the stuff of legends (you can read our piece on their journey here). As part of #ScaleStrategy, Katchen spoke with Bilal Khan, Managing Partner of M6ix Ventures and the founding CEO of OneEleven, about the pressure, pain and pleasures of growing rapidly.
Bilal Khan: What has the experience of scaling your business been like?
Mike Katchen: I think the hard part for me is that we’ve never done this before. We didn’t really know what good process looked like. I like to think that good process is something you can’t even see. It’s just a way of operating that makes everyone better, but not something you pay attention to or gets in the way of work. Today, we’re trying to introduce structure to make people more productive, but we still have a ways to go on that front.
Khan: And you’re happy to let team members build the processes themselves?
Katchen: I’m very hands-off. I’m here to support our people to do the best work of their lives.
Katchen: If they need my help or support, they want to problem-solve things, come to me. But I am not going to drive the agenda for each individual team as to what they’re supposed to accomplish, what they’re working on, what their goals are. I’ll encourage them to push their thinking, but it’s not up to me to set each person’s ownership over their parts of the business. That’s a key point of our style.
Khan: Was there a time when you realized a certain process or system that you were using was starting to become disastrous and you had to introduce something new there?
Katchen: On the people side, I led HR and recruiting for the first 50 hires. It was really important on the recruiting side, but a terrible idea on the HR side. Quickly after that, our first HR leader came in and helped to structure some of the “people process” that we have here, which made a big difference. At some point you transform from being a small, scrappy family-like team to building a company where things like career paths, trajectory, titles, salary and benchmarking become really important. As soon as you hit a certain size, you have to think about what the company starts to look like rather than just a group of folks trying to will something into existence.
On the product side, in the early days, you go by your gut. You build the things you want. That’s still is a part of our ethos because we are clients of our products and we love to build things that we want to use. At the same time, you start to pay real technical debt if you build things you’re not going to commit to, and you become much less nimble as you scale. In the last year, we really tried to implement a better product planning process where anyone in the company can pitch what we build, but we have a process in place on how we decide what to build, what to kill. This is important to help us stay focused on building the right things.
Khan: Tell me about a scale pressure that was a hard nut to crack.
Katchen: Last year we were unprepared for the enormity of tax season in Canada. The industry talks about taxes being super seasonal and that tax season is the busy time of year, but we never experienced that before. We didn’t anticipate this huge spike. During last year’s tax season, we were wholly under-resourced on our customer support team, and this led to some poor experiences and delays that we had to crawl our way out of it. People were working 120-hour weeks for a couple of months straight to try and dig our way out of that hole.
This year, we tried to be a lot more thoughtful about it. Rather than hiring an army of customer service people, we threw a technology team at our customer support operations and tried to figure out if there was software we could build that would both support our customer support resources as well as eliminate the need for customers to call in.
What we found is that last year, there were something like 35,000 interactions in the month leading up to the RRSP season deadline. This year, we have more than three times the amount of customers but only had 40,000 interactions. All without a bigger team.
Khan: How do you continue to be innovative, test new product offerings without impacting the business at scale?
Katchen: We get really excited about big ideas and probably throw too little resources at them and don’t always see the ideas all the way through to where they need to be: robust and scalable.
We need to focus on maintaining our positioning and growing our market share, keep optimizing to deliver a better experience, keep improving to make the fundamentals of our business better. But our aspirations are much bigger than just that. We want to build a business around the world that truly transforms the landscape of financial services. That requires some big bets and not all will pay off.
So, one of the new things we’re introducing is an analogy from one of our team members: Garden and Plant. This describes those two activities of growing market share and making big bets. We need to be smart about how we resource between those two activities. To do that, we’ve decided that 75 percent of the company resources should go toward gardening activities that support business growth, and 25 percent should go toward planting or cultivating new ideas. I think it will bring some more discipline to allocating resources.
Khan: How do you manage culture with 165 employees and growing?
Katchen: We’ve done a few things right with culture at scale.
Katchen: We still have an all-hands meeting every week, and we’ve iterated a lot on the content of that meeting and who leads it. I used to lead them all the time, and then my co-founder and I started sharing the responsibility, and now it’s everyone on the leadership team can run them. I think people enjoy that different team members from other parts of the business get to share how the company is doing. It adds perspective on how things are going that I think is valued.
And at that meeting, we try to do things that ensure that people know where we are going. We remind people of the company priorities and how we’re doing moving against them. We talk about metrics.
Specifically, we have a concept called FUD, which we stole from Stripe, who we really admire for their culture). It stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. It is a chance for anyone in the company to publicly or anonymously share what we call “an existential concern” that they have about the business. It’s a pretty jarring thing for people the first time they hear it. But I think it inspires a culture of transparency and enforces that it’s okay to have tough conversations here.
Khan: Have you had the conversation around potentially bringing in people who have done it before.
Katchen: Ah, the grey hair question. We’ve been fortunate and managed to grow very quickly. Boards are happy when you grow fast. For me, I’ve always had the mindset that there might come a day where it makes sense to bring in someone. To me, there’s no ego about it. I’m here because I believe in what we’re building at Wealthsimple. I believe in the team. I want to see this through to building a truly transformative company that makes people’s lives better. Right now, I am probably the right person in this role. If that changes, that’s cool, so long as it’s for the right reasons and it’s the right person.
For Wealthsimple, we gave up control as a business. We sold the majority stake to Power Corp., which is a really unusual thing to do for a business of our size. And the reason why it’s okay is because to take a company all the way to IPO, you’re going to have to do that at some point. For us, hanging on to control is less relevant. It’s a question of “how do you set up your business for long-term success?” We tried to find a partner that we trusted and believed could be a long-term partner to help us get there. It made that trade-off a lot easier. They share that trust with us and our management team.
Khan: What books helped you in your scaleup journey?
- “Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson” By Andrea Mandel-Campbell. This book was a huge wake-up call on the need to think big and do things differently. I talk about the book a lot because it informs a much of my thinking around Canada and how we need to build global companies.
- “The Lean Startup”. By Eric Ries. How many businesses get built where people spend years of their time on products and projects that don’t have fit because there’s no market for it? They never test it. Everyone has to know that.
- “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. In the first year of scaling, I remember reading what he wrote about hiring friends who have been a part of the business from the beginning and how much that sucked. And it does, it’s heart-wrenching.
Here’s the thing about how digital transformation will impact your business
Here’s the thing about digital transformation: Everyone knows it’s happening.
But it’s hard to know which new technology or innovation is going to be the one that upends your industry, opens up massive opportunity, threatens your company, or forever alters your role.
Today we’re introducing a new, custom-tailored service to help you figure that out. The service combines journalism, research and market analysis to help you and your team understand the state of digital transformation (DX) and explore the key developments that will impact your employees and industry.
We call this our “Here’s the thing about…” service. Teaming up with the DX Journal, we leverage journalists, analysts, researchers and strategists to help your company get a full picture of:
- What is likely to impact your industry
- Your team’s readiness to deal with it
- An in-depth look at major developments you need to pay attention to
Here’s how it works:
This service is designed to give perspective on how digital transformation will impact your company. We present our findings in an easy-to-understand format breaking down trends for multiple departments and for every skill set with documented takeaways and action items.
We uncover and share those findings in a simple, two-step process:
Step 1: Research & interview process
- Custom research on digital transformation trends impacting your industry, customers, and competitors.
- One-on-one interviews with your company’s executives, department heads or managers, employees and/or customers.
Step 2: Research presentation
- A presentation to your company in an internal keynote-style presentation to any size group — be it a small strategy team or an all-hands employee seminar.
- Our team of researchers, journalists and analysts will share the research findings, key trends in your industry and provide an overview of how well you’re set up to address challenges or embrace opportunities based on the employee interviews.
Who this service is for:
Let’s start by clarifying that digital transformation is not just an IT problem. Our clients are often leaders who are not technologists. In fact, many companies we speak with are surprised to learn how many areas of the business are impacted by DX, including marketing, HR, IT, sales, operations, legal, and others.
There’s no escaping that every area of a business is going to have to manage change that digital transformation brings. Digital transformation should not be left for the IT department alone to figure out.
With that in mind, we’ve designed this report and presentation service most commonly for executives and managers in:
- Operations, finance & strategy
- Human resource departments
- Marketing and sales departments
- IT departments
Sure, you might not have to deal with artificial intelligence in your accounting department tomorrow. Or chatbots in your HR department. Or big data solutions for your manufacturing warehouse. But how can you be sure if you don’t understand these emerging technologies? What if your competitors are? And what if they’re getting a 6-month head start?
To get started, please contact the DX Institute.
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
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