May 2016 COVER STORY – Financial Technology Beyond Sheer Data

Despite a changing global landscape, Asia remains an exciting region of economic development. In a market estimated to have some 4.7 million high-net-worth individuals and more digitally connected than in any other part of the world, opportunities to leverage “Big Data” to drive growth are clear and present.

In an interview with biz.hk, Sanjeev Chatrath, Managing Director Asia for Financial & Risk at Thomson Reuters, explains how the rapid onset of “Big Data” and the adoption of analytics to create valuable insights are enabling fast and intelligent decision making – a recipe for a powerful driver of growth

Text by Kenny Lau
Interview by Wilson Lau


The speed of business development in the age of advanced information technology is a revolution which has captured the world above and beyond any imagination and on a scale far greater than that of the Industrial Revolution more than a century and a half ago. Today, quintillion bytes of data are created daily, and the rapid onset of “Big Data” has allowed for the adoption of analytics to create valuable insights and to facilitate fast, intelligent decision-making.

This, in fact, will become the single most significant source of market growth and business opportunity if such enormous amounts of information are leveraged in the right way. The phenomenon is particularly pertinent here in Asia where three of the world’s top four economies, based on parity of purchasing power, are located. The fact that a rising class of Asian consumers continues to grow amid rapid wealth creation is a story of tremendous business potential.

In other words, the cyclical trends driving growth in both the financial and corporate sectors mean that Asia remains the most exciting region of economic development and represents an era of “new normal.” The question, from a commercial perspective, is whether businesses are adequately equipped, enabled and well-informed to tap into this unique and diverse market.

“The secular trends in Asia are still very, very strong. You’ve got greater technology adoption and more millionaires in Asia than in any other region, and you’ve got demographics that work extremely favorably for Asia,” says Sanjeev Chatrath, Managing Director Asia for Financial & Risk at Thomson Reuters. “I see recognition among corporations globally that Asia has a tremendous amount of opportunity.”

“This is evidenced in the global rebalance of the Forbes Global 2000 where approximately 700 institutions are in Asia, 542 institutions in the US and 510 in the European Union. Clearly, there are more in this region than in the US or the EU,” he notes. “The focus on growth remains high, but more importantly this focus is now complemented with a balanced attention on sustainability.”

Asia is a region with extremes of demographics: Japan has an aging and receding population, and countries such as India have a younger workforce that is more financially confident, more educated, more traveled and more technologically adept than preceding generations or even their western counterparts, Chatrath points out.

“The evolving needs of the Asian consumer presents unique challenges and opportunities to modern organizations that need to reinvent themselves to provide solutions for these audiences,” he explains. “As an example, the Asian wealth management market is unique in the sense that wealth is self-made and self-directed, and often leverages technology. This is the ‘new normal’ and it presents a new opportunity of connecting businesses and consumers.”

“The impact of the secular shifts is going to be extremely powerful and very uplifting, and technology is going to lead to greater social inclusion by leveling the playing field in many parts,” Chatrath believes. “We will see a greater amount of uniformity as people have similar access to knowledge enabling them to live up to their potential, and hence we are seeing a lot of creativity and focus on accelerators, innovations and FinTech in Asia.”

These innovations, he notes, include machine learning algorithms that can self-heal, and increasing progress on adoption of “blockchain” as well as augmented intelligence, quantum computing, and virtual reality. “The potential for more and more organizations to leverage technology and to drive greater sustainable growth in their businesses is tremendous. And it’s really up to them on how responsive they want to become and how willing they are to embrace change.”

The scale of impact

At a time when the overall quantum of data is expected to double every few years, it is a massive challenge to go about harnessing “Big Data,” hence the need for platforms of immense processing power. Thomson Reuters, for instance, distributes over 10 billion bytes of real-time data daily. At its peak, this can run to eight million bytes every second. With a legacy dating back to 1851, it is recognized as a core industry platform for the financial community with over 11 million interactions daily.

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And the only way forward is to leverage technology to augment what humans are doing on an integrated, open platform which ensures a better, more pristine controlled environment. Augmented Intelligence is an area which has widespread potential of application in wealth management (Robo Advisory, for example), advisory and trading functions, where the ability of processing unprecedentedly large amounts of data with quantum computing remains a key focus.

“We process more data in a day than we did within a month just a few years ago,” Chatrath notes. “We’re talking about an increasing volume, variety and veracity of data, including structured data as in files and unstructured ones like emails, PDFs, and many other formats converted into digital structures, databases and knowledge graphs. We use our own predictive analytics to improve how we find, extract and tag data and to enable customers to use data in ways not possible before.”

“We also use semantic analysis and learning machines to generate sentiment on news and social media, and we have machine learning algorithms that spot suspicious trading patterns and potential fraud,” he adds. “Our open philosophy enables us to partner with customers, liquidity providers, content contributors and regulators and to link our data with their data so that our customers can extract even greater value and superior insights to identify new trends and new opportunities for respective businesses.”

Ideally, professionals across a range of different industries can use data to discover, transact, and execute for a business in a safe, effective and efficient manner. “More and more corporations are thinking about how they can get their dollars to go further and hence they are thinking about cost competitiveness,” Chatrath says. “The idea is for them to be able to develop and derive greater value and to be able to take their businesses forward without the burden of significant capital expenditures.”

“The pursuit of growth at any cost is a thing of the past as increasing numbers of organizations are being very thoughtful. I think people recognize that double-digit, straight-line growth of the past decades will not be the normal, and a straight line is, more often than not, an unhealthy sign,” he believes. “People also realize that there will be more volatility as seen across different asset classes – be it equities, commodities, real estate, or foreign exchange – and that they need to develop strategies for further growth.”

“In essence, our role is to drive value amongst participants in the marketplace – pursuing an integrated, open platform strategy that supports customers and partners in a simpler, more cost-effective way through innovation and an open partnership,” he says. “It means we are delivering intelligent information by synthesizing human intelligence, industry expertise and technological innovation. We are trusted for solutions in helping businesses navigate through the complexity of the world.”

Reuters news is recognized as a trusted source of news and content – it reaches a billion people every day and has received numerous industry accolades as well as Pulitzer Prizes. “We’ve been big in data before data became big. We track more than 40 million instruments a day across all different asset classes, and we’ve accumulated two petabytes of microsecond stamped data since 1996,” Chatrath says. “Just recently our Mergers & Acquisitions database recorded its one millionth entry. That’s one million M&A deals recorded on our database.”

The Asia market

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To a large extent, Thomson Reuters is known to be the world’s largest and oldest FinTech company, with a well-established presence all over the world and a proven apparatus delivering content in a changing global financial landscape. A hundred percent of the Fortune 500 companies are customers, and more than 20 million users globally rely on its solutions across the legal, Tax & Accounting and financial & risk markets to conduct business.

The managed services platform is highly relevant in many of the markets, and Asia is no exception. “We are the heartbeat across economies because we provide market infrastructure that institutions use to exchange values, including foreign exchange and benchmarks, like we’ve done in Hong Kong and Singapore; we’ve also recently delivered market-wide trading venues in Myanmar,” Chatrath points out.

“There are almost more Internet users in Asia than in any other parts of the world. The potential is far from being exhausted because a lot can be done in these geographies, and the infrastructure necessary for growth is still not where it needs to be,” he explains. “It’s very exciting with new markets opening up like in Myanmar or new connections such the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect. It is a huge window of opportunity for new growth in many organizations.”

“From our perspective, Asia has always been a position of privilege, and we’ve been embedded in the region for a long time. So we’ve got very substantive presence,” Chatrath says. “Our legacy in Asia dates back to 1851 when we established our first office in India – it was a tent on a beach in Mumbai more than 160 years ago. We are deeply embedded in Asia and have been in many of the countries for more than a hundred years.”

“We are currently present in more than 16 countries across Asia Pacific, and we’ve got more than 40 percent of our global workforce across the enterprise based in Asia,” he adds. “It is a region where we have made significant investments; it is a region where we’ll continue to support our customers who are looking to reach their global priorities and goals even more effectively.”

And a much larger focus on new growth will be based on sustainable performance, Chatrath notes. “Many companies are thinking about how they can sustain their growth and about the health of their organizations so that they don’t end up taking undue risk while pursuing that growth. It is about keeping a balanced view with solutions to help markets operate in a safer environment.”

“And this is coupled with a focus on compliance with the regulatory environment which has changed drastically since the global financial crisis,” he says. “Last year alone, we tracked over 50,000 regulatory changes; that’s 150 of these changes a day. Therefore, risk and compliance are areas where we will continue to see a demand. It is a tremendous opportunity for leveraging technology to cut through those challenges.”

The way forward

Noting a basket of solutions on an open platform with many industry-standard utilities, Chatrath says a key area is “Know Your Customer,” which includes screening for discrepancies, financial crime monitoring, anti-money laundering protocols on behalf of companies onboarding customers and third parties. And a spectrum of financial institutions and asset managers are turning to these proven solutions with which they can minimize the vast risks in the market today.

“It is part of the sustainability equation. It is about screening third parties in terms of conduct, money laundering, politically exposed people, or in terms of any risky behavior,” he explains. “It is something we do on a daily basis, and we screen hundreds of thousand sites every day for any kind of risk that might exist. It allows our clients to take a proactive approach in searching for any kind of possible vulnerability within their business lines or within their supply chain before it is too late.”

“I’m definitely seeing a lot of emphasis being placed by large companies on how they can develop a better sense of risk management, and in many cases through new technology to manage their counterparty risks,” he says. “A bank, for example, by tracking millions of different price points, can get a sense of what the asset pricings may be or what valuation risks against any given instrument by any particular counterparties may exist.”

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“Similarly, we are seeing a lot of focus on anti-bribery and anti-corruption, and these are on the national agenda for most of the countries across Asia,” he further notes. “Again, our task is to help our customers identify fraud and risks through surveillance. This is particularly relevant in the context of Hong Kong in line with the recent initiatives on issues regarding the environment, sustainability and governance.”

“Specifically, we are tackling the issue of human trafficking through the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Via our Trust Forum Asia in 2015 and again in 2016 we have collaborated with NGOs to identify slave labor and have successfully elevated the issue and garnered commitment efforts to make it an international agenda. Our solutions are tracking thousands of those data points, and corporations are using them to identify where there might be any kind of slaves in their supply chain and how they can eliminate that.”

Whenever there is stress in the market, there is a flight to quality, Chatrath believes. “That’s because people don’t want to run their businesses based on rumors, they want facts. And we’ve seen a significant amount of flight to our platforms, which is a strong endorsement. Even in the days when there was a big amount of market volatility in China, our liquidity venues grew 600 percent within a day.”

“It speaks volumes about our platforms where banks and multiple parties of the buy side and sell side come together,” he says. “Of course, we are known to be one of the most trusted sources of financial news in the world. We are a unique organization – at an intersection of finance, regulations, and technology. And we are here to tailor all of them and deliver them to the world.”

Personal development

Chatrath has worked in Asia’s financial markets for over 20 years and is a veteran in sales, client management, marketing and business management. “My background helps me relate to our customers. People who work with me know that I’m very open and very direct and that I believe in transparency and power of the collective team,” he says. “As a professional, I’m passionate about our customers, about the talent of our organization and about the enterprise that I’m part of.”

“As a global executive based in Asia I have a responsibility to represent the voice of Asia at a senior level and bring back the global alignment into Asia,” he adds. “I like to lead by example, and I like to role model things that I expect from my team. I wouldn’t ask my team to do something that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing myself. That’s how you get a high level of trust and confidence within your team.”

Chatrath has also made significant contributions in advancing the causes of The Women’s Foundation, 30% Club and ASIFMA. As a board member of ASIFMA, he supports advocacy work for development of capital markets because “they have a far-reaching impact in the development of countries,” he says. “I am also passionate about developing high-performing teams where people are respected and valued on merit and merit alone, and I am proud to be part of the 30% Club for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

“I do firmly believe that the most successful and the fittest organizations are those with a healthy balance in terms of diversity of views and inclusiveness, and where you’re able to attract and retain the best talent in the industry, unmindful of their gender, background, nationality, or sexual orientation,” Chatrath reveals.

“It’s why I chaired the regional inclusion council for Thomson Reuters in Asia and sit on the global women’s taskforce in the company,” he says. “I absolutely enjoy my work, and I feel privileged to lead a team of world-class professionals who are extremely focused and passionate about delighting our customers and delivering value to their businesses.”

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