International Banker was recently joined by Mr. B. Scott Fisher, chief executive officer of Treliant, and Mr. Terry Robinson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Vox Financial Partners.
Treliant is a multi-industry consulting firm with a team comprising leading professionals from the finance industry and government. It is based in Washington, D.C., and works with organisations worldwide, helping them navigate regulatory complexities and providing the necessary tools for them to boost their compliance and risk management capabilities as well as their overall business performance.
Vox is a banking consultancy headquartered in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Similar to Treliant, Vox focuses on helping banks manage the regulatory landscape. It also works with clients globally on delivering optimised data management solutions and comprehensive digital transformations.
Treliant acquired Vox in August, to expand its presence throughout Europe and bolster its capital markets consulting capabilities to serve its client base better. Mr. Fisher and Mr. Robinson discussed that acquisition in more depth, underscoring some of the key goals of each firm and how they operate in this challenging environment.
Thank you both for being with us today.
Scott, I’d like to start with yourself, if I may. As I understand it, Treliant’s main headquarters is located in Washington, D.C. What specific advantages does this particular city hold—versus, say, one of the country’s more traditional financial centres?
Treliant’s mission is to serve the financial services industry with regulatory compliance advice. So Washington’s our home base. The policy agenda and the regulatory priorities for domestic and foreign banks doing business in the United States are all negotiated and designed “inside the Beltway” and on Capitol Hill. Having a deep understanding of that agenda is mission critical for Treliant to bring value to our clients.
The reality is that financial services companies must interact with a complex and robust hierarchy of regulatory agencies in the course of delivering products and services to their customers. Treliant prides itself on knowing these regulatory agencies and their respective priorities and examination focuses. We routinely call on regulators to share our observations and gain insights into their priorities for the months and years ahead. Our clients depend on this level of knowledge in our advisory work. There is also a vast legal community based here, which is another important link to our clients.
And similarly, Terry, Vox is based in Belfast. What strategic advantages does the Northern Ireland capital hold when compared with other financial centres in Europe?
Belfast is an excellent place to do business. There is an incredible amount of local talent available in graduates from Queen’s University and Ulster University. There is also a large pool of experienced staff from other financial services companies in the region, allowing us to address our clients’ needs.
Not only is the talent strong, but the salary levels are more manageable. And since Belfast is in the same time zone as London—and with the “Zoom Boom”—our clients there are happy to deal with us remotely and access talent at a much better price point than London rates.
Another important benefit of Belfast is the great support from the local government, particularly Invest NI (Northern Ireland), which supports inward investment both financially and by hosting roadshows and other events. They have been a great partner in helping Vox grow.
Scott, what do you envisage as being the key benefits for Treliant from its recent acquisition of Vox? And what specifically about Vox as a firm appeals to you?
I am very excited about the team at Vox joining the Treliant team. We are a people business, and I will start there. We have been thoroughly impressed with the industry expertise and passion that Terry Robinson and the team at Vox bring to their customers. We share a common vision of doing quality work at a fair value exchange.
The Vox expertise in capital markets is a huge addition to our product and advisory offerings. Treliant has traditionally focused on financial institutions’ consumer-related businesses. We now have the capability and capacity to bring new services to our clients who have active corporate and investment banking activities.
With Vox, Treliant has the ability to bring offshore capabilities to our domestic and global clients. Together, the delivery centres located in Northern Ireland and Poland are a key strategic priority in which we will invest and grow in support of existing Vox activities as well as Treliant’s clients’ needs.
Treliant had for some time planned to enter the United Kingdom in response to clients’ requests for teammates on the ground there. We were determined to do so via a strategic acquisition that gave us an immediate presence in Europe. Vox delivered on that desire, and we now have a wonderful base of 100 teammates from which to grow.
Yes, it seems that the service delivery centres have been instrumental in Vox’s growth to date. Terry, could you briefly explain the main functions of these centres? And in addition to the investment in the centres that Scott just mentioned, you also announced in March that you were committed to investing £1 million in them. Where specifically will the bulk of these funds go?
Our service delivery centre in Belfast has grown substantially in 2021, and our clients are taking advantage of the price point and talent available. We are investing the bulk of the money in hiring new staff, primarily consultants but also some support staff. Our global delivery centre lead, Neil McComiskey, is adding practitioners to focus on legal documentation to support our clients’ latest needs in repapering because of regulatory-driven changes—such as LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offered Rate), security-based swap dealer requirements and uncleared margin rules—and concentrate on data-related projects. We are also investing money in a new training academy, which we are launching with the support of Ulster University and Invest NI. Our first academy will launch in first quarter 2022 to continue growing local talent.
Many banks are currently undergoing some form of digital transformation journey, which is another successful business area for Vox. What are some of the main benefits such banks can experience from working with you, Terry? And what do you understand by the term change management in this context?
One thing that differentiates Vox from other firms is that our senior management team are real practitioners with operational experience in leading financial services companies. We really understand the kinds of projects and internal challenges that our clients face in addressing large, complex, horizontal business and regulatory-driven changes. We have experience managing the common themes across these projects, such as project and program management, resource conflicts and data quality. In addition, we bring a strong mix of technology change, business change and data knowledge to all our projects. Although we are not an IT (information technology) consulting firm, we recognize that partnering with IT and being technology adjacent is key to the success of digital transformation.
Yes, that operational experience you mentioned must be crucial in meeting and perhaps even exceeding your clients’ expectations. And I can’t imagine many having more experience than yourself, Scott—more than 30 years in the banking industry, across a wide range of responsibilities. How important has garnering this experience, as well as forging relationships in the industry, proven to be in terms of boosting your results at Treliant?
Terrific question. Treliant teammates and our new teammates from Vox are first and foremost veterans of the financial services industry. This is the foundation of our value proposition. As former bank executives and industry practitioners who’ve “been there, done that”, we have the experience to support our clients with their business challenges. We also have former regulators on our team who give guidance on regulatory expectations and what is needed to do business compliantly.
We know that with the right risk controls, financial services companies can execute their stated mission of serving customers while meeting regulators’ expectations—even in a complex, shifting environment. We bring practical solutions to enable compliance without overreaching or making things more complicated than necessary. The experience of having walked a mile in our clients’ shoes is a distinct advantage for our firm.
You mentioned the importance of “meeting regulators’ expectations”, which, of course, is one of the core challenges facing Treliant’s banking clients. With this in mind, Scott, what does the term fair and responsible banking mean to you? And what are some of the key ways in which Treliant has helped its clients in this context?
Fair and responsible banking is about giving all individuals and businesses access to products and services to allow them to manage their finances. Consumers and businesses alike need to transact, save and borrow to support themselves and their families. There are a number of well-established regulations in the US that provide guardrails within which financial services companies must operate. These ensure transparency on things such as fees charged for services. Another critical element is avoiding disparate treatment based on age, race, gender or economic footing.
Treliant helps clients interpret these requirements and ensure that their marketing materials and activities support these principles. We test their data so they can rule out any disparate treatment. When disparate impact occurs, it is often unintended. Data lookbacks allow banks to discover if something has fallen through the cracks and then take proactive steps to remediate.
Indeed, it seems clear that data analytics is fundamental to the success of both Treliant and Vox and will only grow in importance going forward. Terry, Vox acquired Delv Global, a business and technology change consultancy that specialises in data and financial project delivery. What was the main reason for this acquisition? And what does Delv provide Vox that was previously not possible?
There were several key reasons to acquire Delv. Firstly, we were attracted to the experience that Dave Lindsay and his Delv team in Poland (Łódź) had in the digital transformation space. Many banks are facing challenges with detailed data changes such as swaps reporting for security-based swap dealers, data quality demands from regulators and the needs of chief data officers (CDOs) and other data governance functions. Secondly, we were attracted to the talent available in Łódź and how the Łódź service delivery centre complemented our Belfast centre. Łódź has a pool of talent focused on data who can be used to address our clients’ needs. Finally, we were attracted to Delv’s existing client base, and we could see synergies between the existing Vox clients’ needs and Delv clients’ needs. The Delv team has been a great addition to Vox, and we really enjoy the additional strengths they bring to our combined team.
You mentioned Poland, Terry. Does Vox have major aspirations for expanding its physical presence beyond Northern Ireland at this stage?
As far as aspirations outside Northern Ireland: We are growing our office in Łódź, Poland, and we are researching locations in North America for a service delivery centre there, having heard from our clients that they want the same quality and price point in that time zone. Now that Vox has been acquired by Treliant, we see great synergies. For Vox, we see the potential to provide services to the capital markets arms of Treliant clients and access Treliant’s network of talented consultants. For Treliant, Vox brings new opportunities in Europe with strong footprints in London, Northern Ireland and Poland.
Scott, you have been with Treliant for around five years now, first as chief strategy officer, then chief operating officer and since May 2019, as chief executive officer. What do you consider to be your single greatest challenge during this time? And how did you overcome it?
Questions like this are wonderful for reflection. I would say my biggest challenge was avoiding the temptation to venture into areas that are not core strengths for Treliant. I am constantly presented with ideas or new ventures by internal and external associates. I am fortunate to have a supportive board of directors who believe passionately in our core mission of serving banks, mortgage companies, fintech (financial technology) companies, the legal community, emerging financial players such as cryptocurrency businesses and vendors to financial services companies. Sticking to our core has allowed us to serve many repeat clients and gain new ones annually. Being comfortable saying “no” when necessary has served me well.
And, Terry, has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the level and/or the nature of business activity at Vox over the last 18 months or so? If so, what are some of the key ways it has done so?
Vox has seen an incredible increase in demand during the pandemic, and we have been uniquely placed to address it. Our firm grew by 100 percent in the first six months of 2021! Our clients quickly switched over to a new delivery paradigm in COVID times, with remotely based teams. They moved quickly so that they could continue to deliver on business and regulatory commitments within the constraints of this new normal. We were uniquely placed to support them, having created a service centre in Belfast and acquired one in Łódź. We rapidly staffed up in Belfast and Łódź, adding talented experts with project management, data and derivatives experience.
Yes, I can only imagine that staffing up, as you mentioned, must have been crucial in terms of ensuring business continuity. Have Vox employees mostly been working from home during this time, Terry? How effectively would you say you have managed the Vox workforce during the pandemic?
We are, first and foremost, a people business. We take our hats off to our staff for how well they have faced both the business and personal challenges of COVID. From additional childcare needs caused by home schooling to working from dining rooms and bedrooms, they have done a great job. Our chief operating officer, Danielle Gorman, and her team in Human Resources have done an excellent job of communicating with our staff about changing requirements, such as COVID testing, remote working and return to the office.
Our staff have done an excellent job and continue to provide great quality services to our end clients. Our more senior consultants have been ensuring that junior staff are supported during the early stages of their careers, where they would typically be in an office with face-to-face support.
Our clients are also all living in “Zoom land” and facing additional challenges, and there has been great teamwork between them and the Vox team throughout. Happily, we are starting to see a return to the office in our major locations.
How has the pandemic influenced your approach to leadership, if at all? Have there been any specific lessons you have learned as the firm’s chief executive during this time that you can take forward and apply after the recovery in the post-COVID era, Terry?
I have always employed a very open leadership style, and I don’t think the pandemic has changed that much. The biggest thing I have learned is that a lot can be achieved without meeting people face to face. The old paradigm that you must shake hands to build a relationship has partially fallen away. Vox acquired Delv, and yet I’ve never met Dave Lindsay face to face. We, in turn, were acquired by Treliant and had only one face-to-face meeting during that process. Prior to the acquisition, I had not met Scott, although we had already built a strong relationship. We have since just recently met in person for the first time. In September we had a strategy session in Belfast where I met our recruitment lead, James Mahon, and our consulting sales lead, Phil Marsden. Having not met them previously, we still were able to function as an excellent team. I must say, however, that I have missed the personal element and getting to share a laugh in person. This was very much overdue.
On the client side, too, we have achieved a lot without meeting new clients face to face. Our clients recognize that what’s key is the quality of our work, including our experience and the talented staff we have to support them. They, too, miss the chats around the water cooler and look forward to returning to the office.
Scott, what is the single most important objective that Treliant aims to accomplish over the next 12 to 18 months? And how do you intend to achieve it?
The challenges of the financial industry over the last many months, from adapting to a new US administration to managing COVID relief funds to accelerating digital transformation plans, will continue to impact clients into the next year and a half. Through it all—and as new challenges and opportunities emerge—we’ll continue to deliver outstanding advisory solutions and support to our clients when, where and how they need them.
We are passionate about the quality of our work at a fair value exchange. That passion and value are recognized by our clients and have afforded us the opportunity to forge lasting relationships. We are a people business, and having terrific teammates who believe in this mission is the single biggest element of our success.
Well, we hope your mission is an unbridled success. We wish you both the best for the future, and thank you for your time today.