Although the GlobeTax team ventures regularly to Toronto, few excursions are as stimulating as the most recent: SWIFT’s 39th annual Sibos conference. While it is difficult to distill the four-day, 8,000-person whirlwind comprehensively, the firm’s attendees discuss their major takeaways from this year’s gathering.
The Dominance of Data and Continued Rise of FinTech
In financial services lore, back and middle office functions have long lacked the glamour of the front office. Sibos 2017 swiftly dispelled that misconception; the widespread application of new artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies dominated the proceedings. Regardless of the stated topic, seemingly every session delved into a discussion of how service providers might employ data-driven insights and automation to streamline operations and develop new product lines.
Marty Foont, longstanding Sibos attendee and GlobeTax CEO, recalled the evolution of technology at the conference: “when I first started attending, most people didn’t even have an email address on their business card. Now, conversations about artificial intelligence, robotics, and crypto-currency are the norm. Sibos is a place where people are building the future. I’m proud that GlobeTax is a part of that.”
Market Infrastructure Harmonization:
While some GlobeTax representatives flocked to the flashy displays at FinTech Theatre, others were more interested in pondering theoretical abstraction. For COO Jose Bisono, the conference’s most impressive aspect involved the rapid uptake of new international frameworks.
Bisono remarked, “I loved walking around and hearing all of the acronyms bandied about – MiFID this, T2S that. Yes, international harmonization is hard, but everyone agrees it will be a boon to market efficiency. I believe it is impossible to craft standards without gathering people with different expertise and perspectives to consider all angles. After all, the only thing worse than no regulation is bad regulation.”
Although the topic of global coordination featured prominently in panel discussions and sidebar conversations, the opposite perspective was also represented. Ominous-sounding sessions like “The Retreat from Globalization” discussed the reemergence of nationalism, considering the impact of retrenchment on market infrastructures and financial intermediaries.
The tension between globalism and nationalism fascinated GlobeTax’s Managing Director Len Lipton, who summarized the implications on the firm and marketplace: “as a company that specializes in the nuances of national tax policies, our mandate grows more complicated every day. Despite the supranational push toward standardization, many tax authorities are facing domestic pressures to assert authority—widespread fraud, rising populism. Conferences like Sibos help us stay abreast of these dynamics on a macro level, providing a long-term view important for shaping both clients’ strategies and our own.”
Specialization in an Era of Commoditization:
Sessions promising actionable ways to contend with the fast-changing landscape seemed, unsurprisingly, among the best attended. As asset servicing becomes increasingly commoditized, financial service providers find themselves seeking new avenues of specialization and communicating those distinguishing features to a crowded marketplace.
GlobeTax’s marketing mastermind Kelly Ricker commented on the widespread repositioning, “I was blown away by the creativity at the conference. From on-stand concerts to celebrity chefs, exhibitors spared no expense in publicizing their unique value proposition to the global financial services community. I am interested to return next year and see who received a return on their investments and who will rework or dial-back their promotional strategies.”
An emphasis on ‘user experience’ represented one newly popular method of specialization. Indeed, the phrase was as common as “machine learning” or “free pens” in the buzzing convention halls.
Brett Lewis, head of GlobeTax’s product strategy, expounded approvingly on the shift: “as audit, compliance, and reporting requirements become increasingly onerous, it has become more important than ever to design customizable products with the end-user in mind. Considering how quickly the industry changes, clunky, monolithic systems are non-starters; clients demand flexible and nimble as architectures that can keep up as technologies and processes evolve.”
When not attending sessions, the GlobeTax team kept busy at Stand H51 debuting MIDAS™, the firm’s pioneering platform to help everyone in the custody chain manage relief at source on all security types.
Dozens of conversations with fellow attendees confirmed that the MIDAS model was thoroughly aligned with conference themes. As a standardized data and document transmission solution, the product supports asset servicers who wish to differentiate themselves by offering withholding tax relief services. Likewise, financial intermediaries throughout the custody chain were impressed with the MIDAS dashboard, which provides a real-time, systematic interface for managing all aspects of the relief at source process.
In introducing the MIDAS platform, GlobeTax representatives received invaluable feedback on the challenges and opportunities inherent to providing widespread relief and source. The team looks forward to continuing discussions that began in Toronto and are preparing in earnest to make next year in Sydney the firm’s biggest Sibos yet.