As Head of Product for Financial Institutions at BBH, Cate Dawson spends a lot of time talking to bank clients and designing solutions that solve for their operational, digital, and data challenges. As someone who describes herself as a ‘visual person’, Dawson sees her varied career as a series of building blocks, with each experience gained in operations, technology, project management, and client service, enabling her to step up and access new opportunities and design new solutions.
What experience have you gained in your various roles at BBH and how has that come full circle?
My career began in core custody operations and I would have been surprised to know then that I’d be involved in relationship management and the sales process, today. But it really speaks to the shift in our industry and the fact that the problems we're trying to solve have their roots in operations and technology. Knowledge of these areas is critical to the conversations our clients want to have.
The power of having a strong data platform is so crucial to any business. When you have access to the data, you really can do anything. Data is the key to doing the more sophisticated horizontal product development.
Twenty years ago, the focus was on achieving high operational STP and being able to handle large volumes. Now, it's about solving the remaining exceptions that have not yet been automated and asking how can we get at those more sophisticated challenges? Transformational technologies are helping us build new data solutions to solve those automation outliers, to identify complex risk items or provide material insights that would have previously been buried in the manual processing or numerous anomalies. The ability to create products from these technologies is where I think the opportunity is going to be in the future.
Is there any cross over between your passions and interests at work and in your private life?
I’m a very social person and I really enjoy talking to clients and solving people's problems. My background in art history means I'm very visually oriented and when people are talking, I can draw it out on the whiteboard.
I really love architecture and the impact it has on our day-to-day experiences. I wrote my college thesis on gothic cathedrals! You can build a functional building but for it to be a great building you need to factor in how a person is going to move through it and experience it. It’s the same thinking that goes into building new operational processes and designing solutions that create an optimal experience for clients and users.
How do you relate that thinking to designing solutions for clients?
When a client identifies a new business challenge or is required to service a new asset class that I may not be familiar with, I like to understand how it works. I need to be able to map out the flow from a business perspective: what is the value to the client? What's happening in the industry? What's happening in the systems? I need to understand how it is processed, each decision point in the operational flow, and how each of those components are connected to the big picture. That allows me to very quickly see where the gaps are and where the challenges are, as well as what we need to do to automate things and make them efficient.
To me, once I’ve identified the operational process, then it becomes clear where we can add value with our solutions: can we automate that decision? Can we provide an alert or insight at this point in the process? If I were managing this business process what tools or information would I need to ensure accuracy and reduce risk? What information can I bring together to add value to the process?
What is your approach to working with financial institution clients?
I liken developing solutions for our financial institution clients to how we would develop them for ourselves. In my experience, banks are all trying to solve the same business challenges. We are all trying to deepen revenue streams through either accessing new client segments, offering new or more competitive products, or by reducing operating costs.
I look at how we're solving our own business challenges and the investments that we have made in technology and determine if they can be applied to solve another bank's problems.
For example, our Infomediary® product translates data and messages, and we use it to continually optimize and automate data between internal systems, as well as with external providers. We have clients who also leverage Infomediary to eliminate manual processing by translating non-standard messaging to a fully automatable message creating a streamlined process from beginning to end.
And within the business transformation space, we’ve seen some of the AI algorithms that we're creating be transformative for our own business by eliminating significant manual work and freeing up resources to work on higher value activities. There is real value for our clients who also benefit from these algorithms and achieve the same efficiencies.
In what way is this approach mutually beneficial?
We also want to learn from other banks – if they have something that they're doing, and it solves a problem for them, we want to explore using it.
As many banks are exploring the benefits of AI and ML, we are also very interested in seeing if their work could benefit our business as well.
We're at a juncture now, at least in the financial institution space, where we want to have broad strategic partnerships. Fee compression is a challenge across the entire industry and if we can create collaborative strategic partnerships, that’s going to be mutually beneficial for both us and our clients. That’s where the power is for the future.