CXM had the opportunity to talk with Eliot Heilpern, Director and Co-founder of The Payments Business, a member driven forum with the purpose of sharing the latest information about regulatory changes and innovations in the UK payments business. Eliot is also a Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Parthenon Communications, a banking-oriented consultancy. Possessing extensive experience and knowledge of the finance, commercial and banking sector, Eliot Heilpern was invited to be a Judge at the UK Business Awards 2019 and a Chair Judge at the UK Business Awards 2020.
Read below about Eliot’s background, his experience at the Awards and the pros and cons and future of the ever-prevalent technology in our everyday lives…
Hello Eliot! Tell us about your professional background, and how you came into the position you are at now.
My background is from the finance role, I spent 38 years in international banking. I worked for four major global international institutions, here in London, in Wall Street, California, Boston, the Far East and the Nordics. My area of work is very much client-relationship management, so Customer Experience was and certainly continues to be very important.
This further included liquidity, international payments, trade, lending, and all aspects of corporate banking. In my last institution, Bank New York Mellon, they are very big in US Dollar Clearing, so we were competing with JP Morgan-Chase, Bank of America, and Citi. It was very exciting, very collegiate, with great people. I come from a very client-focused area, and where generating revenue through client relationships, you need to put in long hours; and if you perform it is very satisfying. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a tremendous opportunity, lots of travelling, and I met lots of interesting people.
What attracted to you Judge at the UK Business Awards? How would you describe your experience?
It’s actually an interesting story. I was going to a presentation in London, and as I got in the lift, I met Don Hales, the founder of UK Business Awards. He’s a real gentleman and as he was going to the same place as myself, we started chatting. He actually introduced me to the whole concept of Awards International. We met again at the UK Professional Speakers Association. It was last year when he introduced me to the Awards team in the UK, and from there I signed up and got all the relevant requirements, and I was asked to be a judge. It was fantastic last year, when the awards took place in a hotel in Central London. In fact, it was one of the most exciting days I have ever had. The people I was judging with were great, and I kept in touch with a few of them. The presentations were very good. I have to say this year they were even better! That was a high bar to get over.
The whole day was fantastic. Big thank you to Don and all the people from Awards International.
How would you compare the Live Online Awards to the previous face-to-face format? Did you find it more convenient?
First of all, I have to say, I was quite honoured to be asked to be Head of the Judges Panel at this year’s Awards in my category of “Financial Services”.
The technology coordination was amazing, seamless, going from one session to another was brilliantly done, with break-out sessions. I had no idea how it would work in the virtual environment.
Obviously, when you are physically there at the Awards ceremony it’s much more exciting, but this was tremendous too. Awards International and their IT team should come over here and start working on my personal PC system!
To me, and it applies to anything, when you cannot actually speak to someone, and rely on a virtual environment, it does not feel the same as if you were physically there, with the person. Human characteristics are all about speaking and communicating. Social media tools such as Zoom and Skype are good intermediaries, and I understand this; but we need to interact with people in a physical way and within a physical environment; speaking, interacting where we see people’s reaction and their behaviour. However, given that we have to work in this more challenging environment, the Awards virtual event was excellently done, probably one of the best virtual environments I’ve been in in the last three to four months.
However, I cannot get away from the fact that when you are with the people, physically, seeing their reaction, circulating in a hall, having coffee with all these people from different areas, it’s a fantastic feeling. Sadly, you can’t do that in virtual environment, but you have to make do with what you can.
This year we saw a massive transition to digital in all aspects of life. What are your thoughts on businesses rapidly re-modelling their plans to meet the standards of the ‘new normal’?
I have lots to say on this, and I am slightly conflicted and in two minds. On the positive side, technology during my professional life has improved immensely. When I was growing up in the 60’s it wasn’t around. Technology has over the years ensconced itself within various industries, particularly in my industry, international banking and payments, in the retail environment also, and it affects all of us. As technology becomes more sophisticated there will be a raft of new facilities coming out, new ways of working, new “authentication” methods, which will involve biometrics like voice and face recognition, instead of simply typing in a number, or one’s chosen password.
This is all good, and I think the new digital environment together with how we are going to adapt to the “new” normal after COVID will involve biometrics and digital.
But there’s a caveat. Technology is great and it’s like with everything in life – it’s great when it works, but when it doesn’t, you have an issue. There are some “unintended consequences” of technology and one of the things I have noticed both in my personal and professional life is that people have lost the ability to communicate, to explain, and espouse, and interact with one another. Everything now is very quick, and hedonistic. It’s all short-term pleasure, with short-term gains. The ability to debate in a civilized forum and in a civilized manner, I fear, is in the process of being lost, due to our huge reliance on technology.
It hasn’t been lost totally lost – I am pleased to say – and I hope that when we are back in the “new” normal, people will say: “I’ve had enough of Zoom! I want to go out and meet people and physically communicate with them”. I think there will be an adverse reaction where people will want to go out and physically speak to their work colleagues and clients.
The bottom line is, there’s got to be a balance but I believe currently there is no acceptable balance in society when it comes to technology and communicating with one another. Sometimes it seems like social media has completely taken over.
Given that the entire world has been shaken by the crisis, plenty of people and even entire countries have found themselves getting into debt, trying to make ends meet. What are your predictions for the future of the financial sector and finally, the state of the economy in general?
How long is a piece of string? I have started a UK Payments Industry initiative entitled The Payments Business with three senior colleagues from the City of London, and the reason we started this business is because the industry has become so very fragmented. New players have come into the market, bigger players. The banks have not kept up with technology. Many new fintech organisations have emerged recently, with new applications and technology; all offering much quicker and more convenient front-end services, which have been priced competitively.
As new technology comes into the industry, the regulator has to try and keep abreast of developments, and that’s very difficult. And there are times that the regulator himself is a little short of answers. For example; the regulator might say with regards to a new industry requirement: “This needs to be in place by March 2021, and all must be completed from a due diligence perspective by this date.” The participants in the industry, big, small, fintechs, the challenger banks, and some of the big corporations often say: “That’s great; but what are we actually meant to do? We know we have to do this, but how do we do it?”
The Payments Business has tapped into this much needed area because the industry is so fragmented, and as a result, we provide the required information to fill the gaps where industry participants have difficulty. That’s what is going to happen even more as the industry grows, as payments technology grows. The industry will become more fractured, more fragmented. People and organisations will adopt their own methods, and of course, they will want to comply with the regulator. But they will be doing it at different speeds, causing further industry fragmentation. The Payments Business’s aim is to try to bridge that fragmentation.
One of the key elements of continuing concern is the aspect of security. As we move to a more digital age in the financial and payments arena, and this can apply to other industries such as the pharmaceutical industry and insurance industry as well – although this consumer concern appears to greater in the payments industry – is that people will become even more concerned about their data. GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) as we have this in the UK will continue to intensify and become more ensconced within the regulatory environment. People want to be sure that their personal information is safe and secure.
Security here means “a sense of real confidence” for you and I, the users. This is going to become a greater issue when a service provider holds customers’ data, but once the service provider holds this data and consequently controls it – they have everything!
Secondly, I think the financial sector’s future revolves around the more sophisticated “real-time” technology, and as mentioned earlier, the implementation of biometrics, voice recognition, face recognition, fingerprint recognition. There are also all going to grow rapidly. For instance; now supermarkets offer the option to pay bills, withdraw money from local accounts held with them, in addition to their core offering of supplying groceries; and this can all be undertaken in one location and/or on-line using the supermarket’s one “app” place. “Smart Cities” will also become a thing of the present, where all the merchants in the high street are connected to one another through one application; and customers can purchase and pay on-line for different products and services using just the one application, which connects all these merchants. Hence more choice for the consumer, more convenience, all actioned in one location on-line with one app, and involving heightened biometric security arrangements. A “cross-fertilisation” of products and services, which are all purchased and paid for in a virtual environment. No need to leave the house to shop anymore! Here whether one likes it or not, is the future of the financial and payments sector.