Guy Wakeley

Bright direction

Thu 05 Feb 2015

CEO Guy Wakeley is harnessing Equiniti’s technological potential to plot a course to a bright future

As a former mathematician and engineer it should not come as a surprise that Equiniti CEO Guy Wakeley has a firm grip on the numbers and an eye for detail. And, as a pilot and artificial intelligence expert, it’s clear that his vision for the company stems from a genuine passion for technology.

In just under a year in charge, Guy’s fresh perspective has switched the company’s focus sharply onto its technological prowess, setting a new course to fully capitalise on its huge customer base and abundant talent.

“What we’re here to do is to provide technology solutions in high-risk and complex areas. I’m turning the focus of the business round and putting the technology right at the core of the offering rather than being an enabler of the offering,” he says.

Guy, who has a PhD in applications of artificial intelligence, moved from property and services firm Morrison plc to Equiniti in 2014 sensing a unique opportunity.

“We have a client base to die for with 2,000 UK B2B clients including more than half of the FTSE 100,” he says. “The other attraction was the massive breadth of technological capability. The business has been positioned as a service provider – as a doer of things. But, actually our core business is as the creator of technology with which to do things, and what has not yet happened is properly selling that technology through that fantastic customer base.”

This year we will pay more than £75 billion out to those members of the public through their share dividends and through their pension payments. We’ve got a very broad and deep relationship with the UK financial sector, so it’s absolutely crammed with previously untapped opportunities.

Equiniti has more than £60 million invested in its own technology and provides services that touch about 24 million people – more than half of the financially active UK population. They are loyal customers too, with the average length of tenure among FTSE 100 customers at 21 years and large public sector clients on the books since 1836.

Guy says: “This year we will pay more than £75 billion out to those members of the public through their share dividends and through their pension payments. We’ve got a very broad and deep relationship with the UK financial sector, so it’s absolutely crammed with previously untapped opportunities.”

Guy’s task begins with changing perceptions of Equiniti from being seen as a rock-solid service provider working under the radar, to a technology provider with a fully fleshed-out brand identity, engaged in proper dialogue with the investing public and corporates. It’s a task he feels well equipped to tackle.

“It’s a new sector for me, but, being new to it, the opportunities were obvious. If you’re a proper B2B organisation you establish deep dialogue with your customers to work out what they want and then you shape your offering to match those customers. I’ve got a lot of experience of doing that in construction, in engineering and in project finance – crafting things to suit opportunities.

“I’ve focused on getting the business looking out, getting people’s chins up rather than down, talking to customers, finding out what customers want and then managing those customer relationships over a broad range of services.

“When I can help corporates interact differently with their customers and their employees, then I can start to turn some of those customers and employees into my customers. Our business model is much more like what Experian or Twitter might do rather than perhaps what Capita or Serco might do. It’s building a consumer presence by providing technology into corporates.”

It’s the technology, stupid

Guy was raised in Durham in the 1980s and it was a desire to work at the cutting edge of engineering that brought him to Cambridge University with the help of sponsorship from Rolls-Royce. Today, he lives what he describes as a “simple” life in Leamington Spa with his wife and two children, but the weekends are slightly more hi-tech as he indulges his passion for planes and works as a flying instructor. “I’m really interested in process and procedure, but also how you communicate things, so I really enjoy it,” he says.

With technology now at the heart of financial services, the way we interact with our banks is changing. Banking is becoming digital by default, and this presents those banks with old-fashioned legacy systems with a problem as they struggle to present a common view of their customer.

Guy says: “They might have an insurance view of the customer, and a current account view of the customer, and a mortgage view of the customer. But they can’t currently understand how they interact with them and what their customers think of them, and therefore, how they can shape their product to suit them. So, being in a place where we can provide technology to help large institutions interact differently with their customers is a really powerful position. That really is at the emerging, cutting edge of what the financial services sector is doing this year and next year.”

At the end of 2014, Equiniti launched our own software platform running our retail share dealing website, making it one of the UK’s largest stockbrokers, dealing directly over the web with hundreds of thousands of retail investors.

“People of my children’s generation have a completely different relationship with banks,” says Guy. “There is now the emergence of peer-to-peer lending and crowd funding. These are different ways of raising and saving capital, so the bank’s conventional role in society is definitely changing dramatically. 

Being in a place where we can provide technology to help large institutions interact differently with their customers is a really powerful position. That really is at the emerging, cutting edge of what the financial services sector is doing this year and next year.

“There’s a whole new market of investors who don’t want to go to a sleepy, oak-panelled drawing room to buy shares. Instead, they want to get out their iPad or their smartphone on the Tube or train and see where their portfolio is in real time and make small investment decisions by themselves. There is a whole explosion of new market here, but you need agile digital technology to satisfy it, and the banks don’t have that technology. For new entrants who are technology-enabled, there’s a lot to go for.”

Guy admits to initially underestimating Equiniti’s own technological capability. More than 400 developers and IT professionals have developed all the company’s applications and infrastructure – unlike any competing firm.

He says: “It’s completely blown me away. We bring the technology, and you can buy it as a service, you can buy a licence, but it can also come with the people. We can run your end-to-end process. We can give you the technology, we can report on it for you, and we can actually fix it for your customers. We simply don’t have a direct competitor in that space.

“We built the technology for the retail sale of Royal Mail in a number of weeks, and we ran it completely on our own kit. We went from zero to concluding the biggest transaction of 2013 in a way that was completely within our control. This is Amazon-scale IT capability.”

The world is just on the tipping point where we can do 100 times more with the amount of data that exists. It’s incredibly powerful. 

Hitting fifth gear

It’s clear that everything is in place to make the next few years exciting times 
for Equiniti. Smart acquisitions have broadened the service offering and made sure the company keeps pace with developments – and there are more to follow. Guy says: “When we see owner-managed businesses that have great technology in them and are growing but need investment and need to be turbo-charged – those are businesses that we want to buy. We’re not going to do hundreds of deals a year, but maybe four or five very high-quality technology deals.”

Growing this way presents its own challenges. Communication and a common ownership of the customer across all of the business is vital to success. “To begin with, there were lots of little sub-businesses not talking to each other and giving lots of independent views of the customers and providing little ability to stitch propositions together and to do end-to-end services,” Guy says. “There was no account management, very weak sales capability, and therefore despite brilliant financials and great technology, it was difficult for the business to grow. My job has been about connecting all of that capability together.”

But he’s confident that much of the organisational work has been done and Equiniti is now working on products for corporates that allow a complete view of reward to an employee within a company.

Guy says: “We can integrate and federate the systems of loads of other sub-providers. We could show your core salary, the value of your share plans, the value of your investments, the value of your pension, the value of your flex benefits all together.

“With this kind of thinking, we could actually do so much more. We could pull together a total view of an individual’s wealth with investments, liabilities, cash, employment – a complete view of their financial universe. There’s huge power in productising that, because if you know the full extent of an individual’s financial universe, you can start to match products to them.

“The world is just on the tipping point where we can do 100 times more with the amount of data that exists. It’s incredibly powerful. So what I’m trying to do is get our company positioned to be able to take advantage of these things.

“We’re at just the right part of the macroeconomic cycle, just when interest rates are starting to turn, just when corporate activity is starting to increase, just when the markets are open for IPOs, just when equity is starting to come back. We’re game-ready, at the time the game is starting. We’re going at 100mph, but we’re doing it in third gear. Now I want to get into fifth gear and really get going.”

Eye robot     

With a PhD in applications of artificial intelligence, Guy has an eye on the full potential of AI

“There have recently been huge increases in computing power – the emergence of the cloud, and the ability to go omni-channel. There are a few subtle things that have made huge progress in the last five years. One of them is voice recognition. Suddenly in the last couple of years it’s come on leaps and bounds. If you can teach a computer to listen and to speak back, then you’re not far off teaching the computer to read. This isn’t light years away, it’s within a couple of years. Therefore, you’re not far from being able to get a book, and give it to the computer to read the book. If we wanted to learn to trade stocks and shares, we’re not far away being able to buy Share Dealing for Dummies, and give it to the computer and then the computer learns how to do that for us. Some of this new AI technology, particularly around language and what language means – syntactic processing – means that the way in which we interact with consumers is going to change very rapidly. We have an innovation team looking at developments in the market and harnessing them, and certainly anything that we do direct to consumer will be digital by default. It has to be. It has to be on iPhone, on Android, and it has to be able to learn and speak.”