For blockchain to add true value it needs to repay investment with cost reductions, risk reductions and/or better services

Matthew Oakeley

Chief Technology Officer, Investec Asset Management

This insight interview, was conducted in advance of the Fund Management Operations Summit to be held on the 20th November in London with Matthew Oakeley, Chief Technology Officer for Investec Asset Management.

Has the argument for artificial intelligence been over-hyped or do you see the technology as a game changer and why?

It should come as no surprise that too much is claimed for Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotics. The important thing is to understand these technologies, break down the mystique and look for ways in which they can be applied to solve real problems. In particular, I think that these technologies have the potential to unlock significant changes in the way in which we enable our staff and our clients to interact with information and services. As with everything, however, I think it is great people that unlock value from innovative technology and therefore it is important that our teams are exploring these technologies to enable them to capitalise on the opportunities they present.

What do you imagine the tipping point to be for blockchain, when market participants embrace it’s use and what will be the benefits on an operational level when that comes?

For blockchain to add true value it needs to repay investment with cost reductions, risk reductions and/or better services. No matter how clever the technology, this isn’t enough on its own. Using blockchain technology to create new market services may allow for disruption to existing supply chains, but only if the business outcomes for those that buy those services can be improved. I expect that we should be focusing on a tipping point of digital supply chain operations rather than any particular enabling technology.

How do we move from a period of large scale manual processes to one of overwhelming automation without break downs in processes going dangerously undetected?

To automate safely, it is important to create the governance structures to control and monitor the digital workforce. Blindly introducing robotics without proper governance and controls will lead to increased risk and is likely to create new operating problems. If a robot has the skills to trade and also to settle, then whoever controls the robot can break the traditional separation of incompatible duties. We must treat our robots, therefore as ‘digital interns’ with the same segregation of duties and line management oversight that we would apply to staff.

I suspect that it is not inevitable that we will move to a period of ‘overwhelming automation’, however. The automation of large-scale manual processes has always been the goal of an industry that has talked the language of Straight Through Processing (STP) for decades. Those processes that have not yet been improved are either because of a lack of investment and industry lethargy (in other words just a matter of time) or because there was a genuine impediment. Some of the new automation technologies may unlock these impediments – more likely the risk from newer market players will energise the need to survive from organisations that have failed to automate. The automation of the myriad small-scale manual processes that haunt every firm is much harder to deliver. The jury is still out on whether robotic process automation or similar technologies can really provide a cost case for automating this type of manual work or whether traditional process automation is required. The replacement of call centre type work with chatbots does represent a significant innovation that will make a meaningful change to ways of working and will probably do so without increasing risk.

What role will regulation need to play in facilitating the introduction of ground breaking technology developments?

It is important that responsibility for outcomes remains clear when deploying robotics. Regulators will take a similar view is to the one taken over outsourcing: that a company cannot outsource its responsibility. Where robots are deployed, responsibility remains. To create safe governance for the activities of the digital workforce, companies should ensure that robots are clearly owned and governed and that who is allowed to instruct a robot is very clearly understood.

Registration to the Fund Management Operations Summit on the 20th November at 200 Aldersgate, London, is open and available to register by clicking here. Only representatives of investment groups and regulatory bodies are able to register for free. Should you not represent an investment group, but wish to be part of this event, then get in touch with Noel Hillmann at or call +44 (0) 207 688 8511 to discuss Summit sponsorship and exhibition opportunities.

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