Vaiie is making its mark
Launched two years ago as part of a plan to diversify Jersey Post, Vaiie - the postal service's RegTech offering - is making it's mark.
Lee Bosio, Managing Director of Vaiie, discusses how it has found its feet, relations with the regulator and growth plans for the next three years.
Tell us about your background and where you grew up?
I have fond memories of growing up in Jersey, recalling long summers and many hours out on my bike. I attended Victoria College until 16 when I decided to take an Advanced Business Studies qualification rather than the more traditional path of A-levels. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do in my working life, but I was fixed on the idea of going to university, and I felt that this was the best route for me to get there. Proving my theory, I got the points I required and set off to study Organisational Behaviour and HR Management at the University of Kent at Canterbury, where I met some amazing people that I am still very close to.
I had no idea what my vocation was going to be until well into my 20’s, but I had always liked the appeal of business, and I’ve always been drawn to the communications side of things – marketing has always spoken to me. Creativity has been a consistent theme throughout everything I’ve done.
Where did those qualifications lead you in terms of your early career?
When I returned to the Island like many, I entered the trust world, which was quite typical at that time. I was fortunate enough to be offered a place on a graduate training scheme for Abacus Financial Services, which provided a great introduction to working life. The best thing about that graduate training format is that it gives you the ability to move around different disciplines and try different roles. After six months in trust, I knew it wasn’t necessarily my calling, but when I moved into the marketing team, something clicked. I liked that I could create something – work with agencies and develop creative concepts that didn’t exist before. I found that exciting.
From there, I moved to the marketing function at Standard Bank. After a short time there, in 2005, I was approached by a couple of chaps that I went to college with who had been taken on at an agency called E-scape, a digital agency offering digital marketing, website design and development, and game design for the lottery industry. I was taken on as key account manager and then progressed to director for the last four years with the company, focusing on content design, customer satisfaction and strategic growth. I think what’s interesting is that I’ve project managed development teams for probably the past 15 years without ever writing a line of code. I’m not a developer, and my focus has always been on the human side of business – building teams, bringing the right people together, creating the right environment for success, drawing for my degree in organisational behaviour and subsequent qualifications in marketing. I pride myself on getting the best out of people and looking for talent, nurturing that talent, and mentoring.
How did that lead to your current role?
At the age of 36, I decided to take myself out of the world that I knew and jump feet first into something completely different – and I joined Jersey Post, which was a surprise to many of my peers. I was very much a digital guy, an agency guy – and I was stepping into the post office. But I wanted to put myself into a different industry and really challenge myself. Joining in 2018, I inherited a business called Promail, the communication arm to Jersey Post. The business was focused on working with banking customers, dealing with their most sensitive data on a managed communication front. We were a very trusted brand supporting over 20 offshore financial services, banking, trust and utility clients.
We also had a situation where our customers, quite uniquely, were asking us what more we could do. They saw us as easy to work with, that we were government-owned, trusted to manage their most sensitive data, and that we had longevity.
They were looking to us to support their strategy in becoming more digital and engaging their customers through new channels — a natural evolution from managing downstream communication to creating an efficient link for our customers to theirs.
Was Vaiie born out of the response to that demand?
When I stripped the business back to its core, all the components we had were what every new entrant to the RegTech market would want – but struggled to build. We opted for a 'build' rather than 'buy' approach and used our leverage of who we were and our position in the market to find a partner that would fit us culturally and which had the solutions we wanted in the ID&V (identity and verification) space, in location services and customer onboarding.
We partnered with Amygdalab – a full-stack software developer and part of the AliasNet Group, an Italian business leading in digital signature, custom workflow capability and onboarding solutions. We've been working together for over three years, and we are effectively working as one. We bring much of the front-end capabilities, usability, design, sales, marketing, and support, with Amygdalab bringing the back-end capabilities, the full-stack development, security and support, and combined ability to develop customer journeys that are both compliant and intuitive. That is our unique proposition, and together we are stronger.
What areas has Vaiie been focused on the most in that period since its inception?
Over the past year, we've worked a lot with government, which speaks to the level of trust we have from industry. Collectively Vaiie draws from a team of around 35 people, but we're within a company of 400 and the support that gives us, in terms of IT, marketing, finance and HR, means we can deliver those big pieces of work – such as the work we are doing around government ID.
Another significant area of focus has been in the onboarding space. We have developed a strong proposition that brings together several components, including ID&V, customer workflow, location verification and screening, to help manage the full client onboarding lifecycle.
We created an advisory panel attracting people such as Helen Hatton, who wrote portions of the regulation for Jersey, and Ricky Magalhaes, one of the foremost international security experts – to devise a solution that can have an impact on ensuring the Island maintains its reputation of high standards but a low barrier to entry. That has meant drawing from as much information as we can from the regulator, from Jersey Finance, from other bodies to understand and address the challenges faced by the industry.
Obviously that work has coincided with a period of great uncertainty and change for organisations. How has the pandemic impacted demand for your solutions?
Covid-19 has undoubtedly been an accelerant of change, and in many areas, this change has been a one-way ratchet. That has created new opportunities. We have seen a lot of interest in adopting new ways of working, but firms must get the basics right to act as a foundation for innovation.
It also proved that people and technology can work remotely while maintaining their regulatory requirements. After 18 months, this is now the norm, processes are settled, and firms are looking either at how to refine them or what more they can do.
Our approach is to look at the industry's key challenges right at this moment – the efficiency piece, the areas that were easy to do 18 months ago but are now challenging, such as the face-to-face transactions and the levels of proof. In doing that, we're focused not just on replicating exactly what was there before but looking to create new ways to interact with customers digitally, developing experiences that leave a lasting impression and represent a front window for our customers.
Given the rise in complexity of regulation and the increased demands around issues such as Know Your Customer and anti-money laundering, do you think clients tend to view your services as an opportunity for growth or a compliance requirement?
We see both. I think we see some customers who, precisely as you said, are focused on remaining compliant and want us to support them in a way that they're comfortable with, but that is also more efficient and reduces costs. I would challenge every business to continually look for ways to improve the churn and automate mundane and repetitive tasks, so they can focus their time on higher-value processes and increase the workforce's productivity.
But we now also see businesses attracted to the value and potential in these tools as a competitive advantage – as a way of attracting a different type of customer, for example, an investment firm looking to attract more tech-savvy customers. They want that onboarding process to feel and look a certain way, and it's no longer acceptable for that sort of business to offer a slow, clunky process. It doesn't give a good first impression of that business and what that relationship will be like moving forward.
What are the main challenges facing industry right now?
There are multiple challenges faced by industry; time, cost, a shortage of highly qualified resource, client expectations for high-quality software with strong UI/UX and the need to keep their data. Thankfully, not all firms in the sector are facing the same challenges at the same time, but what this means is a need to focus on the problems being solved and to solve them together with our clients.
The other challenge is that some businesses find it difficult to know how to begin when adopting new tools and embracing change, because RegTech is still a relatively new approach. That makes our consultative approach very important – staying close to existing clients and learning from recent engagements, understanding perceived challenges, and remaining focused on those everyday inefficiencies that businesses get used to and except for too long.
Do you feel the Channel Islands regulators are as helpful as they could be as you navigate your way?
Governments and regulators must set the tone for the positive use of technology in the fight against financial crime and use its various controls and measures to be pro-technology. They should welcome advanced features to be used to their full potential yet not be overly restrictive to the point that it blocks innovation. From a practical usage perspective, their tone needs to be unambiguous to allow compliance teams to adopt and embrace new technology with confidence to ensure they gain the benefits.
Vaiie's home financial services regulator, the Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC), is open to industry engagement and willing to talk through any barriers regulated firms and tech innovators are currently facing. This open-door policy is working. It's essential that governments also acknowledge this approach when it comes to lawmaking and supporting innovation. If they don't, they're limiting growth in this area.
How do you plan to expand the business from here – what's the strategy for that?
I think it makes sense to give a little context of the overall group business of which Vaiie is a part of. Obviously, in broad terms, letter post is declining, and Jersey Post is fast becoming a parcel business, however, to maintain a quality service on Island, we had to look further. The board supported the decision to create an international logistics business by investing in or acquiring around eight logistics companies around the world. Fast forward four or five years that now equates to more than 40% of our annual group revenue.
So, Jersey Post has a post/parcel pillar, an international logistics pillar, and Vaiie is the third pillar. The first couple of years were about building the foundations – creating the product suite, engaging with business, engaging in industry, growing the team through strategic hires.
Having proven our model, the next phase will be all about acquisitive growth over the coming 24-36 months. We will look to diversify outside of the Channel Islands, too. The foundation will always be here in Jersey, but we will look to ramp up those sales channels in Italy, the UK, Malta and Luxembourg.
You mentioned the Channel Islands as being the foundation for the business. What is it, in your opinion, that gives the Channel Islands such strength and appeal for yourselves and other RegTech businesses?
At Vaiie, we work with our clients as partners, and we meet with them face to face to build strong relationships to truly understand their needs and build solutions together. Jersey and Guernsey are the centre of where the client experience takes place, and being able to work with teams at a practical level makes a significant difference. The Islands are strong, and the respective finance centres are long established, so technology firms are not seeking to challenge the incumbents but partner with them to share skills and expertise and grow together.
For me, Jersey must maintain its reputation for the highest standards possible and look for ways to maintain accessibility to the outside world. There's a balance to be struck between continually keeping that bar at a high level but also looking for innovative ways of improving processes and communication.
You were recently awarded Young Director of the Year by the IoD in the Channel Islands. What did that mean to you?
Every award is positive and is well received. Having Vaiie recognised at a relatively early stage of our journey is excellent. On a personal level, being nominated by my team is very humbling. Given what we spoke about at the beginning, in terms of my desire to change industries and challenge myself, I guess the award goes some way to recognise my focus on building teams, developing a strategy, and executing a vision.
But I also see awards as a bit of a marker from which to work. It's an outstanding achievement – but we are very focused on our growth and want to look back in a year to see how we've progressed from this point. We have a team that I am incredibly proud to lead, and I am excited for the next phase of growth we are entering.
Article first featured in Business Life Magazine