Talking Fintech Digital Innovation and Startup Success Strategy with Ashish Gupta at UBS

The traditional financial services industry is undergoing a paradigm shift. Emerging technologies like blockchain, combined with ever-changing customer and regulatory expectations, are redefining how financial institutions deliver products and services.

Fintech innovation can help traditional financial enterprises improve customer experience, open new revenue streams, streamline legacy inefficiencies and remain competitive.

R3’s Venture Development program helps early stage Corda blockchain start-ups find product-market fit. The continuous program serves as a gateway into the R3 ecosystem, connecting start-ups to enterprise customers, corporate partners and a global network of mentors and investors.

We recently tapped into the expertise of one of our long-standing mentors to get his insights into how fintechs can successfully deliver and scale their innovation into financial enterprises.

Ashish Gupta, Head of Digital Strategy and Platforms for Derivatives at UBS discusses some predictions for digital transformation in banking, how he is bridging the gap between start-up innovation and scalable delivery into enterprises, as well as some tips for start-up founders to successfully execute a sales strategy into traditional financial corporations.

If you are a startup looking to effectively sell into traditional financial institutions, then this post is for you.


Hi, Ash. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. First off, could you tell us more about your background and current role at UBS?

A: Thanks David. I have spent 17 years in the financial sector, having run trading desks across rates, commodities and then equities. In my latter roles I also needed to build the trading platforms that defined how the business would be run. I then transitioned last year into a broader role that is responsible from a business perspective for all platform initiatives and digital strategy across our global derivatives businesses. Outside of UBS I am also a mentor at Level 39 and work with a number of fintechs. As a result I am particularly interested in applying new business models and technology that I see outside of the bank to how it will transform the traditional banking sector going forward.

Q: What are the biggest challenges financial enterprises are facing right now, and how are you preparing UBS for the next wave of innovation?

A: 2020 was an exceptional year for many of the obvious reasons. But COVID-19 did not change the direction of traditional banks as much as validate and accelerate the journey. Interestingly the most evident challenge in having to move to home working arrangements did not result in the expected fall in productivity. In many cases it demonstrated the resilience of the technology and business models. But one of the notable challenges was the need for more focus on delivering a uniform customer experience. An acceleration of our digital agenda should not just be translating a fragmented analog experience through chat, email or voice into multiple equivalent digital channels. And additionally, it is not just the customer experience, we must also move the employee experience at the same pace. If we do not, we can disconnect employees from their customers and this too will ultimately throttle the advantages that these changes bring.

Q: What areas of traditional banking are most primed for digital transformation?

A: Traditionally banks will look to capture the full value chain, from client relationship building, product discovery, execution and pricing, post trade analysis to regulatory reporting. To excel across this full chain is challenging and how fintechs add value is identifying pieces of this value chain that they can do better. The greatest opportunity for change therefore is for traditional banks to identify those areas of the value chain in which their brand, customer base, regulatory robustness and human capital continue to deliver competitive advantage. And then create more interoperable architecture in their legacy systems to allow others to connect and provide solutions for those services that are done better elsewhere. Banks that can provide this ecosystem of services, both internal and external, will provide a marketplace that is both more scalable and focused on client needs than any one entity trying to do it alone.

Q: Which start-up blockchain solutions are most needed within financial enterprises?

A: DLT applications are providing solutions in a number of areas where automation and standardization are limited, such as collateral mobility or trade settlement. It will also accelerate the evolution of investable assets as demand continues to grow for private capital market investments or alternative assets. Additionally, there are universal challenges that all financial institutions need to tackle such as digital identities, client onboarding and regulatory compliance that will benefit too.

Looking at the structured products market specifically, and the growing prevalence of multi-issuer platforms, we see clients demanding banks to standardize their front-to-bank to make price comparison and operational processes easier. DLT could provide such a solution for transfer of information and assets between individuals and banks in a secure and trusted decentralized network, but without the vast number of intermediaries that increase complexity and costs.

Start-up offerings catering to these needs are addressing a very real pain for financial institutions. However, they also need to have a viable business model themselves and be able to successfully deliver this innovation into banks.

Q: How do financial enterprises decide which fintech start-up solutions are fit for purpose? Any good tips for our founders?

A: The last few years have seen a change in the relationship between banks and fintechs. I see a more collaborative relationship where banks appreciate the agility and innovation coming from the sector while fintechs realise that they will benefit from the scale and enormous customer bases built in the well-regulated environment of a bank. These partnerships can emerge through strategic investment groups in banks that are defined by their own metrics and can be seen very much like an in-house VC, generally looking at 5–10 years out and not held to a mandate to be aligned to immediate business requirements. The other is a more direct partnership with the business where we see an immediate need that a fintech can best solve. When looking at the latter it’s important that there is clarity on how the solution will evolve to an enterprise deployment. The difficulty is not getting a few users within a bank to test if it works, but how the fintech makes the scale, resilience and governance of the business model easy for a bank to integrate.

Q: As well as your mentor role for our R3 Venture Development start-up community, you are also a mentor for Level 39. What are some of the most common start-up pitfalls you come across? What’s your best advice for start-ups facing these challenges?

A: It follows on from the above, that change in mindset to go from 10 to 1,000 or 10,000 users will often mean taking a step back and approaching the problem from a different angle. I would actually not describe it as a step back but a need to evolve in order to scale further. However, quite often fintechs will try to demonstrate how an existing solution will deploy in scale in order to hold onto the ideas that provided them that success to date. Banks operate in a highly regulated environment and governance at scale is critical. Acknowledging this challenge and adapting the business to satisfy these requirements, even when they were not required at an early stage, is a great way to build confidence in the partnership.

Thank you so much for your time and insights, Ash. We look forward to continued collaboration between startups and financial enterprises, and blockchain continuing to play a pivotal role in digital transformation. We hope you found these recommendations insightful and applicable.

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