The leading Nordic corporate bank SEB and Blacksmith KYC embarked on a KYC improvement journey together exactly one year ago. So why did SEB choose Blacksmith as a partner on this journey?
SEB’s Madeleine Alftin: “Blacksmith’s digital policy manager and primary sources data hub were the key differentiators that played a decisive role in our decision to opt for a pilot project with the Blacksmith KYC platform.”
The SEB / Blacksmith KYC pilot project has now resulted in the successful implementation of the Blacksmith’s KYC platform within SEB. Together with Madeleine Alftin , SEB’s Head of Development for Client & Product Regulatory Management, Ieva Preisa, KYC project manager at SEB, and Merijn Olsthoorn (CCO Blacksmith KYC), we look back at how and why this journey began, we take stock of the progress that has been made so far, and we look ahead to set our course for the rest of this exciting journey.
Merijn: Financial institutions are all facing increasingly stringent KYC regulations. The initial response of most financial institutions was to recruit more and more KYC analysts and support staff. However, it is has become clear that throwing more people at the problem is not going to solve the KYC conundrum. Was this the case within SEB as well?
Madeleine: We have grown as much as we can when it comes to people and now we need to invest in processes and IT to ensure that we have proper system support. What we really want to do within SEB is adopt a data-driven approach with APIs connecting systems to each other, so we don’t have to insert the data in another system manually once we have retrieved the data. We also want to improve our data collection process. If we can get more reliable customer data from other sources, we would not have to reach out to the customer as much.
Merijn: We gave our first Blacksmith demo for SEB at the end of 2021. We got the impression that you liked the platform but that you weren’t ready to move forward yet. What made you decide to contact us again and set up a joint pilot project?
Madeleine: Although, we realised that we really had to improve our data collection process, we weren’t ready and we also wanted to examine other options. So, we did a number of demos with other KYC solution providers but they didn’t have the option to apply SEB’s KYC policy within their tools. They also had a lot of other features that we were not looking for. In most cases, we would have to pay for a full package whereas we would only be using part of it. We were actually a bit coloured by the experience with Blacksmith, so we benchmarked other solutions against your solution and nobody actually had what we wanted because you had shown us what we thought was the best tool for us. In addition, the primary data sources that you offer work for us. We know we can trust them so that is another advantage. Some of the other platforms used other publicly available sources that we felt less comfortable with.
Merijn: The SEB/Blacksmith pilot project was launched one year ago in September 2022. Can you tell me a bit more about your experiences during the pilot?
Madeleine: Fortunately, our KYC analysts were more than willing to help us test the Blacksmith platform. We calculated how much time we could save, we collected feedback on how it worked and on additional functionalities that we would like to have. The result showed us that we had significant time savings for data collection and preparation before reaching out to the customers.
Ieva: One of the benefits that we actually see with Blacksmith is that it doesn’t matter if the KYC analyst has been with the bank for 5 years or 5 months, the data will be the same because it does not depend on the person to collect this information as it’s data driven. We have entered the policy into Blacksmith and no matter who pushes the button, we will get the same information so that is very positive for us.
Merijn: The pilot project turned into a close collaboration in which we tailored the platform to meet your needs. Can you share what made you decide to move ahead from the pilot into adoption in the production process?
Madeleine: This is what I liked about working with Blacksmith. We liked the platform a lot but we could only use it if Blacksmith was able to deliver the specific functionalities that we required. We were very pleased with the way Blacksmith was willing to work together with us to provide these functionalities. It was also really easy and fun to work with the Blacksmith team in both Amsterdam and Singapore. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful.
Merijn: Working with a new system and changing the way you work is never easy. Was it difficult to adopt a new way of working within your organisation?
Madeleine: The KYC analysts started to use Blacksmith and we received some good feedback. The KYC process for banks is the oldest of our KYC processes. The analysts in the banks team are very experienced and they are used to their traditional way of working so it was an interesting experience to introduce a new system and convince them that it is an improvement. That was a journey as well. I think this is the case for all new developments. Even though they are good and they can save time in the long run, in the beginning, it might take a bit more time because you just don’t know the system yet and you also have to change your habits. That’s a bit difficult for people especially when you have been working one way for years and then somebody comes and says no you need to do things differently. But I am happy that they believed us and they are using it now.
Merijn: What do you expect from Blacksmith going forward?
Madeleine: Within SEB, we are in the phase of implementing a KYC processing tool. So the possibility to connect the different external providers, Blacksmith being one of them, to our KYC processing tool is very important for us to eliminate manual steps in the process. For example, we would like to explore Blacksmith together with a customer outreach tool so the information that we do not receive from Blacksmith and the external sources would then feed into a customer outreach tool. This tool can then be used to reach out to the customer indicating that these are the exact data points that we are missing please provide this information to us. Our aim is ultimately to streamline the data collection process whether it is external sources, internal sources or customer outreach. Based on our experiences with Blacksmith so far, we look forward to continuing our KYC improvement journey with the Blacksmith platform and the Blacksmith team.