Beyond Encryption recently spoke to our Managing Director, Billy Burnside, about his own personal experience in the sector, the evolution of technology, and the critical role that Standards play in enabling seamless integrations.

Beyond Encryption provide secure communication through encrypted emails, identity authentication and smart admin.  

In this article, we discuss the podcast highlights and explore key insights provided by Billy and Paul Holland (CEO, Beyond Encryption) regarding technology transformation milestones in the financial services industry over the span of his career, and Criterion’s role in the development and management of these Standards. 

The full podcast is available on YouTube.

The importance of data and process standards

Billy recalls that throughout the ‘noughties’, data driven services were in high demand, explaining that this is where Contract Enquiry became the single biggest data Standards development. These Standards were game changers for providers as it significantly reduced telephone and written requests coming in from advisers for details of policies and valuations, as well as all the paperwork that goes alongside this. Instead, advisers were able to access this data instantly through their back office system, streamlining their processes and reducing time and costs. 

Advisers are often being presented with a variety of different options to gain client data and information. However, Billy explains what he believes is really important to advisers when it comes to the use of technology: 

When you speak to advisers, all they want is a single solution within their organisation. They don’t want to have to go to 20 different online portals, extranets etc. They want it all in their back office. That is why integration between platforms, providers, tool providers and CRMs, is key. It’s the only way we will continue that digital evolution going forward, and one of the key components of integration is standardisation of information and the processes to access it.

However, with a proliferation of APIs, multiple integration points with multiple APIs need to be built, causing significant overheads and frustration within the industry. Although APIs are great tools for integration, they run best when everyone is operating from the same set of data – which is where Criterion’s Standards come in. 

Data standards are crucial to allow consistency and security in transactions and interactions across different platforms and institutions. They are the backbone of effective online transactions in our sector, ensuring that even as technologies evolve, there is a common language that all systems can understand.

Governance and collaboration

The ongoing evolution of industry standards is crucial to ensure their relevance and adaptability in response to regulatory changes and demands of both customers and advisers. 

For example, around two years ago, there was a significant regulatory shift regarding FCA Firm Reference Numbers (FRN) requirements, which involved the FRN numbers changing from six to seven digits. Criterion coordinated with the industry with monitoring help from the portals, to facilitate this huge change. By June last year, the industry was ready with the updated Standards and by August, the first seven digit FRNs came through. 

Billy explains that although technology has advanced in the industry, collaboration has remained fundamental to instigating change. Criterion plays a pivotal role in fostering collaboration among stakeholders, transcending perceived competitive advantages to focus on shared objectives and superior outcomes for both consumers and advisers. 

There are so many common problems in the industry, where working together is the only way you’re going to solve it.

Billy’s career

With almost 35 years’ experience in the financial services sector, Billy is a well-known figure in the industry and has garnered a profound understanding of market trends, regulatory rules and leveraging technology from his extensive exposure to different aspects of the sector. Billy has held roles in marketing, e-commerce, and digital transformation at financial institutions such as Aviva and Standard Life. Before joining Criterion as MD in 2019.

Starting out his career in 1989, Billy worked as an IFA Consultant for Friends Provident (later Friends Life) for seven years. During his time in this role, Billy was given the responsibility of helping advisers install ‘dumb terminals’ into their offices, which predated the internet at that time, and were used to access centralised financial databases. This led to his interest in technology and how advisers interact with it, and roles that focused on e-commerce and eventually, to industry Standards. 

From 2000 to 2007, Billy held a position as Head of E-Commerce at Standard Life. During this period, providers encountered a significant hurdle: they required not just illustration data, but also valuation information and policy data. However, accessing this data proved challenging due to the predominantly mainframe-based back-end systems, which were not really designed for integration with the outside world. Billy and the E-Commerce team were tasked with the mission of devising a solution to unify client information across life, pension, and investment systems, while ensuring that the system could identify the servicing adviser for all records. The resulting service, Client View on Standard Life’s Adviser Zone, marked the pioneering effort to aggregate client data across various products under Standard Life. 

Billy then moved on to work for Norwich Union (now Aviva) where the challenge around aggregation was even greater. but with the launch of Aviva for Advisers in 2009 Aviva were able to leverage the investment in system-simplification to deliver an adviser-centric view across all product administration systems.  With these foundations in place Aviva were able to take a lead with other large providers to drive the Standards-based integration agenda in the industry.