Swiss Life Asset Managers’ CTO Carmelo Gemelli Discusses the Importance of a Trusted Partner in Meeting Modern Challenges in Finance
Interview with Carmelo Gemelli, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Swiss Life Asset Managers
EPAM was honored to interview Swiss Life Asset Managers’ CTO Carmelo Gemelli about the ever-evolving role of technology in financial services. He describes how he created Swiss Life Asset Managers’ first-ever global IT organization and how his team’s partnership with EPAM supported his pioneering effort.
EPAM: You joined Swiss Life Asset Managers in 2018 as CTO. Tell us a little bit about the organization and why you wanted to be part of the company.
Carmelo Gemelli: Swiss Life Asset Managers is a leading European asset manager and institutional real estate asset manager with locations in Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the UK and the Nordics. We manage roughly CHF 250 billion (about $266 billion) worth of assets for both our own insurances and third-party clients. We have roughly 2,100 employees.
There are three key reasons I joined Swiss Life Asset Managers. First, is the firm itself. Swiss Life Asset Managers is a successful and reliable European asset management leader that draws on over 165 years of experience and has proven to be successful through economic cycles and a number of financial crises.
Second, the team, by which I mean my colleagues, the company’s leadership and the technology folks. The team is very experienced and shares a long-term vision to keep Swiss Life Asset Managers successful and sustainable.
Third, I was drawn to the challenge, which was — and still is — quite significant. I am the first global CTO in the company’s history. My mandate is to create a global IT team, implementing one strategy worldwide to reduce the complexity that has developed organically over the past 15 to 20 years of successful growth and acquisitions. At the same time, we must achieve a superior digital experience, using state-of-the-art cybersecurity, for employees and clients. Our clients are always top of mind. I’m never bored, that’s for sure.
You were tasked with building up a dedicated IT organization for Swiss Life Asset Managers. How did you go about it and what have been the key challenges and the key successes so far?
CG: The structure was the first challenge: creating the organization, staffing it and putting the right processes and governance in place around architecture, security and the way we deliver. I was fortunate to find an organization that had technology leaders and professionals that are experienced and motivated to support the transformation. In addition, we hired a couple of colleagues to augment the team, they also brought new perspectives and experiences.
Another challenge was defining the IT strategy for the next three to five years. We did that together with the executive committee and the IT team, so we could accurately reflect the needs and the speeds of each of the business divisions and entities. Out of that, three key strategic thrusts were identified: (1) complexity reduction, (2) upping our game in cybersecurity and (3) bringing digitalization forward. And from thereon it really was delivery, delivery, delivery.
The volume of work that we started, mostly in the complexity reduction and the cybersecurity space, was greater than anything we had experienced before. For example, we tried to bring together four customer relationship management (CRM) systems, five real estate management systems and six digital workplaces that were all on different platforms. The challenge here comes from the delivery perspective — and this is where EPAM starts to come into play — because executing all of that simultaneously exceeded what we were able to source in-house. That’s why we were looking for a strategic partner.
Perfect segue into the next question, which is when and why did you engage EPAM? Which challenge or challenges did you want EPAM to address?
CG: The four biggest challenges, which we started to address with EPAM in mid-2019 were (1) digital workplace consolidation, (2) real estate asset and fund management consolidation across all countries, (3) CRM consolidation and (4) ramp up of cybersecurity services.
The ambitious work slate required a breadth and depth of skills that called for a strategic partner to help us with the challenges. EPAM demonstrated the access to talent with relevant experience in the fields that we were looking for, specifically around Salesforce and cybersecurity.
The company and its people had demonstrated a delivery mindset and they hold themselves accountable throughout the delivery and transformation processes. What makes the difference in any partnership is the ability to navigate through difficult situations together. As in any large transformation, we had difficult situations/decisions, and EPAM was a true partner willing and able to share the accountability.
Could you tell us a bit more about the three main parts of EPAM's work with Swiss Life Asset Managers: Salesforce, in-house software development and information security services?
CG: Sure. Let's start with Salesforce. The challenge there was to consolidate four different CRM systems into one global CRM system. EPAM supported that transition with development, testing and now maintenance of the application on the Salesforce platform. That went very well. Together with EPAM we accomplished the CRM consolidation ahead of schedule and at a cost significantly lower than we initially estimated. That is testament to how well the two sides worked together — our team and the EPAM team. Today we are able to leverage an industry-leading application for our clients with data visualization features.
Then, EPAM supported us with the development of a software solution called REDEX (Real Estate Data Exchange). EPAM contributed to development, testing and maintenance for the platform, which seeks to integrate our property managers and accountants, mostly external firms, with our asset and fund management system. The data challenge is huge. We're talking about all the data needed to responsibly manage a property. And with the high relevance of ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance), the data requirements are currently increasing significantly. Because today this data often still has to be provided and integrated manually, the approach of this platform is truly industry leading. The introduction of standardized templates and processes enables us as an asset manager to act efficiently with up to 100 data suppliers. This allows us to truly manage these real estate investments as assets.
And what have we really achieved? I think we're taking real estate asset management to the next level by organizing data so it's of higher quality and far more comprehensive. This also puts us at the forefront of managing these assets in line with regulatory compliance and stakeholder needs. In addition, stakeholders increasingly want reassurance that we are driving our real estate portfolios towards sustainability and are a proactive actor in this change.
And finally, Information Security services. EPAM helped us with our Security Operations Center (SOC); that is, the service that monitors our devices, networks and applications for unusual activities. EPAM gave us fast access to first-rate security and security operations center specialists. From there on we received daily insights at speed, and with significant detail and helpful recommendations. The Swiss Life Asset Managers’ and EPAM’s security professionals learned from each other; it was a very constructive exchange among professionals. The SOC team would see something that was unusual, for example on SharePoint, and our team would investigate the details, and in partnership with EPAM they would assess the situation and decide on a resolution, hardening our environment, if needed. The EPAM team kept us informed and confident in our security posture, enforcing our ability to detect, respond and mitigate any attempts in these challenging times. That was of tremendous value to us.
Looking ahead, what industry challenges do you see on the horizon for IT in financial services?
CG: There are so many, it’s difficult to choose, but I’ll limit it to my top three.
I'll start with cybersecurity, because of the amount of investment and the ever-increasing scrutiny we get from regulators. Consider DORA (Digital Operational Resilience Act), which is a new European Union regulation that goes into effect next year. That's a huge challenge for us, in both understanding the impact and executing on it.
The second issue, which has a significant technology impact too, is the increasing relevance of ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) for our business and regulatory expectations with it.
The emergence of new technology (e.g., cloud and artificial intelligence) will help with both of the aforementioned challenges, but because the tech landscape is evolving so fast, we have our third challenge, which is a talent challenge. The expectations for IT organizations like ours is to find and develop capable IT talent to execute on the challenges ahead of us.
And finally, what's next for Swiss Life Asset Managers in 2023 and beyond?
CG: As I said at the beginning, we are drawing on 165 years of experience. We know what we’re good at, and we want to continue to execute our strategy sustainably and diligently.
We focus on the markets we are in. We focus on the products we are really good at, such as securities, real estate and infrastructure equity, and we pursue a long-term horizon.
Technology is fundamental to everything we’ve discussed, including achieving that superior digital experience, both for our employees and our customers — in our markets, with our products, with a sustainable outlook.
I like EPAM’s vision, where you talk about “Engineering the Future™.” That's what we try to do for our business, too.