BlueShore Financial's Fred Cook explains how he manages his strategic partners to create an ecosystem of the right size that works for everyone.
Ecosystems are the name of the game in business today, forging strategic partnerships of like-minded companies within an environment that provides benefits to all participants. For BlueShore Financial this is nothing new.
As a mid-sized Canadian player with limited resources, we realised long ago that partnerships with key suppliers are worth cultivating at the strategic level. Today they help me ensure that for every dollar I spend I get 10 times that in value. Over time, we've worked out that the ecosystem has an optimal mass below and above which the benefits are limited.
Long term investment
This isn't about selling a ton of stuff and walking away. Ecosystems and partnerships require investment with an eye on the long term.
My rule of thumb is that it takes six to 12 months to forge a partnership – and I can tell pretty quickly whether it's going to work. It's not a good omen, for example, if the first time I meet a new sales exec, the talk is all about product. That person must understand the context and our business before they can identify what BlueShore needs. I want that first meeting to be a discussion about trends, strategy – ours and others' – our pain points, our competitors.
This is not as easy as it sounds. The partner has got to make time to listen – and I can't be coy, holding back on what I'm doing and where I want to go. As a customer I've got to set out BlueShore's strategy so that the partner comprehends it. If, for example, I want to get products to market faster, a good partner will listen to my goal, know my set-up and resources, draw on their experience with other customers and then contribute to a discussion about options.
Over time, partners become a highly valuable resource – a bit like an internal department, but one that is run at arm's length. I can draw on their experience and they can share their experience with us with their other customers. It's about respect and trust – both are essential.
It's also important that my partners all know one another and are able to work together to support BlueShore as a unit. We have three or four major hardware partners and no more than six software partners. Any more than that and the budgets for making it happen get out of hand. Sitting at the centre of that ecosystem I have to orchestrate communication between them to my benefit.
Events such as the annual Temenos Community Forum are perfect for this. I know my strategic partners like HPE and Microsoft will be there and I make sure I get meetings with them. These meetings will not only involve their product team, but also their developers, CFO and even CEO. And I take my senior people along, too, so they can be part of the conversation.
I also have monthly partner meetings. These may be face-to-face or over the phone. We might talk about a specific project and product or we might chew the industry fat, but it's important to keep regular contact. These are supplemented by annual or twice-yearly discovery sessions.
These sessions involve tech and business people. They're about getting everyone looking at what's coming down the line, so we can prepare and still be on the same page next year and the year after.
These sessions have a local, regional and global perspective. It's really easy for me to read about developments only from a North American point of view – how Apple Pay is the dominant player, for example. But here in Vancouver we've got an important and growing immigrant population from Asia where Ant Financial is king and Apple Pay isn't even an also-ran. I need to know that because such people will want to use Ant Financial.
In addition, I have an open-door policy with my partners. If they're in town or nearby, I encourage them to come in and see me, see the team, hear about what we're up to and how we're doing. It helps elevate the relationship to another level. I want them to want to see me.
Beyond my own ecosystem, I am also lucky enough to be able to leverage those groups of partners that my suppliers have nurtured. Temenos's fintech and regtech MarketPlace is great for that.
With MarketPlace, Temenos has encapsulated its "think differently" philosophy to help its partners. It has done all the heavy lifting. Finding, qualifying, developing, testing and connecting niche solutions is something I don't have the resources to do. Picking a solution from MarketPlace is 10 to 20 times faster than developing in-house or selecting one independently. That's of enormous value on its own.
Honest, open and willing
Having said that, partnerships and ecosystems must be mutually beneficial. I've got to bring something to the table, too, besides my business. So I need to be honest, open and willing to have my experiences shared. We can and should learn from one another.
Banks have a lot to deal with today just to keep the lights on. Regardless of size, they can't do it on their own. With our partner ecosystem, BlueShore is free to explore new opportunities so it can keep growing. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Fred Cook is a chief information officer at BlueShore Financial. Fred won the visionary leader award at TCF 2018 and BlueShore is a Temenos client since 2007.