StarCompliance CEO Jennifer Sun offers insights on where the financial services industry currently stands when it comes to mobile capabilities and where it might be going
Sitting down to interview Star CEO Jennifer Sun on the company's brand new mobile app—STAR Mobile—with a page full of clever questions in one hand and a freshly charged digital recorder in the other, I was ready to get the story on how this innovative software solution came to be. Or at least I thought I was. "We're missing an important part of the story here," said Jennifer, scanning my list of queries. "Your first question needs to be, what is the level of acceptance of mobile in financial services overall? More specifically, what is its use in the compliance function? That's the place to start."
That, then, is precisely where we will start. So what is the current level of acceptance of mobile in the financial services industry, Jennifer?
"Right now, I see a large disparity in acceptance of mobile. In theory, clients like the idea of mobile and know they need to move in that direction because employees are demanding it, but in practice many organizations have not figured out their mobile strategy and how to deploy it. Everyone wants to own their end-user experiences, which means customers and employees, but more firms are using third-party apps than ever before. So if they're going to give up some control, then they want simple, intuitive apps that centralize as much of the workflow as possible, so employees don’t have to go to multiple apps to do multiple things."
So what is Star doing to meet market demands for a more centralized mobile experience?
"Our mobile strategy was driven by our understanding that clients didn't want too many disparate experiences for their employees, and that whatever we built needed to be highly engaging and easy to use. The more enjoyable the user experience, the more employees wouldn’t feel like it was a burden to complete their compliance activities. We worked with a mobile consulting firm to build out our app. The first iteration of the screens were stylistically flat and conservative. It looked like a professional financial services app, but I was looking for more than that. A totally different experience. So we hired a UX specialist with experience building consumer-oriented mobile apps. People thought I was a little left field for wanting to move in a different direction, but I wanted something more appealing. More delightful. More engaging. Something that would draw users in, the way a really good consumer app does. And that’s what we got! I’m really excited to showcase our new mobile app to our customers. I hope they're as delighted as I was when I first saw it.”
The last time we spoke, you expressed the notion that the world of employee compliance could end up completely mobile, but that Star had initially missed mobile and was now catching up. Can you expound?
"Yes. Where we ended up today was, in some ways, a fortuitous accident. Two or three years ago, we thought of mobile. Clearly, we knew that mobile was necessary to some degree. Our competitors were looking it. But we made a decision to prioritize other things. We had large customer engagements. We were building out Compliance Control Room. And we had new features for existing clients that we wanted to finish. But once a few of our competitors came out with a mobile app, we kicked ourselves and said, did we miss the boat?"
"Sometimes that happens. When you prioritize one thing over something else, you're making a bet that the industry won't show the demand for that something else until you're ready. In this case, we lost that smaller bet; prospect after prospect asked us if we had a mobile app, because our competitors were out there showing their shiny new mobile apps. However, it turns out we may have won the larger bet. Being the second mover in mobile, we had the opportunity to see how our competitors were doing it and do it better, to improve the mobile compliance experience."
That's the story of Apple. Apple didn't invent the smartphone or the MP3 player. They were typically the second mover in a space. But they were able to take existing ideas and vastly improve upon them.
"A good parallel. While I love to innovate, in the case of mobile compliance we weren't the first. But you don't have to be the first if you're the best. I'd rather be the best. That being said, I do feel we actually innovated in the area that counted most: the area that will help change minds on the whole concept of mobile compliance, and allow compliance teams to see mobile for its ability to drive adoption of an employee compliance program. Innovation in this case means realizing that while the compliance officer might be the buyer of our software solutions, the employees are the real end users of mobile. And why do employees value mobile? Why would they engage on mobile versus desktop? Because they engage on mobile for everything else they do."
"One of our clients, an organization with 40,000 employees, told me her workforce is getting younger and younger each year, and she can already tell the way they engage and interact is through their mobile devices, not the desktop. And so if her firm is going to go with a third-party compliance vendor, mobile is going to be one of its biggest priorities. She views mobile as a key to engagement with young employees. That discussion really made me think where Star might be with mobile in five years."
"I said to our leadership team, don't be surprised if we adopt a mobile-first strategy in the future, where our investment shifts over to being mainly in the mobile app and mobile capabilities. And when I say mobile first, I'm talking about how best to reach end users. The employees. In my mind, if that shift comes we're ready to adopt it. And so we're constantly on the lookout, watching industry needs and requirements evolve, to see if that's the direction where things are truly going. I'm betting that it is."