GFT North America Marketing Director Irina Khodorkovsky is tasked with reaching and retaining clients through social media, monitoring economic conditions that influence brand strategy, and corralling business professionals in industries where 60-hour workweeks are commonplace. Khodorkovsky is also the president of the Midtown Fintech Consultancy Association (MFCA), an organization that connects financial professionals and others through dynamic activities. byteclay.com attended last month’s MFCA meeting at the rooftop bar at The Hotel @ Times Square. The venue was filled with influencers in the fields of finance, brand management, media, and other areas, and was an exceptional nightlife mixer and networking event. In an exclusive interview, Khodorkovsky discussed how GFT successfully delivers IT solutions to financial institutions across the globe, how the MFCA complements this mission, and the best way to get finance workers to an after-hours event.
byteclay.com: What are some of the unique IT challenges that financial institutions face?
IRINA KHODORKOVSKY: When you look at what makes the financial institutions we work with unique, particularly in regards to their technology challenges, what you see is that it starts with scale and security. Most of the firms we work with have been designated by the government as “Systemically Important,” either globally or domestically. You hear pundits talking about institutions that are “too big to fail”; these are the firms we work with.
It’s important to remember that the “too big to fail” mantra works both ways – the economy cannot afford to have these firms fail financially, but the firm also cannot be allowed to fail the public. This means that their processes and technologies are intensely regulated to ensure that firms are behaving ethically and legally, that they are protecting their consumers’ personal data, and that their behavior across the different countries they operate in is meeting a global standard. Add the inherent complexity that occurs when you’re working with multi-national institutions that manage assets in the billions of dollars, along with the difficulties that come with managing alternative investments, and you start to get a glimpse of what makes the technology challenges of financial institutions unique.
byteclay.com: What distinguishes GFT from its competitors?
IK: GFT distinguishes itself through its position in the market and its expertise. I like to refer to us as the Goldilocks of consulting organizations. As a firm, we pride ourselves in being “sector specialists”; we work exclusively in the finance and insurance markets, we hire employees with a unique mixture of business and technology experience, and we have the focus and specialty expertise that is offered by boutique shops. On the other hand, GFT is a publicly-traded, 28-year-old company that has nearly 3,300 employees and offices in 11 countries. We use a mixture of local and nearshore resources to ensure that projects are delivered at low cost but without the problems that come from using an offshore provider. This allows us to offer the resources, scalability, and lowered risk of an enterprise firm, while offering more specialty knowledge and lower prices than our Big Four competitors. In short, we’re small enough to provide flexibility and focus, but big enough to deliver projects to the world’s largest institutions. For these reasons, 9 out of 10 of the world’s largest financial institutions work with GFT.
byteclay.com: Finance professionals are known for working grueling hours. How does that influence your social media and marketing strategy?
IK: Finance professionals are a notoriously hard-working bunch. There is an unfortunate side effects to this – people have a tendency to isolate more and communicate less, which means knowledge-sharing is limited. In addition, the finance industry is saturated with functions and conferences; if I attended all the finance events in New York City alone, I’d find myself out every night of the week. Don’t get me wrong – as a marketing professional, I’m not complaining – but for most people, the combination of working intense hours and then being expected to network and be “on” is exhausting. This means that real, quality relationship-building can be challenging. It also means that people tend to network within the same, industry-homogenous circles, where they are unlikely to be exposed to new ideas.
As service providers, however, relationships are everything for our business. If our customers aren’t happy, we’re out of work; moreover, if our own consultants aren’t happy, that’s going to be carried over to our customers. The foundation of a happy team is a team that cares not only about their work, but about their colleagues. With that in mind, I try to set up my evening networking mixers to be casual and people-centric, rather than topic-centric.
Last [month’s] mixer was the monthly meeting of MFCA; while the association is largely attended by financial technology professionals, we also have members spanning the high tech, entertainment, start-ups, real estate, and retail industries, to name a few, ensuring a mix of perspectives and expertise. As President of the organization, I do everything I can to make the events lighthearted, easy, and fun for attendees – I firmly believe that if people are enjoying themselves, they’re more likely to be open to meeting people, sharing ideas, and building the foundations of trust that are so crucial in the business world.
byteclay.com: What are the essential ingredients for a successful nightlife event with finance professionals?
IK: The most important thing that a good finance event needs to have is genuineness. The finance and technology world is full of intelligent, highly astute individuals, and yet there’s so much dishonesty in the world of networking events. I may upset fellow marketing professionals when I say this, but, everyone is in on the game – we’re well past the days of tricking people into a timeshare presentation by way of a free lunch. If you’re counting on giveaways and free drinks to get attendees to [listen] to your sales pitch, you’re doing it wrong.
If I expect someone whose time is extremely valuable to show up to my event after work hours, I need to make sure they get something out of it. First and foremost, this means good, diverse company. As mentioned, I try to bring together people from a number of industries and backgrounds, including competitors and those working in unrelated markets.
This is crucial to promote exposure to a broader range of ideas and connections to keep our industry relevant. For example, financial institutions are now learning from the video gaming world to use Augmented Reality solutions to improve live trading; this type of innovation is only possible through cross-industry interactions. Most importantly, I try to keep things lighthearted, personable, and not take the events too seriously – if attendees have walked away with a smile on their face and a couple of new numbers in their phone book, I’ve succeeded.
byteclay.com: What’s next for GFT?
IK: I’m pleased to say that business is booming for GFT right now. Both organically and through acquisitions, GFT is on a growth path for 2016. Here in North America, we’re continuing to focus on our work within the regulatory compliance space, along with a strengthened emphasis on data quality and governance, and fintech-centric UX design, to name a few. From an events perspective, we’ll be continuing to host, sponsor, and attend a mixture of conferences and thought leadership events for industry professionals who are interested in expanding their knowledge on a particular topic. Concurrently, we will continue to put together evening mixers to help promote community-building and knowledge-sharing. Our MFCA events happen every month, so anyone interested in attending can contact me to learn more.