Andrew Simpson, the Chief Operating Officer and Product Strategist at Alessa, has emerged as one of the leading minds in the fight against financial crimes.
“I am passionate about everything I do, not just my job. If we were to play a simple card game right now you will see that passion emerge.”
“I look forward to competitive soccer games or a game of monopoly with my kids, as much as I look forward to speaking at a conference or pitching to a prospect. I love the excitement of winning.”
It is that passion that has led Simpson to become a serial entrepreneur governed by strong business and personal philosophies.
His personal philosophies permeate the business environment. In speaking with Simpson, it is clear that he values people above everything else. Andrew takes all new employees through the corporate values personally.
“With the right team we can do anything but with just one wrong person onboard we stand to lose everything. That’s why I am so fierce in my commitment to having the right people.”
Now based in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, Simpson has more than 25 years of experience in building companies in the technology space. He is often asked to speak or give his insights in areas such as data analytics and interrogation, forensics, Anti-Money Laundering (AML), the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and other compliance areas.
The Road to Alessa
During his time at CaseWare RCM, he has guided the creation of the company’s successful financial crime software solution, Alessa. The solution is used in more than 20 countries by financial institutions, FinTechs, corporations and casinos, among others.
“The rapid growth and evolution of the technology is fundamentally driven by the team’s obsession with innovation and improvement. It is never good enough.”
Simpson grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, where he learned the skills he would need to become an entrepreneur.
After starting his first consulting business in his mid-20s, Simpson has been involved in a number of fast-growing ventures primarily as a visionary leader, coach, mentor, and entrepreneur with an infectious appetite for audacious goals. His ability to attract and retain great talent has fueled his success.
He earned his MBA in Finance and Banking at the University of Wales and Manchester Business School and also has a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of the West Indies.
Simpson honed his skills working with Ernst & Young and Cable & Wireless. At Ernst & Young, he was the IT Specialist in the forensic investigations conducted after the collapse of the financial sector in Jamaica in the 1990s.
“My move to Ernst and Young was critical for my future. I learned why Big 4 consulting firms are so successful and the importance of creating brilliant teams,”
“My timing was very good because we then had a financial collapse in Jamaica where a lot of banks went under. An unfortunate situation but the learning opportunity was incredible.”
In addition to his current role, leading Alessa, Simpson remains Chairman of Symptai Consulting, his first venture. Today, Symptai is one of the largest and fastest-growing tech companies in the Caribbean, focused on cybersecurity and IT assurance, advisory and governance.
Andrew’s second venture was a software company called SymSure.
“We went to the universities and we hired a bunch of guys with no experience whatsoever. We brought them in and said we are going to build software and distribute it around the world,” Simpson said during a TEDx talk.
Financial Crisis and Cancer
The year is 2009 and both his tech companies are reeling after the global recession in 2008. Then another disaster hits. Andrew is diagnosed with cancer.
The youngest of seven children, Simpson said he said he had a reputation of being tough when he was growing up. “Everybody said ‘you’ll be fine,’ but for me, the diagnosis itself was like a betrayal.”
“I was trying to find just one person on the Internet that had the specific kind of cancer I had and who lived. And not one. I could not find one person.”
In search of hope, Simpson went to Mayo Clinic and other leading healthcare centers. He eventually found a doctor with a patient that lived 14 years. “I will do anything to get 14 years,” he said.
During his time fighting the disease, Simpson was overwhelmed by the support he received from friends and family. Friends would show up with food or just to be there for him.
After successfully battling cancer, he was able to return his attention to business, where his company was continuing to expand and earning a reputation as an innovator.
Gartner and CaseWare
In 2010, Gartner, a well-known high-tech research and consulting firm, recognized SymSure as one of the top 10 companies in the continuous controls monitoring (CCM) magic quadrant.
“Gartner came and looked at the company and said these guys are within the top 10 companies in the world doing this technology.”
That was the same year CaseWare approached Simpson about acquiring SymSure.
“Because we were set in Jamaica, the money and everything was good. Living was good. There was no way I wanted to get up and go somewhere else.”
“After a while we looked at it and said there are people who are younger than us who are just starting out their careers and this is a good opportunity for them. To be honest, I also wanted the challenge to see if I could be successful on a larger stage.”
“It worked out pretty well in the end.”
“After the first few years we noticed that our CCM platform was a huge hit for compliance departments. We decide to focus on this and though a difficult transition, the financial crime space has proven to be so rewarding.”
After a few years, Simpson decided to make his home in Canada.
Andrew continues to lead Alessa, where its employees in Ottawa and Toronto continue to grow market share, its marquee product.
What is the philosophy and objectives of Alessa?
“A big part of Alessa and the philosophy of what we do is that customers are looking for people that they can trust and they can partner with and who are going to invest in their success,” says Andrew Simpson, Alessa’s Chief Operating Officer.
For a lot of vendors in this space, it is the customer that invests in their success, but Alessa sees it the other way around.
“For us, our philosophy is we are obsessed with your success and we will invest in it. We do that by forming partnerships and listening to you. We are doing everything to make sure we are driving in the right direction for you to be successful.”
“A lot of vendors will talk to you and say they have the best technology. That’s not what we are trying to do. We are trying to deliver on our promise of success for the customer. If that means we need to have the best technology to do that, we will. Everyone’s obsession here is what we can achieve for the customer. I think that is the difference.”
Part of Alessa’s driving force is never to be satisfied.
Simpson said if a year from now you can look back on something you created and see ways it could be better, you are fully doing your job.
“We cannot fall in love with our creations.”
Simpson said that may seem a bit harsh, but he stresses the company is continually working on making the product better – whether those changes come from the software developers or from working with customers to improve their experience.
“You can’t create something and fall in love with it and then 10 years later think it is still working – it’s not. You have to be willing to re-create and rebuild some things.”
A culture of compliance is an important part of the development of the Alessa team – it’s a culture that had its roots in Simpson’s early career and in the company he formed in the Caribbean. At the center of that philosophy is ensuring customers get what they expect – and more.
“You come to work, you work hard, we treat you exceptionally well, with empathy, we care about you and everything, but you have to put in the work and you have to be empathetic to customers. You have to care about the customer and you have to make sure that if the customer pays $10, they get $20 in value. That was the whole philosophy behind it and that drove the culture.
How do you help companies?
“Dealing with regulatory compliance and combatting financial crime can be really complicated. It is not a simple thing,” says Simpson.
“One of the things we try to do as best as possible is how we do we help customers to create a process that is effective and secondly how do we simplify that and make it easier for them. We ask ourselves: Are we effectively combatting money laundering? Are we effectively combatting human trafficking? Is it tedious to do it? How can we make easier, less tedious? Can we take our system and totally automate it and amplify their intelligence? Can we take a lot of the mundane tasks and automate it to make it easier using the technology?”
Alessa uses machine learning and AI, but Simpson stresses there is more to the solution than just saying it is high-tech.
“The truth is for the most part that what we do with it is accessing and using exceptional data sources to bring and to augment the risk intelligence – that’s the biggest gap for a lot of customers, the risk intelligence to get insights coming into your investigative processes.”
When you are onboarding, everything can look legitimate, but when you use the third party and augment the risk intelligence, you can realize that a potential client has a high risk, says Simpson.
“Bringing in that risk intelligence to augment investigative processes, that’s important. The second thing we do is focus on streamlining the compliance process and investigative process and how we interlock the core systems to process real-time activities all the way through to the regulatory report to FinCEN and FINTRAC and all the regulators. How do we deal with it end to end – that’s the big thing and it’s all on one platform. “
How does technology reduce the risks of companies?
Simpson stresses the single-platform solution makes a huge difference to those who use it.
“One platform that is so wide open we can plug into so many things, and so many things can plug into Alessa,” he says.
“Right now for example we are looking at bringing in additional risk intelligence on the cannabis industry, more intelligence on cryptocurrencies, including Virtual Assets Service Providers (VASPs). And we also want to ensure that nobody needs to go elsewhere, that everything they are using is in the software.”
Simpson said those are some of the bigger challenges that people have in doing their jobs.
“Yes, we are using some machine learning and AI components. AI is not the end and enough of a solution – it is part of a broader solution all in one platform.”
“It has to be one platform – one person is using a platform for real-time sanctions screening, another for batch processing, another one for customer risk scoring, another one for transaction monitoring, another one for reporting to the regulators. How do you really know what is going on with a customer across all these platforms, and then they have a separate platform for case management. It goes on and on. It’s ridiculous.”
“A lot of financial institutions these days are using five or six platforms and nobody knows what’s really going on and the risk they are facing.”
How does technology support compliance and prevent money laundering?
The biggest thing Alessa focuses on is preemptive type insights as opposed to everything reactive, being after the fact.
“When you do real-time transaction monitoring it is real-time and we block the risk before it impacts you. That’s very important and other things like you don’t have to have a situation where there is a big problem, but you are addressing it two months down the road.”
Simpson said his company’s solution is more timely and engages in a culture of compliance.
“We are interacting with everyone, so if there is a particular transaction that originates at one branch, we can route it back to that branch for initial analysis and response – before it comes to compliance. The compliance person is not on the telephone talking to someone at a branch – the person at the branch already did what they needed to do with Alessa and then it comes to compliance within a certain time frame and turnaround time.”
Simpson said the solution focuses on the automation and processes and interaction across the entire business.
“We are moving companies away from just reporting problems and instead really combatting the problems themselves.”
Is there anything you want to add?
Alessa is a compliance solution used in more than 20 countries.
Simpson said the product reflects what is needed by financial institutions, Fintechs, corporations and organizations to ensure they are not the victims of financial crimes and that they can remain compliant with regulators. Alessa integrates with existing systems to detect suspicious activities, automate processes, reduce false positives, decrease repetitive tasks and engage the entire organization in a culture of compliance.
“The company is us. It’s all of us and our customers,” said Simpson.