Risk, AI and Global Ambition

I spent 16 years in risk management, living the corporate life, firstly at a big four accounting firm and then at a major bank. As a risk executive I saw two issues: the big accounting firms are very expensive, and their value is starting to erode.

It’s fine being expensive. I don’t mind paying for the brand if there’s a significant piece of work that needs to be undertaken, particularly if there’s a specific request for a big brand firm.

The value proposition of paying $1,800 a day for a junior guy from a big four firm is outdated and hasn’t been disrupted for a long time. It’s a traditional sector with traditional ways of working.

However, the thing that really hit home was when I had to hire a consultant from one of the big four firms to help with a superannuation change. On his first day I asked “What do you know about superannuation regulation?” and he said, “Nothing.”

Back in the day, at least we’d do some homework before we turned up at a client!

The value proposition of paying $1,800 a day for a junior guy from a big four firm is outdated and hasn’t been disrupted for a long time. It’s a traditional sector with traditional ways of working. But things are changing fast with the gig economy and organisations being open to use experienced contractors or small firms for work that they don’t need a big brand name for.

My vision, which is the vision for Meetig8, is to create an alternative means for companies to source risk talent, get better value and a better service at the same time. This means having a technology platform where we connect Australian businesses with risk and compliance independent contractors and small boutique firms. Through Meetig8, businesses can usually get a consultant with about four to five times the experience of a junior from a big four firm for a fraction of the cost.

Personal Journey
It wasn’t too difficult a decision to leave a stable job and launch a business; I’m still in risk management, so it’s not a quantum shift. I’d come to a point in my life where I wanted to make a difference and use the rest of my career to build something that will significantly benefit many businesses and contractors out there.

Even though the decision was easy, the transition wasn’t, because I’d spent 20 years in the workforce with all the support and trappings that comes with that.However, the good thing about being a mature age founder, is that I used the experience I’d had to quickly put in place a structure and an operating rhythm as a basis for moving forward.

When I was younger I spent two and a half years in the army. The leadership principles I learned then are some of the principles that I still use today, particularly how to forge your way forward when there’s no clear path in front of you. That principle comes into play all the time when leading a startup.

Launching the Business
Running a business, and especially running a digital platform, is not easy to do. One of the bigger challenges was building the technology platform. At first, we engaged a group of developers, mucked around for seven months, and came up with little results. I didn’t know any better!

One of the bigger challenges was building the technology platform. At first, we engaged a group of developers, mucked around for seven months, and came up with little results.

We started the journey again with a second lead developer who built an MVP level solution. It was good but really lacked a well-designed user experience. Again, it was frustrating. After going through a journey with many lessons learnt, we now have a best in class development team that has taken our platform to the next level. Our mistakes with technology impacted our go-live. We could have launched earlier, but the lessons were very useful nonetheless.

It’s not like I love making mistakes, but I welcome mistakes that I can learn from. We live in a society where we want success and we’re always striving for success, but we learn more from our failures and I think that’s more precious.

Today
Today we have more jobs on the Meetig8 platform than we can fill – which is a good problem to have. We’ve got so much work and there’s a global shortage of risk managers. So we’ve had to think creatively about how to solve this problem.

We are creating international talent pools, so if Australia has a larger need for cyber-security people and there’s available talent in the UK or Germany, we look to move talent globally. We launched in the UK about two months ago and we’re using that as a base to tap into talent across Europe that we can bring to Australia to work on exciting gigs while enjoying the sunny skies here in the land down under! We offer the opportunity to come here and work on 3-6 month gigs, and help them with the short-term visas at low cost.

Beyond that we’re looking at automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. The unique thing about our platform is that we curate the best specialists for a particular job.

We’re going beyond that with the development of AI-based client solutions too. In the future, when a client posts a job, we’ll offer both a human solution and a robotic or AI-inspired solution.

If 20 people apply for a role, we curate the best few, because clients don’t want to see 30 profiles if they can avoid it. Right now we have human curators and our value proposition is a platform built by professionals for professionals, so users know that those doing the curation have real subject matter experience.
To build a globally scalable business, we can’t have human curators all around the world. We’ve built an AI curator using a proprietary algorithm that will create as good an outcome as a compliance professional.Of course, the human touch will still be present to ensure a great customer experience and outcomes.
But we’re going beyond that with the development of AI-based client solutions too. In the future, when a client posts a job, we’ll offer both a human solution and a robotic or AI-inspired solution. If a client needs someone to help with their anti-money laundering compliance program, for example, we can provide AML specialists, but we’ll also have AI and machine learning powered Regulatory Technology (RegTech) compliance solutions that could assist at a fraction of the cost.
That’s the future for us, because that’s the way the world is heading. I don’t think technology will take over from humans, but we’ll offer both.

Tomorrow
You can’t stand still. We try to see what the world will look like in five years or 10 years and how we play into that. Without that type of vision, even a fast moving startup can stagnate. People who work in startups, especially the new generation, want their leaders to have ideas, vision and a clear direction.

We set out the plan of what we’re going to do this year, what we’re going to do for the next two or three years, and then set about building up a team and technology that can deliver.

We have global ambitions. We want to be in the US, Asia, and other jurisdictions in the next 3-5 years. We aspire to be a major challenger to the large accounting and advisory firms. We want businesses to think of Meetig8 as the first place they go to source high quality talent and regulatory technology solutions. The team works hard and are outcome focused. There are easier things we could be doing, that’s for sure, but I didn’t leave a comfortable corporate job at a major bank to build a small business.

James Lai is the Founder and CEO of MEETIG8.