Vincent Pignon, Wecan Group: «The blockchain will lighten the daily life of managers»

Vincent Pignon
Vincent Pignon, Founder & CEO Wecan Group

Wecan Comply is a platform designed to facilitate data sharing between independent managers and custodian banks. On the one hand, it enables independent managers to simplify their compliance procedures with their custodian banks. On the other hand, it improves the quality of compliance data for the banks, while reducing the time invested in collecting this data, thus foreshadowing the new generation of digital tools that IFMs will use in the future.

 

How will independent asset managers be able to exploit the possibilities of the blockchain in the future?
Vincent Pignon: With the blockchain, we are entering the world of extreme digitalisation. Eventually, managers will use it at several levels in the value chain, whether in onboarding, reporting or data sharing with custodian banks. The blockchain will enable independent asset managers to set up much more reliable, fluid and secure operating procedures, both in the back-office and front-office areas, making it easier for them to connect and exchange information with their clients and service providers. Manual interventions will be considerably reduced, as the blockchain will have made it possible to digitise and lighten information management, which has become a bottleneck due to its complexity. This project is one of the first applications of the blockchain outside of crypto-currencies. The world of asset management is changing and the blockchain is one of the accelerators!

 

In this value chain, what functions do you concentrate on today with Wecan?
At the beginning, we thought we should start by working on the front office side, on onboarding and data sharing between managers and clients. But we soon realised that we first had to make data sharing between managers and custodian banks more fluid, where exchanges are all the more complex as both operate on different systems. We therefore decided to start with the Wecan Comply brick.

 

Which consists of what exactly?
It is mainly a platform that will facilitate the flow of data between independent managers and their custodian banks. Our system will avoid managers having to repeat the compliance procedure with each of their banks. From now on, they will be able to choose to share a “standardised data set” with all their banks. Banks will no longer need to request data updates from each of the managers they work with. This will not be available immediately, but we will very soon be linking the Wecan Comply platform to official registers, such as the commercial register, the tax register, the debt collection office, the land register and the civil register. This will enable the manager to ensure that his custodian banks have direct access to all kinds of official documents, without having to worry about collecting and processing them. By skipping these verification steps, they will be able to save time while limiting the risk of fraud.

 

What was the most difficult part for you to manage in the development of Wecan Comply?
In order for all these documents and data to be shared, it was first necessary to define standards that were acceptable to both managers and banks. The definition of these standards was a major task that took twelve months. But in the end, they were validated by the banks. Eventually, all those who will connect to the Wecan Comply platform will use the same standards, regardless of the systems on which they operate. These standards were really an essential point.

 

Speaking of participants, where are you now? How many banks and managers have already joined the platform?
By the end of the year, our platform will welcome around ten banks and around fifty managers, but due to the growing interest of the players and the large number of requests we receive every week, we risk falling victim to our success and having to welcome a much larger number! We already have contracts with major players such as Pictet, Edmond de Rothschild and Hyposwiss banks. On the independent asset managers’ side, we have reached an agreement with the Alliance of Swiss Asset Managers, Capitalium, GMG, Stanhope Capital, to name but a few. Other major players will be announced by the end of the year.

 

Do you have any idea how much the managers will save by setting up on the platform?
It’s difficult to put a figure on it because it depends on the size of the structure, the systems it uses and the number of custodian banks it works with. What is certain is that we will help them save a lot of money and above all a lot of time. They will no longer have to manipulate the documents each time they update them. Everything will be done automatically, and it will also make it easier for the auditors, who are known to become stricter and more rigorous. With access to Wecan Comply, audits will be carried out in an almost automated way.

 

How much does it cost to become a member of Wecan Comply?
We are starting with an annual licence model. For independent asset managers, it will generally vary between 1,000 and 6,000 francs. For custodian banks, it will depend on the number of managers they work with.

 

Coming back to Wecan, why did you choose to launch yourself into blockchain technology in this way?
It’s the logical continuation of my academic career. I worked in finance while I was preparing my PhD, before setting up companies in the United States and then in Europe and teaching at the Geneva Business School, where I did parallel research work. In the course of this work, I was able to realise the potential of blockchain applications in certain sectors such as finance. And finally, I created a startup from the “laboratory” that I had initiated at the HEG. We were in 2015 and it may have been a little early but today, with the evolution of regulations, the more mature nature of technology and the advent of digital, the circumstances are very favourable to us.

 

Why did you choose to work on the blockchain by zapping the crypto-currencies?
We wanted to avoid the uncertainties linked to the regulatory aspects. On this point, we didn’t have enough visibility. Secondly, we were more interested in the technology than in its possible products. It was the mechanical side that interested us first and we thought it was more interesting to develop software that exploits the blockchain, in a logic rather focused on B2B. That’s how we launched Wecan Comply and we are currently making progress on Wecan Tokenize.

 

What do you want to achieve with Wecan Tokenize?
Generally speaking, we want to exploit the possibilities offered by the blockchain to offer new solutions oriented towards both the back office and the front office, which are in a way the stack and the face of fintech today. With Wecan Tokenize, we are therefore positioning ourselves in the front office by facilitating the development of new types of investment. We are involved in the tokenisation of illiquid assets that are not currently included in the assets held by banks or asset managers. These assets include real estate, private equity, works of art, etc. By transforming them into digital tokens, the blockchain ultimately enables these asset classes to be extended to new investors and more easily integrated into portfolio management. The question of tokenisation is no longer whether it will happen, but when. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, a quarter of the assets in the world today should be registered in the blockchain by 2025. And by 2050, it will be more than half. In terms of the money supply, this obviously represents colossal quantities. For the financial markets in general, this is a major turning point and we are very happy to be among those who are leading the way right now.

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