Until you see what’s possible, it’s really hard to make a change

Iress CEO Andrew Walsh talks high potential vs hype and making a difference in financial services.

22 years ago, long before the days of NFTs, cryptocurrency and digital wallets, a young Andrew Walsh was debating the merits of a new software idea over one of Singapore’s famous jumbo seafood dishes.

That software became known as Xplan, now probably one of the best-known financial planning software systems on the market.

Soon after that conversation over chilli crab, Andrew co-founded the development of Xplan and joined Iress when it acquired Xplan Technology in 2003. He became CEO in 2009 and has held the top job ever since, only recently announcing his retirement - one of the most difficult decisions he says he’s had to make.

Sometimes innovation is celebrated too much

“It’s always been far more than a job for me - it’s been my life. I was part of the original team that created Xplan with the vision of making financial advice simpler, more efficient and more accessible. In 2003, I was delighted to join another group of smart, forward-thinking people at Iress who share the same values and vision for what software can do in financial services.”

Over the following two decades, Andrew led through massive changes in the way people engage with financial services - from the early days on the trading room floor to the real-time buying and selling of shares in apps. On the Upfront podcast, he and his co-guest Adir Shiffman agreed that if all that change had happened in one hit, it would’ve been completely mindblowing. And, because it’s all happened so gradually, it’s easy to take for granted just how far the industry has come. 

“It’s a bit like a boiling frog. Sometimes innovation is celebrated too much, and an incremental change is masked as innovation.”

As CEO of a global financial technology company, Andrew has been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s most iconic financial services brands, helping the industry overcome challenges with legacy technology, digitalise and transform. His philosophy has always been centred around the need for joined-up software to solve the problems caused by siloed ways of working - an issue he’s seen all too often. 

“Separate systems and separate data stores often translate to manual experiences for the consumer, and that’s my personal frustration, my business frustration. And I can understand why it happens, but I don’t think consumers are accepting the basis for that. My encouragement to people I talk to is to open an account, open an experience with someone else and understand what good looks like to challenge the status quo. Because until you can see what's possible, it can be really hard to make a change.” 

Until you can see what's possible, it can be really hard to make a change

There is so much hype in financial services, but the base requirements are not there to support what that high potential might look like.

Andrew is upbeat that solving the financial services industry’s data challenges will help it go on to achieve even bigger, better things and thinks that the industry’s defining moment is near.

“There is so much hype in financial services, but the base requirements are not there to support what that high potential might look like. There isn’t sufficient quality data. One of the really interesting spaces is what Crypto has done. The experiences you can progress by opening wallets and the real-time nature of getting money in funding accounts and then buying these things 24/7 really starts to challenge how things are stitched together, what they are and the concepts of money. That is probably going to be defining from here. It’s everything - the use of data, the connectedness and the experience.”

Away from the boardroom, Andrew is well known for actively supporting causes close to his heart and which impact the industry and wider economy. He’d lobbied the Australian government about a lack of IT apprenticeships and is vocal about mental health awareness - often sporting a fetching ‘tache every Movember.

This month, Andrew is preparing to don his Raphas and cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats - a distance of 1633km over nine days. A physical and mental challenge to raise awareness and money to support the work of Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), an initiative Andrew staunchly supports.

“Talent Beyond Boundaries is the only organisation in the world connecting refugees to international job opportunities. Iress has been a pioneer with TBB since 2017, directly assisting the relocation and professional employment of (so far) six refugees and their families in Australia and the United Kingdom. It has been the most impactful social initiative at Iress, and I encourage other business leaders to do the same.”

Diverse and inclusive workplaces that support people foster new ways of thinking and deliver better outcomes for clients.

And talking of impactful initiatives, Andrew has led the way when it comes to offering Iress people greater flexibility, long before the pandemic forced it. In 2016, he announced radical changes to the parental leave offered at Iress, enabling primary carers to take up to 26 weeks of paid parental leave and four weeks of fully paid leave for secondary carers. In 2018, the company introduced a further initiative allowing all parents at the company who have a child starting primary school to take up to eight and a half additional days off work at full pay during their child’s first school term. And this year, the company announced the introduction of ‘The Long Weekend’ - an additional six days of paid leave for all Iress employees to help them refresh and relax. It’s something Andrew hopes attracts more women into the profession.

“I’m proud to say that our parental leave benefits are some of the best in the industry. As I’ve often said, diverse and inclusive workplaces that support people foster new ways of thinking and deliver better outcomes for clients.” 

Work-life balance is important to Andrew, and although his decision to retire hasn’t been an easy one, he’s looking forward to his next adventure.

“I have no immediate plans for the future but am considering what life has to offer. That might include interesting projects, start-ups and travel.”

One thing’s for sure, Andrew leaves a legacy as an inspirational and influential leader and one of the industry’s nice guys.

Listen to Andrew's episode Vital statistics here or wherever you get your podcasts.

What I love about financial services

There are lots of things I love about financial services. What I can do with some providers on my phone is pretty damn impressive. I don't carry a wallet anymore. I don't need to use a computer when I don't have to. And there are some experiences that I can complete on a phone. The contrast is when I have to go back and step into another century and interact in ways that are just so inconsistent. It’s that contrast of, man, does that still happen?

Andrew Walsh