Hani Kablawi

Hani Kablawi was the recipient of Global Custodian’s coveted Industry Legend award this year. Here, he speaks with Joe Parsons about his 23-year journey with BNY Mellon, from growing out the bank’s Middle East business to major advancements around digital and data more recently.
Inducted: 2020

Over the past two decades, BNY Mellon has been involved in some of the industry’s largest mergers and acquisitions. Some of its most notable deals include the acquisition of Pershing in 2003, followed by the takeover of Mellon Financial in 2007. Yet during this time of rapid deal-making by the bank and many other key securities services providers, Hani Kablawi was on a personal mission to achieve organic growth for the world’s largest custodian.

“After joining the Bank of New York in 1997 on the Middle East and Africa desk, I had exposure to managing country credit risk and counterparty risk, which then led to treasury services and asset servicing. Then in 2002, armed with my new American citizenship, the bank sent me to Abu Dhabi to develop its sovereign wealth fund (SWF) business in the Gulf region,” says Kablawi.

The establishment of the SWF business in the Gulf would become a lucrative one for the bank, propelling Kablawi to the CEO role for the Middle East and Africa in 2008 after setting up BNY’s regional hub in Dubai.

“Luck was on my side as it coincided with a significant rise in oil prices, filling government coffers and helping wealth funds of the region accumulate assets at pace. We were there early to build on our relationships for a client segment that would become incredibly important,” Kablawi highlights.

“I then established a regional hub in Dubai and ran our Middle East and Africa business. To have witnessed and participated in the growth in assets and sophistication of that client base was a real privilege, and I had an amazing time watching it happen up close.”

His time there showed the importance of organic growth – creating a business from the ground up and building new client relationships as BNY established itself in the Middle East.

“The biggest impact I might have had came in the form of developing the business organically, whether it was a strategy to enter a new market, develop a new relationship, or build a new capability to accelerate growth,” he says.

In 2012, Kablawi was relocated to London where he took on the role of CEO of global client management for the EMEA position, before becoming CEO of EMEA asset servicing. Then in 2018, he assumed the role of CEO of global asset servicing and chairman of EMEA, where he has been involved in some of BNY Mellon’s most notable initiatives. He now serves as Chairman of international, overseeing the bank’s regional teams across EMEA, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Under his guidance, BNY Mellon set a clear strategy at the beginning of last year to adopt an open architecture model and to partner with front-office platforms including BlackRock, Bloomberg AIM and SimCorp.

Most recently, he spearheaded the launch of three new analytics offerings, built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, targeting front-office data. The offering includes new services on distribution analytics, ESG data analytics, and a cloud-based data vault. The solutions have been designed to assist investment managers with their data, improving the success of US-listed fund launches and support the customisation of investment portfolio with ESG factors. As part of its wider digital strategy, BNY Mellon has also expanded its relationship with Microsoft to create data, technology and content solutions for investment managers on the Azure platform.  

The moves further BNY Mellon’s evolution of its core asset servicing business, where it sees providing data management and front-office services as the next competitive battleground.  

“This is an exciting time because of all of the changes taking place. Workflow automation has led to a much more digitised, STP environment than it used to be, which has reduced risk, sped up delivery of service, improved the client experience, reduced costs, and importantly, enabled data provision,” adds Kablawi.

“Digitisation has enabled so much of this business over the last few years, and now conversations with clients revolve around an automated end-to-end service. Above that, the value-add is around helping them with their decision framework, such as providing data and analytics aimed at improving investment decisions, liquidity decisions, risk management, and operational decisions.

“We are providing clients with real-time exposure levels, giving risk managers actionable information when they need it. We can tell investment managers what their cash position will be the next day because we have access to subscription and redemption information. We’re giving distribution managers access to information that will help them position their marketing resources more effectively. Helping clients use the data we have for them near real-time makes us relevant to a broader set of decision makers and gives us more access than ever before.”

Kablawi sees initiatives such as providing near real-time information on the full trade lifecycle and predictive analytics to investment managers as the key to shaping the future of securities services. The influence of tech giants such as Amazon and the adoption of self-service models will increasingly filter into asset servicing, and Kablawi believes it is down to firms such as themselves to enable this.

“The experience we all have at the retail level, through the use of our mobile devices, and the availability of solutions and applications, will shape where our industry is heading. We are in the process of enabling that, and this is what our industry has to deliver,” he says.