Ryan Cuthbertson

Ryan Cuthbertson, global head, financing and securities services, products at Standard Chartered discusses his 24-year career in the industry, along with the technological evolution and digitalisation we are seeing across the custody space.
Inducted: 2021

Global Custodian: Ryan, congratulations on receiving our GC Legend Award and being inducted into our Hall of Fame.

Ryan Cuthbertson: Thanks. It’s an absolute honour and I’m really delighted to be able to receive the award. I’m fortunate that at SCB, there’s Margaret Harwood-Jones, Scott Dickinson and Colin Brooks who are already in the GC Hall of Fame. So, it’s great to be recognised as part of my peer group and also a big thank you to Margaret and Colin who have helped me throughout and really believed in my vision for product in my time at SCB.

GC: In very good company to say the least. What was your background and how did you get into the asset servicing industry to begin with?

RC: I’ve been in the industry now for just about 24 years. I started in June 1997 with Westpac. Of course, at the time, local custodians were still quite prevalent. I would say I was probably the last age group – and I’m really showing my age now – where your friends could get your foot in the door. A friend of mine was working within Westpac and he asked me if I would like the opportunity at a role. To be frank, I never thought about a career in banking before that, but I took it and I really, really loved and enjoyed it, and here I am almost a quarter of a century later.

I would say that I kind of think about my career in three parts. So, the first 10 years or so, I was predominantly in operations and that’s where I learned my craft. I’ve done practically all securities services-related operations roles from reconciliations, to settlements, to corporate actions, to client service. I then spent some time in sales and business development predominantly selling sub custody to banks and broker dealers. Then the last 10 years has really been focused on product roles, either regional roles or global roles, with a particular focus on efficiencies and different models, which I guess will lead us to the conversation around digital assets a little bit later.

GC: How has having that range of roles – and I think you’ve been in a range of geographies as well – how’s all that experience together kind of equipped you for the role you’re in now?

RC: Certainly, my background in operations I think holds me in good stead in regards to understanding the flow of information and the flow of securities, I would say particularly from the West into the East, where SCB and where we’re predominantly focused now. Most certainly the sales aspect, or my experience in selling, has helped me be able to grow relationships and understand a little bit more that side of the business and how we need to interact and have conversations at various different levels to understand requirements. And of course, the product roles, particularly in sub custody, that’s an industry or a product set that’s pretty consistently under pressure from a margin perspective. So that really taught me to think about things a little bit differently and hopefully that approach and all those things that I’ve learned in my career, I’m bringing to bear at Standard Chartered to make things better for our clients.

GC: We’ve certainly seen some examples of that. But if I asked you to look back over your career – and I imagine especially at Standard Chartered – what are the milestones or achievements that stand out for you in terms of what are you most proud of?

RC: So, I would say two things and you’re right about SCB, I think in the last four years since I’ve been here, we’ve really managed to turn the product organisation around. It was a very intrinsic and an internal looking function. I would say that the team has a lot of deep subject matter experts and expertise that, at least in my view, were being quite incredibly underutilised. Margaret and Colin, shared my vision to reinvent the product organisation into one that really drives the business, that facilitates technical builds and takes a more forward looking view on where we are and how we need to position ourselves for the future.

I think the last four years have been an incredible journey and a great ride, and I think we’ve done a considerable amount. Casting my mind back a little bit further, I was head of ops and technology for a broking house in Australia in the middle of a GFC [global financial crisis], which had some quite loose practices that led it to being under some financial difficulties during that time. I guess any poor decisions would have very likely led to the collapse of the broking house and quite a serious loss of jobs. So, being able to work through those tough decisions taught me to be a really sound decision maker and we managed to get that cleaned up and we sold it just before I left Australia for Asia. So, something recent and something from my past that still strikes me today as things that I’m very proud of.

GC: It sounds like – you mentioned Margaret and some of the team – it sounds like there’s a very good kind of team ethos and culture there in what you’re doing. Does that play a big part in kind of enabling you to do what you do in your role?

RC: Yes, 100%. So, without Margaret, we would not have been able to do what we’ve done. There’s certainly an element of trust that’s required to allow people to quite radically change the way that a pillar within the organisation functions. Margaret certainly shares that vision and has been a trusted advisor and a mentor, of course, through throughout my time here. So most certainly the culture that that she, in particular, brings to the organisation allows us to do what we need to do.

GC: You play a big role in this advancement of technological capabilities for clients. What’s it been like working in this space in recent years? And what are some of the projects that are coming up for you that you are most excited by?

RC: Most certainly, making things better is the fun part of the job, right? It’s always about solving challenges with clients. I would say that you don’t always need new technology to be able to do that, so we don’t necessarily always run towards blockchain or APIs, etc. Although those do clearly have their place in the toolkit.

What I find really exciting is partnering with our clients, where we’ve developed a deep understanding of the movement of data, it’s enablement and its ability to enhance client and importantly clients’ experience by deeply understanding what information a client needs when they need it and what they’re going to do with it. We’ve been able to quite rapidly advance our product offering, so we will continue to leverage our understanding of data and how it moves around the ecosystem and how we can leverage that to make things more efficient. We refer to that inside Standard Chartered Bank as the data conversation and it’s something that I’m really passionate about and it really is proving to have some very credible results with some of our most demanding and well-educated clients.

The tokenisation platform which we launched at the end of 2019 is starting to work, where we’re in the process of onboarding our first client now. So that’s something where we took a little bit of a leap of faith and we’re looking a little bit further into the future. We did decide to invest some money, a small amount of money to be frank, to get that enabled. I’m quite happy that by the end of this year, hopefully that will be commercialised.

The other exciting one, I believe, is the blockchain bridge. So, we have a piece of technology that’s probably a little bit ahead of its time. I don’t say that to sound like I’m not being humble, I just mean that we’ve got a piece of technology that the industry probably doesn’t have a significant amount of use cases for, as opposed to ‘we’ve been super smart’ or smarter than anybody else. But I really believe that the ability to deal with atomic swaps and to deal with interoperability across different distributed ledgers is something that we’re going to need. It’s something that I think the industry is going to need, so I’m super excited to see how that evolves over time.

GC: When we think about some of the standard product launches and the ones you just mentioned, you’re often really at the forefront of this. What’s the advantages in being a first mover in terms of pushing these out, as opposed to maybe a fast follower?

RC: I think perception in the industry is incredibly important. So, certainly being first allows us to get feedback, to engage with clients, to validate, to beta test and to find people to partnership. I don’t necessarily think that it leads to a better commercialisation case, but most certainly, it allows us to learn and learn quicker than our peers that might be a close follower. And again, that doesn’t mean that what we’ve got is better than anybody else, but certainly, it allows evolution of thought process. And again, evolution of product to allow us to test and make mistakes. So, I think being at the pointy end, in terms of thought, really opens a lot of doors for us to be able to validate what we’ve got and work out if there’s something there or not.

GC: Outside of what you’ve just been talking about there, where else have you seen the most change during your career? I guess this will probably lead back to what you just said, but where else do you expect to see big changes in the future?

RC: In terms of what I’ve seen and what’s expected in the future, I honestly like to describe it as same-same but different. The same-same aspect of it is what clients really expect from us in terms of our core proposition. Really, that’s asset safety and asset protection. They expect efficient access to the world’s most challenging markets, and they expect interoperability and a consistent experience with strong advocacy across those vastly different market infrastructures and regulation. They expect idea generation to make things better. I really don’t think those core aspects of what we’ve done – and in my case, for almost a quarter of a decade are going to change. The different part is the way that we think about and deliver those products or services, which has changed considerably and will continue to change at pace. When I joined the industry in 1997, the ASX was just moving away from certificates and into a dematerialised format. Obviously, that had a considerable positive impact on scale efficiency and the risk elements of providing the services. I really believe the digital assets and the underlying technology that enables them, will have the same impact in the future. I would caution though, however, it could also make things more complex. We see many alternate digital exchanges arriving frequently, whereas today in most markets there are one or maybe two exchanges for cash. In the future there could be many multiples of that and so back to the same-same, providing access to interoperability around these ecosystems and the protection of client assets is going to be paramount. The difference is obviously the underlying tech.

GC: Final question we have, more on a personal level I guess, what in your career so far, has made a good day at the office?

RC: I think for me, it’s making a positive contribution, no matter how small that is. I share with my team frequently: try and leave the office being able to walk out the door, being able to make one positive outcome. It doesn’t matter how small it is and try and do that each day.  The same goes for me. So I look for an opportunity or reflect when I’m finished for the day, what have I done today and again, no matter how small that has created a positive change. whether that’s for my team whether that’s for the business or whether that’s for our client base.

I really think in the industry we often get tide up with radical changes, which by the way, are coming. But equally, many small changes add up overtime and the incremental benefits of those small changes can be considerable. The other element is obviously, engaging with clients. I continue to learn from our clients on a daily basis. Working with them, understanding their challenges and how we can support them, is something I find thoroughly enjoyable. It’s an aspect of my role that most certainly I cherish and something that I wouldn’t like to see go away.

GC: thank you for all those answers. For the GC Legend award, the definition of it is someone who’s really had an impact on the industry, but is still at the core of changes going on and still so involved in the change we’re going to see in the future. We think that really sums up what you’ve done and what you’re doing. So just again from our entire team, congratulations on the award and it’s most deserved.

RC: Thank you very much. Again, I’m honoured, delighted and looking forward to continuing to contribute to the industry before I quite get put in my wheelchair and Zimmer frame.