Elona Ruka-Wright, Chief Risk Officer at Finastra, talks strategy and thought leadership inside one of the world’s leading financial technology companies
‘Risk management is as much an art as it is a science’, says Elona Ruka-Wright, Chief Risk Officer at Finastra. We’re speaking about the art of risk mitigation and her role on a Monday morning, and she dives right in. ‘While there are aspects of risk that you can predict based on statistical data, no risk stands alone. You have to connect the dots; think about unintended consequences’.
This is partly what draws her to risk management: the intellectual challenge. ‘You need critical thinking to constantly evaluate and make decisions’, Elona explains. ‘There is no business without risk. It’s about making informed and balanced decisions that maximise opportunities while minimising risk. You can’t let infinite available data paralyse you, or you run the risk of doing nothing’. As Finastra’s Chief Risk Officer, she leads all aspects of the firm’s global risk management and governance practices, manages crisis situations, and builds strong relationships with regulators.
Having come to Finastra following a 20-year career built in established banks, Elona holds a unique perspective on the fintech industry. ‘Fintechs are different; they’re often more agile, more globally dispersed, and more diverse in their products and customers’, she says. But both Black Knight (where she worked previously) and Finastra (her current company) serve big banks. ‘In many ways’, she says, ‘we have similar risk management programmes and practices as the world’s largest institutions’.
Finastra’s Global Focus
As the largest pure-play software vendor that serves the financial services industry, Finastra operates across the globe, with key hubs and centres of excellence located in Europe, Canada, Asia, and the US. Some risks that Elona and her team oversee are universal, such as cybersecurity, health and safety, and operational disruption. Yet others are localised—such as political strife in Hong Kong, hurricanes in the US, tsunamis in the Gulf of Thailand, or Brexit.
In terms of risk, there’s also the global pandemic. ‘First and foremost, we focused on our people’s health and safety, prioritising employee wellbeing’, Elona says. ‘We moved over 95% of our workforce to remote working in just a few days. At the start of the pandemic, we faced familiar risks—safety, security, and resilience—but we knew that they would accelerate and evolve’. She points out that risk management demands collaboration. ‘There’s no competition’, she says. ‘We look at ourselves as peers and partners. And we communicate regularly within our industry in order to do our best work’.
Not all change is bad. ‘At Finastra, we see huge market opportunities arising from new business models’, Elona tells us. ‘We see Finastra as being a financial ecosystem orchestrator’. The firm’s FusionFabric.cloud platform, for instance, is the foundation for Finastra’s Banking as a Service (BaaS) proposition. An open developer platform for innovation, with over 150 apps, it’ll lead the way in which solutions are written, deployed, and purchased. The platform enables organisations to access capabilities that extend core solutions and, in turn, will help financial institutions bring relevant solutions to their customers.
‘Since we collaborate with a network
of infinite developers, we can far surpass what Finastra’s developers can do alone’, Elona explains. ‘As our suite of apps and solutions grows, it creates opportunities for traditional and non-traditional banks and, ultimately, for Finastra and its customers. It increases their relevance and scale—and consequently,
their growth and digital transformation’.
Digital Risk Management
With digital transformation being a key driver for financial services institutions, how does it impact risk management? ‘On one hand, digital evolution introduces new risks’, Elona explains. On the other, risk management
has turned to digital tools to cope with COVID-19. ‘Reliable and timely data coupled with the ability to automate and analyse risks is critical to driving insight’, she adds. But is tech always the answer?
To answer that, let’s return to Elona’s vision of risk management as an art. ‘We have a proliferation of tools’, she says. ‘But they can never fully replace professional judgement and a healthy dose of scepticism. If something doesn’t seem right—even if the data says it’s perfect —
I trust my team’s intuition and expertise’.
The pandemic has accelerated digitalisation—and risk management is no exception. As a direct result of the pandemic, Finastra has rapidly taken steps to keep up with the complex threats that companies now face. To proactively manage risk, Elona’s team has taken an agile approach. ‘We’ll see an emerging risk and launch a targeted response’, Elona explains. ‘And when we evaluate new strategic initiatives or business projects, we identify risks that we want to nip in the bud’.
In addition, Finastra has started to conduct more frequent and short sprint risk assessments, refresh its audits and crisis scenarios, and implement new enterprise Governance Risk & Compliance (eGRC) and risk data visualisation tools and functionality. This is all part of Elona’s strategic approach to continuously prioritise—to determine the balance between risk-taking and risk avoidance. ‘There is no business without risk’, she emphasises. ‘You just have to know where to draw the line’.
In the end, risk management comes down to mindset. ‘Our job is more than merely preventing disaster’, she says. ‘We aim to be an enabler: to help Finastra mitigate risk and maximise opportunity’.
Building the Next Generation of Talent
What’s more, Elona cares deeply about building strong teams. ‘One of the parts I
like most about my job is developing the
next generation of talent’, she explains, ‘culture starts at the top’. At Finastra, she appreciates that she has the support of its board and its executives in making risk management a priority.
That’s why when it comes to the ‘Great Resignation’, or the fabled exodus of skilled workers from their jobs following COVID-19, Elona is more level-headed than most. ‘Good people are, of course, hard to replace, especially in roles that require domain expertise’, she says. There’s certainly a war for talent, but she has a strategy.
In addition to leveraging Finastra’s global recruitment networks, she intends to invest in internal risk management training and education programmes. ‘We support individuals at all stages of their careers’, she says. ‘Risk management is an entry point into an organisation. It gives you great visibility and insight into all parts of the organisation. It’s a great career option with many exciting trajectories’.
This final point hits close to home, as Elona started out in risk management and grew to love it. Now, she wants to build the next generation of global leaders. ‘Simply buying talent isn’t enough’, she concludes. ‘We have to develop and nurture it’.