On being cornered and the way out

Or when you think they expect you to be the intergalactic expert.

Many years ago, I found myself in a meeting room somewhere in the middle east, in the middle of summer, surrounded by half the finance department of one of my clients, trying to come up with an elegant design for the accounting schema to configure in the platform we were implementing for them.

They were having trouble projecting themselves in the new system and at some point, a very senior stakeholder asks a very precise and arduous question on the amortization of bond premium and discount and the expected impacts from an accounting perspective if my memory serves me well. I was young. I was foolish. He was an intergalactic expert on the topic. I was not. Here you go. Cornered!

And lesson learnt.

Photo by pixel2013

Fast forward nine years. I found myself in a meeting room somewhere in northern Europe, in the middle of winter, surrounded by half the treasury department of one of my clients, trying to come up with an elegant design for their banking book accrual P&L report to configure in the platform we were implementing for them.

They were having trouble projecting themselves in the system and at some point, a very senior stakeholder asks a very precise and arduous question on the amortization of bond premium and discount and the expected impacts from an accrual P&L perspective if my memory serves me well. I was older. I was wiser. He was an intergalactic expert on the topic. So was I. I had nine years to become one.

The next question nearly got me cornered though. Arbitrage swaps this time … 

Fortunately for me, I had realized by then the vacuity of trying to become an expert on every topic l might encounter some day in my career, especially as an architect. My job is ensuring consistency and sound design of the delivered solution, front end to back end across all the business processes in scope and through to the integration with the IT landscape of the client. Consistency, not expertise. And for that, you need to be knowledgeable on many subjects but it would take many lifetimes to become an expert on all of them. Beyond the reach of mere mortals.

I mean where would you start… The finance industry is an ever changing one and when expertise on funky derivatives and hybrid products was sought after in the 2000s, banks moved back to cash products in the aftermath of the Subprime crisis. Then came new norms and new processes: EMIR, Dodd-Frank, Basel III, MIFID, SFTR, FRTB. Affirmation platforms, LIBOR transition and so on. Even project and development methodologies have drastically changed in recent year, from a waterfall approach to Agile, SaFe and DevOps. Besides, the platforms at hand are huge enterprise wide modular software and expertise on them can only be, well,  modular.

So intergalactic expert? No. But you can become the next best thing by mastering a basic skill: asking the right questions and be honest about your limits.

Broadly speaking, as a FinTech professional, clients do not expect you to come up with answers on the spot, or devise a solution out of thin air as much as they expect you to understand their requirements first and foremost. You can always rely on your subject matter experts when you are out of your comfort zone, expertise is their job and they would be more than happy to oblige. However, not understanding the requirement in the first place makes the point moot. And for this, what better than to ask questions? Try to understand what the clients are talking about, use the board to draw your understanding of it, get their feedback on the result, ask more questions, rephrase to make sure you got it right and do not be afraid to say you are not an expert on a given subject. 

In many cases, you are not expected to be one. 

Or maybe just on asking the right questions…

Let the board sound

Rabih

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Rabih

Lebanese, French, writing mostly in Frenglish and hoping to make a difference.

One thought on “On being cornered and the way out”

  1. Most intergalactic experts are actually only interstellar. And often just interplanetary. Or even heaven forbid international, transnational did you say? What? National? You mean local? Wow that’s a quick downgrade… It’s all about the right question.

    Liked by 1 person

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