CIO Spotlight: Aaron Grantham, RTGS.global

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “It’s tempting to ‘eat the elephant all in one go.’ You need to be selective with your time and tackle a task iteratively, rather than trying to take too much on at once.”

Headshot of Aaron Grantham, CIO at RTGS.global
RTGS.global

Name: Aaron Grantham

Company: RTGS.global

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: November 2022

Location: London

Aaron Grantham is Chief Information Officer at RTGS.global. With more than 25 years experience in the financial services industry, having started his career at IBM, Grantham has held senior roles at Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, HSBC, and LCH Clearnet. Most recently, he was CEO of Ivno, a blockchain tokenisation company which he led to a successful exit in 2021. Grantham is passionate about leading innovative and sustainable change to re-engineer financial markets. He is also a qualified leadership coach.

What was your first job? I was fortunate enough to join IBM in the late 1980s, at a time when the firm was a powerhouse and a significant player in the global technology space. During my time there, I had the opportunity to move around the company and enjoy a number of different technical roles. When the business diversified into technology services, I was able to immerse myself in everything that sector had to offer which was a fantastic start to my career.

Did you always want to work in IT? Having spent considerable time working in and around technology at IBM, I was convinced I could help deliver the biggest impact for companies and businesses by utilising technology. It was at that point I became certain that the IT world was the place for me, and that’s when my career really started to take shape.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I’m not university educated, and went straight into work. Since then, I have taken IT and project related training and qualified as a leadership coach, managing to complete my training after two years of self-study, off site training sessions, and passing a set of externally administered practical and theoretical examinations. To broaden my horizons, I studied for a self-styled mini-MBA from the London Business School, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing and believe has equipped me with valuable skills that I continue to apply to this day.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I suppose I have taken a few detours over the years, which looking back were all highly valuable in helping to carve the path that has led me to where I am now. It was tough to leave IBM when I eventually did, but my next move was into financial services which was hugely exciting – especially as this was at a time where innovation and revolution was shaping the industry. My desire to seek out fast-moving and advancing sectors hasn’t changed.

I have been lucky enough to work in front office environments in the FX world, where I held relatively senior positions. I was also the CTO at SwapClear for LCH Clearnet, which is now part of the London Stock Exchange Group. Having spent a significant chunk of my career in technology, I chose to run a fintech as CEO for two years, and take it to exit in 2021.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? During my career, a lot of focus has been on the front office world – specifically in line with algorithmic trading, and risk management techniques, and generally functionality supporting Trading  & Sales. The “plumbing”  behind the scenes has had less investment in many cases. This specific operational capability has been driving investment for banks and FMIs, and it’s this very trend that is shaping our future at RTGS.global. We have significant interest, from a number of large organisations who want to use our technology and processing approach to not just save costs, but become more operationally efficient.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our primary focus for this year is servicing our major clients, including onboarding businesses for our POC’s and Pilot implementation. A further priority is establishing us as an FMI-ready support structure, from both a business and technology perspective (for which I am responsible); with an ability to deliver production-ready services this year.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? It’s hard to define what a ‘conventional CIO’ is in the fintech space nowadays. For a start, most of the fintech workforce tends to do more than one thing. My role, for example, includes being responsible for technology service delivery as well as business operations; and a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been something that people necessarily associated with a CIO role. Within fintech, you tend to have a wider spread of responsibilities, in addition to there being a breadth of organisational oversight in the CIO role.

Are you leading a Digital Transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? As a new to market Fintech, setting ourselves up to be the FMI of the future, we are digital-by-design, and, to a large extent, unencumbered by technical or process debt. Our focus is on meeting our regulatory requirements, and innovative, leading-edge processing solutions to our clients, to enable their Digital Transformations.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We are defining  our KPIs to be most appropriate for our growth, but, as with many fintechs, we’re at a point whereby we must make investments into technology. These decisions are made by the Board and then executed at the business executive level, of which I am a part. While our key metrics are being defined, our biggest KPI currently is reporting on client success and feedback and, of course, our technology and operational deliverables.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? It’s hugely important to bring the right mix of people into the business. You need experience, but you also need vitality. It’s crucial to get that mix right, and manage it effectively. We have tried to bring in plenty of enthusiastic and dynamic young talent, alongside experienced team members. The culture is underpinned by the enthusiasm we all have for what we’re doing for our client base, and it’s this excitement that drives the culture to a large extent. Additionally we operate collaborative processes such as Lunch & Learn sessions, Town Halls, and the use of sharing and syndication tools to keep people up to speed with our company and team process.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Everybody knows there is a current squeeze on talent, but – in reality – there is (and always will be) a squeeze on excellent people. However, the roles we’ve promoted to the market have generated significant interest to date. In fintech, and in our industry, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had significant traction in the market, so I don’t foresee it being difficult to hire skilled people for the roles we need.

What's the best career advice you ever received? One motivation behind going into leadership coaching – and why I ultimately got a qualification in it – is because I have treasured a lot of the conversations and guidance I’ve had in that area over the years. Wise words and genuine advice have had a huge impact on me and so I wanted to be able to pass this guidance on to others.

One particular piece of advice that has stayed with me is simple, yet powerful: patience. Sometimes, it’s easy to fall into desperation, seeking that next promotion, trying to secure a particular role, or for something significant to happen in your career. But ultimately, what you actually need is patience. More often than not, things work out the way you want them to and if they don’t, only then is it time to rethink – but not before.

Patience is therefore the word that sticks with me to this day.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, we do have succession plans in place. In a small organisation such as ours, multiple talented people are involved in several things at any one time. Very rarely is one person only doing one thing. You therefore have complete faith that items will get picked up by someone when you’re not available. We believe it’s very important and therefore try to ensure we carry this principle throughout the team.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? It’s tempting to ‘eat the elephant all in one go.’ You need to be selective with your time and tackle a task iteratively, rather than trying to take too much on at once. One of the core qualities of a CIO is being able to effectively allocate your time, and it’s this skill that will help contribute great value to the business in the immediate and long-term future. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? Having been in this industry – and in similar roles – for many years now it was almost inevitable that I’d encounter extraordinary moments that I’d be lucky to be a part of, either having earned the right or by being given the opportunity – which is all part of how you progress. If I look back, being on the cusp of fascinating changes and business milestones is what I am really proud of. At HSBC, I was involved in business-changing Distributed Ledger Technology – a hugely exciting time for the organisation, which I was able to take to Ivno, the Fintech I led. In addition, I was also involved in the emergence of e-commerce when it started picking up pace in the late 1990s, early 2000s, specifically at Deutsche Bank with the Autobahn product. And I was also lucky enough to be a part of The Clearing House at the time when LCH took more of a centre stage and required us to respond to regulatory demands such as Real-time Trade Registration. 

There have been many life changing achievements, but these are the ones that will live long in my memory.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Like most, there are things I’d have done differently. Quite often people will say that they wouldn’t change a thing, but I’ve never quite bought into that. Regardless however, overall I have been extremely fortunate and I’m grateful for the incredible opportunities I’ve had throughout my career. 

What are you reading now? I’m currently reading Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. I think the dynamic of team management is fascinating, as well as the concept of learning from mistakes. You have to manage the faults – take them as lessons to be learned – in order to be successful.

Most people don't know that I… Have a Mini Moke – a utility vehicle, built by British Leyland in the 60s. The one I have was actually built out in Australia.

In my spare time, I like to…Play golf. I enjoy the challenge of the sport and the constant opportunities for learning.

Ask me to do anything but… Gardening. I really can’t stand it!