For financial services organizations, maintaining regulatory compliance is everything. Head of Data Engineering at St. James’s Place, Barney Eccleson, explained how he uses Snowflake to reduce costs, boost scalability, and maintain strict governance.
St. James’s Place is the UK’s biggest wealth management company and has been offering financial products—such as ISAs, unit trusts, and retirement plans—to its network of partners for more than 30 years.
From regulatory agencies, such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to its client base and partner network, St. James’s Place’s data is relied upon by a wide range of stakeholders to help govern financial transactions, steer corporate decision-making, and report on investment performance. As such, compliance and security are of utmost importance to the firm—and can be the difference between success and failure.
But as Barney Eccleson, Head of Data Engineering at St. James’s Place, explained, the firm’s distributed architecture—which had been lifted and shifted to the cloud during the technology’s infancy—had started creating significant cost, performance, and scalability issues.
“We were early cloud adopters, but in transferring our on-premises servers to the cloud, we replicated a lot of our old problems without improving them,” said Eccleson. “We had quite a few data processing issues. We were missing our internal service level agreements (SLAs) and having to explain to regulators why our data wasn’t ready for them—this was down to inflexibility and an inability to scale without incurring soaring costs.”
What’s more, Eccleson and his team found it difficult to create new system environments without significantly increasing IT team headcount—something which consumed unnecessary time and resources and didn’t support the firm’s sustainable growth plans.
To deliver the cost-effective performance required to satisfy its data reporting and compliance requirements, St. James’s Place needed a scalable solution that could allow the firm to get the right data to the right decision makers within strict regulatory frameworks, all without breaking the bank.
Processing data x2 quicker at a fraction of the cost
After trialing other vendors, St. James’s Place looked to Snowflake’s platform for the performance, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness it needed to ensure compliance and improve reporting. “We adopted the Snowflake Data Cloud because it solved our three major problems around cost, scale, and the ability to get our data to the people who needed it,” explained Eccleson. “Early tests found Snowflake was twice as fast for about a tenth of the price. When we compared it to our old SQL server in AWS, it blew it out the water. Similarly, it was easily twice as fast as our proof of concept in Redshift.”
With high costs and slow performance no longer issues for St. James’s Place, Eccleson and his team are now safe in the knowledge they can scale on demand without worrying about conflicting workloads. It’s allowed the firm’s data team to focus on creating a solid foundation and set of principles and standards for future development—enabling developers to break workloads into more manageable chunks.
Regulatory compliance taken care of for complete peace of mind
Thanks to better data management, St. James’s Place has also changed its approach to regulatory compliance. In fact, the firm can now safely operate in markets that would otherwise have been impossible using its old solutions. “One of the things Snowflake really helps us with is regulatory compliance,” said Eccleson. “For example, part of our business is in Hong Kong and Singapore. In that part of the world, you’re required to report to your clients within a week at the end of each month about how their investments are performing. Without Snowflake’s speed and low cost, we wouldn’t be able to meet these regulations.”
St. James’s Place also uses more nuanced features of Snowflake’s platform, such as Time Travel—a tool which allows users to query data as it was up to 24 hours before it was modified. In addition to general debugging tasks, Eccleson and his team also use Time Travel to create snapshots of their live environment at key points in time, helping ensure regulatory compliance is maintained.
Data science and machine learning powering future-focused wealth management
Looking to the future, St. James’s Place is planning to use the Data Cloud to power the backend of its next-generation client experience, developing new mobile-native applications that will allow clients to visualize and interact with their investment history data.
Eccleson and his team are also experimenting with several data science and machine learning tools in the Data Cloud to help predict customer journeys with greater accuracy. “The main thing we use Snowflake for at the moment is replacing operational systems, but I’m looking to a bright future where we exploit a lot more of our data,” said Eccleson. “For us, Snowflake’s platform just works. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be “powerful”.”
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