ITA Spotlight: Ascent
Monday, September 16, 2019
Posted by: Gary Hotze
Vanessa Yeh, Director of Marketing, Ascent, @ascentregtech
An industry trailblazer, Ascent is building Regulation AI as a groundbreaking new way to navigate the increasingly complex world of regulations quickly, efficiently, and most important of all, reliably. We're not changing the game of regulatory compliance. We're just changing the way it's played -- and the way it's won.
In 25 words or less, what is Ascent all about?
Ascent is building AI-driven technology to help our customers rise above the costs and complexities of regulatory compliance.
What problem do you solve and how do you solve it better than the competition?
Financial services firms are drowning in regulation. The status quo of manually researching, reading, and analyzing oceans of regulatory text is becoming nearly impossible, not to mention incredibly expensive. In order to keep pace, businesses have had to increase headcount or hire armies of costly consultants. When all is said and done, businesses end up spending about 8% of their revenue on compliance alone. It’s a $64 billion global problem.
Using Regulation AI — artificial intelligence built specifically for the regulatory domain — Ascent tells a customer exactly which regulatory obligations apply to them, all within a powerful platform that allows them to manage their compliance activities from start to finish. Through this automatic creation and delivery of targeted regulatory knowledge, Ascent frees Risk and Compliance Officers from the most tedious and error-prone aspects of compliance, allowing them to focus on the things only humans can do.
Unlike other solutions available today (and what makes our technology truly exciting) is that Ascent is 100% automated. Our COO Arbela Takhsh said it best: “This innovation in regulatory technology allows us to automate the most challenging aspects of compliance work in a way that’s more intelligent, more actionable, and more transformative than what was deemed possible even a few years ago. Ascent isn’t just another SaaS platform; it’s a unique and fundamentally new approach to producing knowledge.”
How did you get started?
In 2008, Ascent Founder and CEO Brian Clark was working as a capital markets regulator when the financial crisis torpedoed the global economy. Brian saw first-hand how under-regulation spurred risky and lax compliance practices that helped inflate the real estate bubble. The pendulum then swung too far the other way, burying businesses in complex regulation and stifling growth. It was clear something had to be done — and thus, Ascent was born.By making it easier to stay in compliance, Ascent helps businesses thrive without compromising consumer protections. Ultimately, our mission is to help create a world that’s not restricted, but empowered by the rule of law.
What motivates your employees to come to work every day?
There is no doubt that regulatory compliance is an onerous and complicated problem. Even though it’s not something that most people think about in their day-to-day lives, it affects all of us. Too little regulation hurts consumers. Too much regulation hurts businesses and has the potential to stifle healthy competition. Solving this very real, very expensive global problem is what gets our team up in the morning. What’s more -- as a young company, each person has the opportunity to make a significant and lasting impact. To know that our skills and ideas are contributing towards making a big difference in the world is incredibly exciting.
What is the one thing Ascent cannot live without?
Our amazing view! We’re homed on the top floor of a high-rise overlooking the Lake and Millenium Park, so it’s not unusual to see a handful or more of our team members gathered at the windows. What better way to recharge and reset than by gazing at Chicago’s incredible skyline?
How does Ascent support and promote a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace?
We know that diverse teams produce better outcomes. Soliciting engagement from underrepresented groups and actively removing the boundaries around technical participation allows us to increase the breadth of our best ideas. We strive to put this conviction into action, in part by actively discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion with candidates during the hiring process, as well as by consulting with a local, diversity-focused HR firm to help us shape an inclusive culture. We don’t always get it right, but we believe a crucial part of the journey is facing the tough questions head-on, listening carefully, and taking ownership of the things we don’t understand. This is the only way we can build the kind of company where every person feels welcome, seen, and heard.
What principles does the tech team live and work by?
First and foremost, we are a “best effort community.” This means that we assume everyone is doing the best they can in whatever situation they are in, with the information they have at the time. As a community, we rise or fall together, and everything we do is in cooperation. If we had to sum up Ascent in a single idea, it would be this. Other principles that are important to us are openness (to listen well, respectfully disagree, and provide useful feedback), growth (to nurture curiosity in ourselves and each other, to continually strive for improvement), technical intensity (to practice rigor and maintain deep knowledge), and compassion (to strive for great work, but to do so in a climate of empathy and appreciation for the fact that we’re all human).
What do you do to encourage constant growth and change for your employees?
Continual growth is one of the cornerstones of our ethos at Ascent. We offer a growth stipend as part of our compensation package so that employees can take advantage of learning opportunities, from classes to conferences and more. In general, we support knowledge-sharing between employees and this has often manifested in people attending or speaking at workshops and events and hosting meetups at our office for the tech community.
What was the ‘aha’ moment when you realized Ascent was doing something special?
Having worked in the finance space and regulatory compliance for many years, our founding team has always understood the need for a product like Ascent.
This certainty has only continued to crystallize the more we’ve talked to market participants over the years, both our customers in financial services and regulating agencies. The word “RegTech” (regulatory technology) did not even exist five years ago, yet today it’s a source of incredible enthusiasm all over the world. Both Ascent and the RegTech industry in general are rapidly gaining momentum, and it’s signaling a paradigm shift in the way that businesses will handle compliance now and in the future.
What are the biggest challenges you face as you scale your business?
What we’re building at Ascent has never been built before in this industry (financial regulatory compliance) so everyday, our team is tackling new technical challenges. Being a first-mover in any industry is incredibly hard work, but also immensely gratifying for the inventor in all of us. With RegTech being such a young industry, the market is not yet totally educated on what compliance automation even is, much less the ways in which it can transform the way financial firms do business. That means we’re challenged constantly with slowing down, meeting our customers where they are, and maintaining our vision of the future while still delivering value in the present. All of these things are big challenges, but they are also a massive part of what makes working at Ascent so exciting.