Sarah Watson Mitel Expert Spotlight

Mitel Expert Spotlight: Sarah Watson on Trust, Compliance Goals, and UC Integration in Financial Services

5 min read

Sharushka Odayan

Sharushka Odayan | November 08, 2023

The financial services sector is a bedrock of economies and everyday life, facilitating transactions, managing assets, and propelling growth. Behind the wall of numbers and transactions lies a dynamic world that demands a keen understanding of markets and the ability to anticipate and adapt to change.

Mitel expert Sarah Watson has forged a successful path in many industries, including finance, for over three decades. She brings a wealth of experience to the table through years of helping customers navigate digital transformation and technological disruptions, driving them to success.

In Part 1 of this conversation, we dissect the benefits of innovation balanced with compliance standards. From the role of a single unified communications solution to systems integrations and workflows, we discuss how the right technology keeps the industry and customers moving forward.

Q: Tell us about yourself, your experience in the Financial Services industry, and at Mitel.

I am a 35-year Mitel vet with a foundation and approach that goes back to mapping technology with the client's business identity and desired outcomes and taking a holistic approach to a technological ecosystem. Mitel has been green since its inception as a company, so it has never been about rip and replace. It is about taking all the tools a client may have and making them stronger and able to work more effectively together for a greater outcome or client success and experience. By combining that with deep roots and adherence to compliance standards, customers can enjoy the benefits of innovation and being forward-thinking while balancing their ability to ensure increased security. That is what I have achieved over a long period in my career.

Q: What drew you to Financial Services?

I began installing systems in the early 1990s for large healthcare and financial clients, and being able to strike a balance between problem-solving and compliance has always been in my DNA. After years of working in healthcare level 1 trauma centers, I was drawn to the financial services industry because it struck me that financial well-being and financial health and wellness are equally as crucial to your personal health experience. I am generally a customer service advocate. I grew up serving clients, so being able to make a difference and help clients get to where they need to be – that’s also what drew me in. We’ve found that when you start to talk with financial leaders, many say that their number one struggle with meeting their clients or their members’ needs is based on systems that do not work well together or integrate. That has been the central theme of the last couple of years. So, meeting with clients who say, please help me bring it all together is a terrific puzzle to solve.

Q: Are there any everyday needs you see working within Financial Services?

Many financial services companies I work with want to make a difference by creating better customer experiences. Being able to reduce operating costs, being able to do something innovative without breaching compliance or regulatory rules, and being able to take advantage of digital transformation in a way that delights their customers are the types of things that many of them are trying to pull together.

We have helped many organizations enhance their existing tools with technology that complements them rather than create more work and manual processes if they install a new system. This ultimately allows them to spend more time managing their customers’ experience rather than focusing on managing disparate systems.

Q: What challenges or developments have you seen in the industry, and how have you overcome them?

I would say that the introduction of broadband technologies like bring-your-own-device mobility solutions, combined with the introduction of agile development, modern integration, application development standards, and primarily digital transformation, are the biggest developments. The human experience is changing to one that is highly mobile, and many folks will not be without their device.

There are a few different challenges. I think there is a level of trust between clients and the manufacturers that are privileged to work with them. Understanding that this is a highly regulated industry ensures that that level of trust is met with responsibility and return trust. From clients rolling out applications and workflows to developing solutions with their manufacturer team, we must understand that, as a baseline, compliance is baked into the solutions themselves. The organization needs to know that it is an ongoing practice; it is a policy.

Those things can get lost, so one of the things that Mitel has done with our league of partners is to create a specialization in the financial vertical so that folks continue to learn, sharpen their tools, and understand what our clients need, not just the applications, but also the cloak of responsibility and security compliance, and being able to audit that goes along with creating any workflow. That has been a challenge, and it can be glossed over. I will use one of our clients as an example: TruStone Federal Credit Union has mentioned that ‘Mitel has my back. I know that they are not just out here selling something that is the new thing. They are working with me to develop solutions true to us.’ I think that is compelling.

One recurring challenge we encounter with our clients is the struggle to integrate all the necessary components throughout their technology journey effectively. Finding a cohesive approach can be overwhelming, whether they are just starting or running at full speed. Many clients tend to doubt their ability to reach their ultimate goals, falling into the trap of thinking, "We'll never get there.” We deliver on the promise of technology, which is part of a formal relationship regardless of client size. I think a caring approach to customer service and experience has been threaded through my talent for as long as I have worked here.

Q: How does Mitel technology help Financial Service institutions?

The biggest thing for me is that Mitel, as a single solution platform, serves all enterprise users regardless of their business role, whether they are a contact center agent, front office, back office, or maybe behind-the-scenes fraud and compliance staff, being able to pull those pieces together in a single platform that serves everyone is vital. Integrating, making it manageable, and leveraging previous software investments are all hugely important. Regardless of where you’re coming from, there is always a path forward with Mitel, and we make it easy to migrate and modernize.

Mitel has a rich history, so we understand that every user community has unique requirements and may need different solutions. That's why we provide many tools to accommodate these diverse needs. Our commitment to being a comprehensive solution is evident in our compatibility with other systems. Built on industry standards and equipped with REST APIs, Mitel empowers developers to create modern applications to meet their needs. It's no wonder clients no longer ask, "If we can," but instead are excited about the possibilities of "let’s do this.”

Q: What are some accomplishments or projects that stand out to you?

One of the exciting things we’ve been able to do is bring a myriad of systems together into a concise workflow. The most staggering thing I continue to learn when talking to clients about what they are trying to accomplish is how much manual effort is going into managing all these disparate systems with various roles. Security systems, CRMs, core banking solutions, and AI bots all have a place, but none of them are working well together, and those are projects that we see repeatedly.

One of the challenges we’ve seen organizations want to overcome is the ability to validate and authenticate a customer upfront, making sure they are who they say they are. Last year, the FBI reported a staggering $10.3 billion in fraud, and at Mitel, our efforts have focused on shutting that down and mitigating such threats. We’ve integrated various technologies into a workflow that can seamlessly pull in other necessary client applications, being able to save two to three minutes in the process to make sure the human experience is more powerful and authentic to each customer – these are the types of wins that we have had out there.

Q: How do you stay up to date with industry changes, especially regulatory and compliance matters?

I am a huge proponent of being a lifelong learner, and I think it is essential to learn something every day when I start my day or evening. I love discovery and learning new things. On any given day – on average, I have about 16 or 17 sites open, and I am constantly researching whether that is changing in compliance, following what the credit union national associations are doing, or looking through various regulatory resources. Then, there is ensuring I understand changes in the market or my customers so that I will use LinkedIn, blogs, and social media. There are financial brands and publications that I have come to rely on, like Forbes. I am just reading constantly and looking at the top challenges of what is trending and what clients say is painful right now. So, where do financial service organizations need to go?

I look at it from a consumer standpoint as well. What do I want my bank, credit union, or insurance organization to do? We are all consumers of these services, so I try to look at it from that perspective and how to make banking personal again. I would say that if someone had asked me about 10 or 15 years ago if I had a superpower, what would it be? And I could only say one; it would be curiosity. But I would also say that I’m adept at problem-solving and delivering authentic value to our clients. When they are delighted, it is such a powerful and positive feeling.

Sharushka Odayan

Sharushka OdayanContent Strategist, Mitel

Sharushka Odayan brings to Mitel a decade of experience using technology dynamics and trends to shape vertical-specific content. She lives in Dallas and has spent the majority of her career in the telecom industry in areas including IoT, cybersecurity and mobility.

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