Jody Houton

Erkin Adylov, CEO and Founder of Behavox, recently sat down for a fireside chat with Stella Yeung, Global Head of Engineering GBM, Data and Analytics, at Scotiabank.

Below are highlights from the interview, which was aired during Scotiabank Engineering Week, from Feb 7-11.

Tell us about the need you saw that led you to found Behavox in 2014.

In 2014, I saw the opportunity – keep in mind that we just came off the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

A lot of the things that were happening back then were regulatory driven. Banks were having to go and testify in courts, and there were a lot of things that the media were posting in terms of the bad behavior that actually ended up getting the organizations in trouble. For me, it was interesting because when I worked at Goldman Sachs, I knew a lot of great people in financial services.

But there were always a few bad apples that actually ended up tarnishing the reputation of the whole industry. So for me, it was an interesting problem to look at, and think, okay, so is there a way to monitor for these bad behaviors?

Is there a way for us to identify these bad actors early so that you can actually proactively take steps to protect the employees and the workplace?

For me, it’s not necessarily about the regulator, it’s about the fact that every organization on the planet has bad actors. So, to me, it’s a lie when an organization says only angels work for us. 99.9% of the employees may be great, but there’s always  a few bad actors. There was this great study by Harvard Business Review, which came out recently, that said one bad actor in the company actually encourages bad behavior. It spreads. So, one bad actor is too many, right? 

So imagine that you’re not doing anything bad, you’re working and doing your best for the organization, and the next thing you know, the organization goes bust! Merrill Lynch, and many other organizations went bust because of the culture, because of the bad behavior.

And, the people that actually wanted to do something about it; to get rid of the bad actors, just didn’t have the insights to do anything about it. 

So, that was the opportunity, and, as we started looking into it, it turned out that this is a really hard problem to solve because you’re dealing with very large volumes of data.

We’re talking about terabytes worth of data coming in every day.  Just think about all the work that happens in one day, you’re on Teams, you’re on email, you’re on phone calls. If you’re a trader, there is a bunch of data that gets generated – Bloomberg chat and all of this unstructured text and voice data – the variety of it is also another problem to deal with.

So, you cannot just apply one tool to it. If you’re dealing with voice data, you have to transcribe it, and there’s a substantial innovation and creativity hurdle to get over when you’re dealing with big data. So, engineering has to come together with data science, there’s a lot of different components that have to work just right. 

What I have learned over the last seven years is that it’s not necessarily the opportunity, because a lot of entrepreneurs see opportunities everywhere, but the big challenge is how do you build a team and an organization to go and tackle that problem together. How do you encourage your people to come up with the solutions?

How do you focus on fostering a culture of innovation at your organization?

It’s a really tough thing for organizations to figure out, especially when you are starting to add hundreds of people to the headcount, as it becomes more difficult to innovate. 

One of the challenges when you have thousands of people working for you – and a lot of the information technology that banks run is mission critical – is that the handover process has to be done really carefully. So, you cannot operate in an environment, where you can just hack something together and throw it into production. This is the challenge: innovation often requires that you hack something together and move really quickly.

So it requires speed, and employees are going to get really frustrated if you’re not able to offer the speed. At the same time, speed comes with a lot of errors and a lot of problems, which means that it has to be a really controlled environment. This is the kind of challenge that is really difficult to overcome, especially at scale.

And especially if you’re building mission critical systems like Behavox. So, one of the things that we do is we really focus on the current. So how do you help employees to express themselves?

At Behavox, we run specific things like annual Hackathons, and one of the reasons we run them is to allow employees to express themselves. Because I’m not running a hackathon to really get innovation out of it. What I want to drive is belief, and faith – that every single person in the organization is so amazingly creative, that they’re coming up with amazing ideas and this gives them an extra spring in their step.

This, in turn, breeds a “Yes, we can” type of attitude. 

At Scotiabank, it’s been close to 190 years of the customer being a strong focus, and a key part of our culture. How do you keep your customer at the center at your work?

When you’re building a company, everybody talks about diversity, and I’m totally for diversity, but I am 100% against diversity of core values.

Core values are how an employee approaches solving a problem, and how they go about their day-to-day work. Our core values are: Commit to Deliver, Be Fearless, Compete Together, Pursue Excellence, and Create the Future.

I remember one salesperson asking me, “Why do our core values not say anything about the customer? Do you not care about the customers? And, if you don’t care about the customers, how can you have a successful business?”

I always say that everything we do is for the benefit of the customer. I shouldn’t be explaining to my employees that customers are everything to our business.

This is why Commit to Deliver is important. You have to deliver – no matter what, especially if you’re creating the future. So, you have to be innovative. You constantly have to pursue excellence. If you ship something to the customer, you cannot just say it’s done and dusted. We’re constantly innovating and improving our product and releasing updates. 

How do you encourage your teams to work together?

I think it’s easier for us to do it, given that we’re only 220 people, and we tend to work on really cool things where it’s really easy to galvanize the ‘village’, and for the company to focus on one objective.

What I like to do is share the plan with the employees, so I literally sit down and I say, what does good look like for us, six months out, or nine months out? What are the things that I want to achieve as a company?

So once you write it down like that, it makes it easier for people to remain agile, and work at speed.

What aspects of your startup culture have you retained as the business has matured? How have you managed to do that?

We have a board member called Jeff Diana, who was a former chief human resources officer, and he taught me a lot about how to build a system that reinforces the culture of the organization. So, we borrowed a lot of things from his playbook, and I’ll give you an example. We call it campfire story sharing.

So, at the end of 2021, we ran a session with 150 people and flew everybody out to Montreal. We split the company into teams, and asked everybody to come up with one story that exemplifies being fearless, and then come up and share it in front of the entire company.

It was a very intimate space, and as people started to share their stories, some got really emotional and started crying. They didn’t know that their colleague was working until 2am in the morning to commit to deliver, or the fact that, you know, the whole team was pursuing excellence.

Download our latest case study to discover how we helped a leading global bank fix its compliance gaps and protect its digital headquarters.

If you would like to hear more from Erkin, or other members of the Behavox leadership team, visit our events page, where you can sign up for upcoming events, and watch past events on-demand.