In our latest reader-submitted Q&A, Blake Cuningham talks about tackling the puzzle of complex product development challenges
What is your full job title?
Product Lead (Adverse Information and Media)
How long have you worked in the industry?
Less than three years in RegTech, but I did a fair amount of financial services consulting previously.
How long have you worked in your current role?
About 2.5 years.
How did you get into your current role?
In 2017 I took a career break and took some of the time to get a masters degree in data science. Towards the end of the year I was looking for a role where I could work with data, but also leverage my experience in management consulting and entrepreneurship.
When I came across the product management role at ComplyAdvantage on AngelList I was sceptical at first (I didn’t think compliance could possibly be interesting), but I quickly changed my mind after meeting the CA team and understanding the challenge and importance of the problems CA works on.
What does a typical day look like?
I’m going to have to be cliched and say that there is no typical day! Yesterday I started off by reviewing a blog post for our marketing team, then I met with our data teams to review our quarterly metrics.
Next I spent an hour working with one of our engineering squads to think through the prioritisation of two possible approaches at scaling our web crawling database, followed by sitting in on a sprint review with one of our machine learning teams and troubleshooting some challenges we’re having scaling our training data.
After lunch I had a weekly one-on-one with one of the Associate Product Managers in my team, then I met with a banking customer and dived into a specific challenge they’re having
After this I debriefed with UX and engineering teams about the customer conversation and we agreed on mocking up some ideas in order to get more feedback next week. Finally, I met with my engineering counter-parts on setting OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for the next quarter in order to begin the process of aligning about our major priorities. In between, I think I managed to respond to most of the several dozen Slack messages and emails!
What is your greatest achievement so far?
Seeing our build team grow and take on the vision of our product with cutting edge technology and incredible creativity.
Obviously that’s not my personal achievement, but I like to think that my role of understanding what our customers need, and cultivating the vision, has played a part in this.
What is the most challenging thing about your role?
We have a very complex product that serves customers at a critical part of their businesses’ workflow. This makes our product development far more challenging than many other software or data companies because the cost of accidentally disrupting this workflow is so high for our customers. Solving this puzzle with other teams in order to move our product forward is a significant challenge – but is very rewarding once we do come up with solutions together. Luckily the culture at ComplyAdvantage is highly collaborative which makes this possible.
What part of your role do you enjoy the most?
I love the early stages of product development where we’re able to deeply explore a customer problem, then iterate on potential solutions with engineers and our UX team.
There’s a huge amount of satisfaction when you really get to the heart of a problem, and are able to work through several creative potential solutions in order to get to the one that’s the most promising.
How do you see your role/industry changing in the next few years?
I think the industry is going to continue to benefit from advances in technology, and we are going to see a marked shift from compliance solutions that tick boxes, to solutions that truly help to prevent financial crime.
Our adverse media solution (which uses deep machine learning and other cutting edge tech like knowledge graphs) is already starting to do this, and has changed the way many of our customers see the AML process – results we show from adverse media are often more likely to help alert to an AML risk than merely checking for PEPs.
We’re also seeing technology enable the linking of disparate data sets that will help us answer new questions such as quickly uncovering directors of companies with strong links to organised crime.
Would you recommend working in this role, please give your reasons?
Yes! Being a product manager working on ways to help fight financial crime gives the best of many roles.
You’re understanding and helping to solve problems as a product manager, but you also get to work on a product that truly matters. Not only does the problem matter, but it’s knotty and still largely unsolved which makes it all the more interesting and compelling.