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Simon Moss of Symphony AyasdiAI: “Sweat the details to help the customer”

Shut the “eff” up — Just shut up and listen more: Something that I do before each meeting is open up a note pad and write “shut” on the top left-hand corner and “up” on the top right-hand corner. When I wanted to say something, I circled them. There have been times where I actually punch a […]

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Shut the “eff” up — Just shut up and listen more: Something that I do before each meeting is open up a note pad and write “shut” on the top left-hand corner and “up” on the top right-hand corner. When I wanted to say something, I circled them. There have been times where I actually punch a corner out of the paper, because I am so desperate to say something.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Simon Moss.

Simon Moss is CEO of Symphony AyasdiAI, an enterprise AI company for financial services. He brings three decades of market-recognized business experience in financial crime, risk, and compliance, and patented leadership in financial services technology innovation in network and edge computing, cognitive analytics, machine learning and AI.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After stumbling around the world working on a vain attempt to get a PhD, I went back to see my Mum in England. Chase Manhattan Bank had just set up operations there and I ended up working in their foreign exchange division. Afterwards, I was approached by a gentleman who was running Europe for IBM and he asked if I would join him in building a risk management business. Ultimately that brought me to New York, where I met my wife and got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I’ve had some great wins and a couple of failures, but each experience lead me to Ayasdi and the impressive challenge and opportunity we have as a team.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first got started, I lost a big number on a transaction that went the wrong way. About 3 weeks into the job, I was positive I was done for. My boss at the time took me to one side and in no uncertain terms asked me what had happened.

I told him the truth — the data I used, the models I collated, the decision process I went through. And that I made a call, a guess, a risk and it didn’t go the way I expected. He said thanks and that was it. Strange. So about 3 weeks later I asked him why he was so sanguine about it. He told me that, “90% of what you do, a monkey can do. Everything you told me about what you did was right. That 10% — that risk decision, that guess is what I pay you to do. Takes courage. Courage to jump into the abyss. It went the wrong way, but I know the next nine times it’s going to go the right way because everything else you did was exactly right”

It was that conversation that shaped my career and path as a manager. Knowing that I can’t always get it all right, that I only have control of so much and in the end its about calibrating everything and taking a risk. He taught me not just leadership, but humility and empathy and leadership. I’ve been more successful than I could have ever imagined because of that moment.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

In short, our mission is to provide the technology that finds hidden criminal behaviors in financial data to combat money laundering and the associated crimes it supports, like human trafficking, arms dealing, fraud and tax evasion. So, what we do, what we stop is a big deal.

Today the financial services industry spends over $260 billion globally and over $100 billion in the U.S. on technology. It is alleged that JP Morgan alone spent over $11 billion in 2019 on technology, an increase of $600 million. Much of that spend is on infrastructure and upgrades to operational systems. But banks like JP Morgan and Bank of America note a significant percentage is going to innovation and disruptive technology.

With crimes like money laundering and fraud costing billions annually, banks are looking for better solutions that work with their existing systems. The technology deployed over the past decade is incapable of finding today’s modern adversaries and handling the scale and diversity of data needed to catch bad actors. Ayasdi SensaAML™ is designed to find those malignancies and attacks. To find that needle in a stack of needles, those actors deliberately hiding in the noise and at the same time, because we are solving the cause not the symptom, dramatically cut the scourge of false positives and reduces investigator workload, so that a bank can focus its efforts on truly suspicious behavior.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Albert Maasland at Chase Manhattan Bank — Lead always with humility and empathy. You never know how your kindness will impact those around you. Treat people how you want to be treated. I wish I could do it as well as Albert.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Shut the “eff” up — Just shut up and listen more: Something that I do before each meeting is open up a note pad and write “shut” on the top left-hand corner and “up” on the top right-hand corner. When I wanted to say something, I circled them. There have been times where I actually punch a corner out of the paper, because I am so desperate to say something.
  2. You don’t have to be the smartest in the room: Ultimately, the room needs to be smart, not the individual in the room. It is always best to surround yourself with those who want to build a creative harmony within the room, rather than flaunting their intelligence.
  3. Sweat the details to help the customer: At the end of the day, you are not successful until you have solved your customer’s problem. It is a collaboration. When they win, we all win.
  4. Enjoy it or don’t do it: Plain and simple. If you don’t love and enjoy what you are doing, then why are you doing it? We only have one life to live. It is important to enjoy what you do and find that work-life balance (something I am not doing a great job at!)
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

An acknowledgement that success is not money. It’s about how you leave the world in a better place than where it was before you arrived. We have become obsessed with this digital narcissism that social media has created. But helping people, being more charitable, understanding what is important rather than thinking success is being on top of the pile would make the world a better place. And get rid of snooker on television!! Terrible sport.

From a work perspective changing the minds of the banks and regulators of the world. Finding those who will stand up and say “no more.”

To change the status quo and become a stronger force for good, banks will need to take several actions.

As a start, they need to step up to the plate. It will only take a few of them. It’s not a regulatory issue or an analytics challenge, it’s a “mission” as impactful as some poor soul sitting in a tank in a desert somewhere. The materiality, the impact that financial institutions can make in the defense of our societies and social wellbeing is enormous. They just need to be armed with the right equipment and understand the importance of the mission.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Again — going back to one of the last questions, “you don’t have to be the smartest in the room.” The room itself needs to be smart, not just one person. Sometimes the best I can do is bring the coffee and a couple of jokes. I’m comfortable with that.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

If I had to pick one, I’d be unable to do so! Two that come to my mind are Mike Tyson and Morrissey from the Smiths.

I met Mike Tyson once many years ago and ended up having a few drinks with him. I found him to be incredibly kind and personable, which has stuck with me all these years. For Morrissey, I love his music and would love a chance to meet him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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