Conversation With James Lai, MEETIG8, about Risk, Compliance and Internal Audit short-term gigs

James is the Founder & CEO of MEETIG8, Australia's first online marketplace for Risk, Compliance and Internal Audit short-term gigs. MEETIG8 enables companies of all sizes to connect directly with vetted independent specialists and boutique firms for Risk Management, Regulatory Compliance, and Internal Audit.

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[PM]   Welcome James, thanks for your time today. How about we start with you, tell me a little bit about yourself
[JL]  Thanks Paul, I spent 20 years in risk management. I started my career at PwC as an IT auditor supporting financial audits in Sydney and Singapore. I then moved to Westpac to set up the control assurance framework for BT and ran that for seven years reporting to various governance committees, including up to the Super Fund Trustees, Insurance Boards, and the BT Funds Board.

[PM]  When did you leave Westpac?
[JL]  In 2016 to set up Meetig8.

[PM]  At what point did the concept of Meetig8 pop into your head?
[JL]  I have always had the entrepreneurial streak. Even when I had a corporate job, I wanted to get into my own business someday. Since 2015, I was looking at various business models and opportunities. It was in late 2015 when I seriously looked into online marketplaces. It started when a friend of mine asked me why I kept taking taxis instead of trying something new like Uber. He gave me a $10 voucher to try Uber. I downloaded the App & tried it right away. 

[PM]  What was your experience like?
[JL]  I liked it. I was amazed by it as there were three clear value propositions that stuck in my head when I got out of that Uber car. The first one was, it is a clean car. Second, the price is lower, and thirdly the driver is compelled to be nice to me. He knows that once I hop out, I have to rate him. So I thought, he is being held captive from a price perspective, customer service & cleanliness of car. That got me thinking about marketplaces and which vertical to enter. 

I found out that there wasn’t one platform that focused on risk management. I started doing research, and I found there was nothing like that in the world.

[PM]  Was your platform idea originate from there?
[JL]  When I looked at professional services, I realized there weren’t many platforms for B2B businesses. In Australia, there seemed to be more B2C platforms at the time. Also, I found out that there wasn’t one platform that focused on risk management. I started doing research, and I found there was nothing like that in the world.

[PM]  So you are a world first.
[JL]  (laughs) I was quite surprised, I thought someone would have done this, there are some platforms for other professional services, but none focused on risk and compliance. At the time, I thought - let’s set up a niche risk and compliance platform to fundamentally change how risk advisory services are delivered to organizations.

[PM]  So what’s your passion? Where from do you get your drive & energy?
[JL]  I find risk, compliance & audit is a very traditional and sourcing talent is still done using conventional recruitment channels and relying on the big accounting firms to deliver resources. Also, there is a lack of technology adoption and use of data within risk and audit functions. My passion is changing how risk and compliance are done, making finding talent much faster, on-demand and more dynamic. We are also building a dedicated market on our platform that focuses on RegTech (Regulatory Technology) - this will enable organizations to start making use of technology to supplement their risk, compliance and audit activities. 

[PM]  How does Meetig8 solve this problem?
[JL]  Meetig8 is an online marketplace where we connect organizations in Australia (at the moment) with independent risk specialists. Initially, that was for short-term contracts, but we have now expanded this for long-term placements as well. The marketplace allows organizations to hire on-demand and let them leverage a contingent workforce. Also, it provides the risk specialists with flexibility and helps them to achieve better work-life balance.



[PM]  How does the platform work?
[JL]  Clients and specialists both sign-up via our web landing page at no cost. We vet the specialists to ensure that we have a high quality curated team of people. The client posts a job which the specialists can review and apply. Unlike some others who flood the clients with applications, Meetig8 curates the best specialist applications for the client. The curation is one of our value propositions. We have built an AI curator - a bot that will do the curation quickly and with high accuracy. The AI curator will learn over time and get smarter hence we can use this technology to scale up our business for overseas expansion. 

[PM]  Does the specialist have to keep checking in to the online marketplace?
[JL]  No, what the curator bot will also do is to check client’s jobs against specialist’s skill sets and notify the specialist by email when a post matches their skill set. 

[PM]  How do you make your money?
[JL]  We charge the client a service fee for using the service when they connect with a specialist. Once they hire the specialist, we take a small commission on top of the specialist’s fee. It is free for the specialist to use. 

[PM]  In respect of the bot, is there something unique about it?
[JL]  We built the bot from scratch. The curator bot studies the client job post and all its requirements and then using algorithms, it scans specialists on our platform, specifically their competencies, experience, etc. to find the best matches. It is a lot more than just looking at keywords, it also uses location, skills, competencies, experience and it gets smarter over time as the client provides us with feedback on the specialist. We will also train the bot to look at soft skills as well as hard skills as it becomes increasingly sophisticated over time.  

[PM]  Why do clients come to you rather than a recruiter?
[JL]  We are risk experts, not recruiters and understand what the client is looking for rather than just matching keywords between a job description and specialists’ profiles.

[PM]  What’s the primary risk skills that clients are seeking at the moment?
[JL]  There are a couple of ‘hot’ areas at the moment. One is compliance, as more & more regulations are coming through off the back of the Banking Royal Commission and financial sector scandals. Also, more fitness & small companies are popping up - they are seeking expertise to help them with their compliance obligations. The other hot area is technology risk as banks are going more digital. The demand is for the specialist who understands digital, tech risk, cyber risk, data security, cloud infrastructure, and applications. 

There are four typical personas of Risk Specialist

[PM]  What is the typical persona of the risk specialist.
[JL]  There are 4. The first is the person who is already self-employed, second is women who are wanting to return to the workforce and want more flexibility. The third persona is people in their mid to late career who want to do something different after many years in corporate life and lastly any risk and compliance person who has more than six years’ experience interested in “gig” work or longer-term placements.

[PM]  What were the main challenges that you experienced in starting up Meetig8?
[JL]  one of the leading challenges is the development of our technology. We spent 18 months and a fair bit of budget in development. There was a lot of trial and error in finding the right designers and software developers, and we are glad that we finally found the right ones and it is going strong ever since!

[PM]  How did you find the right developers?
[JL]  This was part of my learning experience. Trying to find the right developer. In hindsight, there were many things I could have done differently, and I now share this with others so that they do not have to make the same mistakes. The lesson is to have direct access to the developers and not through a third-person like a project manager and ensure absolute alignment especially if we are doing a custom built. We have a great development team now. You have to be clear on the experience of the developers and look at their portfolio to determine if there is a good fit. 

[PM]  you are part of Tank stream labs. What benefit(s) does that provide for you?
[JL]  I have been at Tank Stream Labs for 15 months now. Its more than just space, what you get at tank stream labs is the networking, connections, conducive environment for startups and significant events. Meeting with the right people who are start-up founders, entrepreneurs, innovators, venture capitalists and government representatives are invaluable. There is much knowledge in the space, and that helped me. I enjoy being here.

RegTech companies need much support because the industry, on the whole, is still quite young and adoption is still relatively low in Australia

[PM]  RegTech Association of Australia. How did you get involved?
[JL]  The association was launched early 2017. I met the Chair who talked to me about their vision of being the advocate for RegTechs in Australia. RegTech companies need much support because the industry, on the whole, is still quite young and adoption is still relatively low in Australia. RegTech is an area that we are very interested in as a business, given we are currently using tech to solve compliance issues, but we will be heading deeper into a RegTech offering on our platform in the future. The risk industry will change in a big way with RegTechs coming to the fore, and technology & data will be the driver of that change. An opportunity arose to be part of the Association’s Advisory board. I took the role because I want to contribute to the ecosystem in a meaningful way and help lift the profile of RegTechs within the industry and advocate for them through the Association.

[PM]  what have the main achievements been for RegTech Association?
[JL]  Regarding membership, we have attracted a lot of great Regtechs all around Australia. We now have over 50. We are starting to add value to our member base through conferences, events & enhancing the overall ecosystem with various initiatives. 

[PM]  That is awesome. What’s next for James?
[JL]  The immediate focus is on rolling out the Meetig8 technology platform deeper into the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane markets. Next, we have plans to expand to the UK very soon as well. Moreover, last by not least, we will continue to develop and enhance our technology capability, including the AI capabilities on our platform.

[PM]  thank you for your time today James, that was great. All the best for your plans. 
[JL]  thanks Paul