Featured Analyst: Neil Katkov, PhD
13 June 2018
Neil Katkov, a California native who lived in Japan for 20 years, oversees Celent’s Risk Management & Compliance segment, which covers all financial services from the perspectives of financial and operational risk. As an analyst, Neil is most identified with his work on critical trends in anti-money laundering technology.
Where are you from originally / Where did you grow up?
My first home was in Ross, California, a town with lots of trees that is north of San Francisco. I grew up and went to college in the general area, not leaving until I went to grad school. But there were plenty of things to do in the Bay Area. As a kid, a favorite outing was riding my bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and on to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe it or Not! I think those places helped create my sense of wonder as much as the natural beauty I grew up in.
Where do you currently reside?
I now live in Richmond, California which is just a hop, skip, and a BART from my office in San Francisco; a 25-minute drive from where I grew up; and a 15-minute bike ride from Berkeley, where I went to college.
What was a turning point for you?
When I was 8, my father borrowed a sailboat from a friend and took us kids on a three-week trip to Ensenada, Baja California. This was my first visit to another country and it was thrilling. In the event, I’ve spent about 25 years in other countries as an adult, so that trip was undoubtedly formative.
I spent some years preparing to be an academic, but somewhere along the way started yearning for work where I could feel a more immediate impact. I looked around and decided that consulting would be a great way to apply analysis to real-world issues. After getting my degree and spending some time scrabbling, I finagled offers from a big four consultancy and from a start-up advisory firm. I figured I would learn more, and more quickly, at the startup (Celent). I never looked back.
What is your favorite city / place you’ve traveled?
Tokyo, Japan, where I lived for 20 years. I saw a lot of kabuki and ate a lot of sushi. Also Italian and French food, which is excellent there.
My first and only dog, which used to sleep on my bed bringing creek-bottom sand and various leaves and burrs with him, was an important part of my early life. My next dog will presumably be when my daughter is old enough to want one.
Favorite band / music / song?
Lately, I’ve been listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations more than anything else. I have a collection of mostly ‘60s and ‘70s vinyl, which to be honest is what I’m most familiar with. The usual suspects, plus a few bands with odd names that can’t be mentioned here.
What does being an analyst mean?
From 2002 to 2017, I managed Celent’s Asia operation. Because this was a regional role, I worked across all of the financial services sectors that Celent covers, including writing reports and doing consulting across this spectrum. This multi-sector experience comes in handy in my current role overseeing Celent’s Risk segment; which covers all financial services from the risk management perspective.
I see the risk space as full of challenges and also yet-to-be-achieved accomplishments on both the financial and operational risk sides. Cognitive computing will undoubtedly be key to advancing the risk agenda. The reg tech field overall is moving very quickly. Financial firms should follow developments closely and create strategies around how to benefit.
What do you enjoy about your work?
One thing that keeps my work intriguing is Celent’s great track record in correctly identifying the critical trends, and often doing so very early on. My work on anti-money laundering technology, which I began in 2002, is just one example of many.
A defining moment for me at Celent was an early conference call in which the participants vehemently disagreed with some market estimates I had published. The call threw me for a loop, but it was a long time before I understood why. Over my years at Celent since then, I have had just a few more similarly negative experiences and now realize that they are jarring precisely because they are so rare. Most of the industry treat us with respect, which I think means they value our insights and working with us.
What's up next for your research?
We've been following regtech trends for a number of years . Digital technologies like AI and software robotics can provide much-needed insights and efficiencies and, eventually, automate decisions that are today made by humans. As the industry moves forward, we'll continue to explore the shifting landscape for risk technology. As part of that, we'll be rolling out a framework for actually evaluating the next-gen digital solutions for risk, just as we have always done for traditional software solutions.