Sam Ishak – FCT
For months, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked industries around the world, hitting sports and entertainment, hospitality and tourism, and restaurants especially hard.
But for technology companies like Canadian-based FCT, the global health crisis presented an opportunity to demonstrate their industry expertise and leadership.
“We’re committed to ensuring a positive customer experience, even in the toughest of circumstances,” says its CIO Sam Ishak. “While the situation is not ideal, we’re trying to find the positives in such a negative environment for everyone.”
Based in Ontario, Canada, FCT is a pioneer in Canadian title insurance, default solutions and other real estate-related products and services. More than 45,000 legal professionals, hundreds of lenders, along with mortgage brokers, real estate agents and builders across Canada use their products and services.
Since arriving at the company in 2006, Ishak’s job has been to leverage digital solutions to increase efficiencies, improve the technology infrastructure and support the business.
In addition to growing the IT team, Ishak created the role of IT business relationship manager and advanced the IT architecture engagement model to be more business facing. This allows the team to better understand business needs and prioritize projects to maximize return on investment. He also spearheaded a multi-year digital transformation and innovation strategy—an initiative that includes securing buy-in from FCT’s most loyal customers.
Getting that buy-in hasn’t always been easy, however.
New technology means adapting to change
Last year, FCT set its sights on improving the experience it delivers to customers and employees. To achieve this goal, the company partnered with Genesys, a global leader in cloud customer experience and contact center solutions.
Genesys is helping FCT design a plan to migrate to a unified system, providing customers and employees a remarkable end-to-end experience, says Ishak. With this, FCT will be able to connect every conversation across phone, chat, text and web, building more meaningful customer relationships. FCT agents will also benefit from new employee engagement tools and a single user interface, resulting in improved visibility and operational efficiencies.
FCT’s largest customer base is lawyers and lenders, and for these clients to be successful it’s crucial for FCT to stay ahead of ever-changing technology trends—and for clients to be aligned.
While the financial sector is largely willing and able to adapt to new technology, the number of regulations can impede companies from moving with the speed of those in other industries. For example, there are many restrictions when it comes to integrating and leveraging the cloud, and because FCT works closely with many financial institutions, the company is subject to the same restrictions.
A changing dynamic
“Since the pandemic hit, we’ve noticed the financial industry becoming more receptive to technological change,” Ishak says. “There’s been a noticeable increase in the adoption of electronic document preparation, remote and electronic signatures, and online movement of funds. One product in particular, EasyFund, has seen an increase in activity over the past three months.”
In the legal industry, the adoption is there, but the pace is set by provincial requirements which can differ from province to province.
Due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, FCT is able to further align its initiatives to ensure the safest experience for its customers.
Accelerating digital transformation
The company has seen its project load increase significantly during the pandemic, as more clients are seeing that the traditional way of doing things—face-to-face meetings, working on-site, and so on—isn’t feasible in a time of social distancing and quarantine.
Historically, some Canadian provinces have mandated having a witness and a “wet” signature (written in pen) for mortgage documents and wouldn’t accept digital signatures. FCT used to have a network of signers who would visit people’s homes, verify ID and sign documents, but that hasn’t been an option during the pandemic. As such, e-signatures have become a necessity.
Now, businesses are more willing to use digital solutions to record signatures and ensure the security of those documents, while still adhering to the required regulations.
This is an area where Ishak has seen a notable increase in adoption—a key factor in the widespread digital transformation that FCT is helping accelerate.
The focus is on being innovative and transformative when it comes to technology and understanding the importance of staying agile in this ever-changing space at FCT.
The company recently launched a formal innovation framework to raise awareness of new and emerging technologies. Ishak and Co. are also well underway on a complete digital transformation of FCT’s legacy systems, using the latest technology trends and techniques.
To help with its modernization, FCT also relies on a more than 15-year relationship with Infosys. During the pandemic, the India-based company has worked closely with various teams at FCT in development, maintenance, modernization and automation of IT applications.
Under Ishak’s leadership, innovation and digital experience programs have accelerated, and Infosys has been working hand-in-hand to fulfill the need for industry-leading solutions and talent.
Currently, Infosys provides legacy applications support, new application development, infrastructure modernization, business intelligence and cybersecurity to FCT.
“Sam is a transformation leader, who has built a culture and structure in FCT’s IT organization to lead with the digital transformation journey—to address challenges and embrace change while strengthening security and compliance across the enterprise,” says Kannan Amaresh, an Infosys Limited senior vice president, global head of its insurance practice and head of Canada FSI.
Ensuring appropriate remote infrastructure
In 2019, long before COVID-19 became a household term, Ishak helped implement a new technology strategy ensuring the company had the tools and infrastructure required for a remote workforce.
Every employee received a new laptop, and in early 2020, softphones and headsets were distributed, enabling secure phone calls from anywhere on corporate devices.
“We were one of the lucky ones, having been able to transition 99 percent of our employees to remote work in one day,” says Ishak. “We already had the tools we needed and the extra bandwidth to keep everyone connected to our data secure.”
From a security standpoint, FCT also enabled employees to connect to the company’s corporate network through their home networks to ensure secure endpoints at all times.
Navigating new challenges and looking ahead
For Ishak, one of the biggest challenges of this new remote workforce has been keeping up with employee needs and ensuring employee connectivity—not just work-wise, but emotionally and psychologically, as well. If someone requests additional monitors or devices, or just wants to check in and talk, Ishak and his team are always ready to provide support.
“From the technology side, it was easy, but the mental health side has certainly presented unique challenges,” he says.
Ishak says the company’s leadership quickly learned that team connectivity and employee engagement needed to be even more of a company priority. They came up with the three Cs—connect, communicate and consistence—as a way to learn more about employees, their situations and their potential challenges. The company started this in response to the pandemic, but Ishak says it will absolutely continue once things return to normal.
“It’s important not only to ensure the best possible work-life balance for our employees, but for them to know that we are always here to understand and support their needs,” he explains. “It’s been a very successful action from the leadership team and I’m confident the company will benefit from this in more ways than one. We are more connected than ever before, and I’ve never been prouder to work with the best team in the financial and real estate services industry.”
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