brian stafford

Brian Stafford, CEO of Diligent, knows that innovation is driven by a relentless push, rather than waiting to see what the competition is doing. 

A few years ago, Brian Stafford, CEO of Diligent, a platform provider of governance, risk, audit and compliance services, and his wife sold their New York City apartment. Their buyer paid with a cashier’s cheque from a major US bank. That payment did not hit Mr Stafford’s bank account for 14 days. 

Career history: Brian Stafford  

  • 2015 Diligent, CEO
  • 2014 Blue Seed Capital, founder and special advisor
  • 2011 Brooklyn Academy of Music, trustee
  • 2004 McKinsey, partner, leader of growth stage tech practice, leader of SaaS practice 
  • 1998, founder and CEO

“The bank said they had to clear that money,” he says. “The reason why someone held onto our cheque for 14 days is to take the interest float on it, as opposed to putting it in the hands of clients. I would argue that margin should go in the pocket of their customers and small businesses.” 

Those in the fintech space realise that “doesn’t make any sense”, Mr Stafford adds. Entrepreneurs today are arguing that there are viable alternatives to the traditional banking industry. These new companies, such as credit card issuers, fundraising platforms or faster payment processors, are being built with emerging and flexible technologies. 

“I think that the most interesting thing about the banking journey is actually how banks are being forced today, more so than ever, to respond to some of the challenges that come from fintech companies,” he adds. “I tell our team to assume that there’s some invisible boogeyman that is chasing you from behind and you have to run faster than that theoretical boogeyman to stay ahead.”

A quickening pace

According to Mr Stafford, his ‘boogeyman approach’ can be applied to companies in any industry where “if you wait to see what the competition does, you’re going to be flat-footed, as opposed to driving relentlessly to push innovation.” 

Since 2015, Mr Stafford has headed up Diligent, an enterprise governance management software company delivering services to banks and financial services firms on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis. The platform streamlines day-to-day governance workflows, enables secure collaboration, manages subsidiary and entity data, and provides access to real-time market intelligence.

Working with cloud-based platforms, open application programming interfaces and SaaS delivery is a well-trodden path with many of the emerging tech and fintech companies that Mr Stafford would describe as challenging the traditional banking environment. However, the embrace of SaaS services — usually delivered via a cloud platform and hosted in a central location — by the IT departments of mainstream banks is relatively new.

“I've seen a major shift, over the past five years: the acceptance of SaaS application has just skyrocketed,” he says. Mr Stafford spent more than 10 years at McKinsey & Co where he served as a partner, leader of growth stage tech practice and leader of SaaS practice before joining Diligent. 

He continues, “It initially started with banks on the customer relationship management (CRM) side.” According to him, the SaaS push was driven by two things: the prominence of the CRM platform Salesforce as “a de facto solution”, combined with a reorganisation of different levels of sensitivity on different parts of data. “By that I mean anything transaction-related is probably still going to stay on a mainframe,” he explains, noting that anything prospect-, client- or communications-related is generally deemed to be okay to have in the cloud.

The acceptance of CRM applications and other marketing tools started to create “at least tacit approval of different software”, he adds. This has aided banks’ confidence levels in cloud and SaaS delivered services, particularly when combined with the rise of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure for core computing in sophisticated industries with high levels of security needs, such as defence.

“And then, of course, the big factor that took all those things that were in progress and accelerated them even more was the pandemic,” says Mr Stafford. “Where everyone, including banks, was forced to have environments that required remote management. And as you started to push things more and more towards the cloud, that also accelerated things.”

The acceptance of cloud at banks has not lessened the need for security requirements and control features, he adds. “But we’ve just seen that acceptance grow and grow over time to where cloud [solutions that meet security requirements and are enterprise-ready] is now the default option.” 

In addition to running a company providing SaaS-based compliance and governance software, Mr Stafford is the founder and advisor of Blue Seed Capital, an early stage fund focussed on backing people who leave top-tier firms to start their own companies. Prior to his career at McKinsey, Mr Stafford was a tech entrepreneur who rode the high and lows of the bubble in the late 1990s. “Personally, I think that investors who have backgrounds as operators have a different way to connect with entrepreneurs — you’ve been in those people’s shoes,” he adds. 


All fields are mandatory

The Banker is a service from the Financial Times. The Financial Times Ltd takes your privacy seriously.

Choose how you want us to contact you.

Invites and Offers from The Banker

Receive exclusive personalised event invitations, carefully curated offers and promotions from The Banker

For more information about how we use your data, please refer to our privacy and cookie policies.

Terms and conditions

Request a demonstration to The Banker Database

Join our community

The Banker on Twitter