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2012 Top International Operations Executives

The More Things Change, The More They Stand Out
 |  DIANA CHAN: Shaking Things Up, In European Clearing |  CHRIS REMONDI: Increasing Information, Reducing Risk |  NEERAJ SAHAI: Marrying Large-Scale Technology With Boutique Service |  KEVIN MILNE: Making an Exchange Succeed By Working With Rivals |  THOMAS ZEEB: Gold Standard in Securities Processing |  CHRISTOPHER JAYNES: Cutting Out the Custodian Bank |  PATRICK COLLE: Going Global, But Not Everywhere |  TONY FREEMAN: Targeting Two-Day Settlement

THOMAS ZEEB: Gold Standard in Securities Processing

December 19, 2011
By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld

Zeeb didn’t plan on becoming intimately familiar with the processing of securities when he took his first job, with Ontario’s Toronto Dominion Bank in 1986. “You slide into it,’’ he said, at SWIFT’s International Business Operations Seminar in, ironically enough, Toronto, in September. “Nobody knows about the post-trade business, until you’re actually in it.”

In the early ‘90s, TD Bank was scaling back its securities processing business … but Deutsche Bank was planning to build its up.

So Zeeb went to Franfurt to work with Deutsche Bank and put his German and English language skills to use. And found a home in the multiple layers of detail that permeate post-trade processing, clearing and settlement.

“It’s an interesting mix of operational discipline combined with really digging into the plumbing of how the capital markets work,’’ he said. “It’s an interesting business and it’s amazing how big it is.”

But investors don’t care – that much – about what happens “behind the radar screen” when they get a statement, a dividend payment or a tax report. “They just don’t think about it,’’ Zeeb said.

Zeeb and his peers, instead, do.

At Deutsche Bank, Zeeb got familiar with corporate action processing, income processing and settlements. In Frankfurt, he became responsible for all non-German, non-European business.

He wound up in Florence, Italy, when it looked like Deutsche Bank was going to acquire an investment management firm.

But that didn’t happen and he wound up, instead, at Bank of New York in London. At a time when “the custody business was going gang busters.

Bank of New York had just bought J.P. Morgan’s custody business and there were a lot of customers, worldwide, looking for ways to get a boost to their bottom lines by outsourcing the management of their assets.

That meant, if you were a custodian, figuring out in great detail how to take over that potential customer’s staff, systems and operations. And delivering a 30 percent savings on top. Or, rather, the bottom.

This isn’t a matter of presenting numbers better. The client just “wants to know am I making money or losing it?,’’ Zeeb said.

Instead, it’s looking hard at how a firm’s processes actually work, standardizing them and, in the end, finding a better way, for instance, to allocate trades into individual accounts.

By the time Zeeb reached Clearstream Banking London in 2004 as its general manager, the move that mattered was to install new tools known collectively as “customer relationship management” software. So that efficiency could not just be tracked, but measured and managed.