Aleks Tomczyk ADT podcast cover
Episode: 31

Aleks Tomczyk - Revolutionizing the probate process with the Exizent platform

Posted on: 15 Jul 2021
Aleks Tomczyk ADT podcast cover

Aleks Tomczyk is the founder and Chief Operations Officer at Exizent, a UK-based fintech / legal tech company focused on digitally transforming the probate process.

In this episode, Aleks tells us more about Exizent, how it was founded and the recent partnerships they've formed with Arken.legal and Experian. We discuss how the integrated Exizent platform will benefit users and help eliminate the common challenges of estate management. Considering the unique period in time in which all this is taking place, we also talk about Covid's current and future impact on Exizent and the field in general.

 

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Transcript

"There's a long term need for what we're doing and that isn't going to go away, it will always be here and I just think that hopefully people will be a little bit more focused on finding a better way of doing it in the long term."

Intro:
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello everyone! Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Alex Tomczyk Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at Exizent, probate experts whose mission is to facilitate the management of the probate process. So, the management of deceased wills, by leveraging digital. Welcome Alex. It's really great to have you on the show today. Can you start off by telling us a few words about Exizent and how it was started?

Aleks Tomczyk: I will do, it's great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. So, Exizent really came about by a combination of personal experience of myself and my co-founder Nick. We were both at a stage in our careers where we wanted to do something a bit different. I built another company and exited that and was doing some consultancy and Nick had sort of stepped out after a long career in various financial services; companies, banks primarily, and we were both looking to do something a bit different.

It just so happened that around that time through a series of unfortunate circumstances, we both lost people; either friends at a relatively young age or relatives in particularly Nick's case and seen through that, the challenges that people have, dealing with the administration of a bereavement at a time where our view is that people should be focusing on grieving and dealing with the family aspects of a loss. And we kind of took the view that actually, in the 21st century, we really shouldn't be dealing with lots of paper and administration in a way which in the UK at least, is largely based around legislation from the early 19th, never mind the 20th century.

So we thought, well there's a bunch of problems here, and with different experiences there's something actually that could be solved. So that was the idea behind it, was really just solving the problem to benefit people that have lost someone. But the more we looked into it, we discovered it's a whole area which would benefit all the participants if it could be modernized and improved with digital technology, particularly managing the data flows between parties. So that's where we started, really from our own personal experiences and a desire to improve that for people in the future.

Tim Butara: And it comes at a really unique time, right? It's a time where both things are true that people are experiencing loss much more significantly than before because, you know, it’s often the case that you're not able to be with relatives in their final days because of Covid, because of the restrictions, especially if they're in hospital due to Covid or something Covid related. And at the same time we also have people getting used to performing everything digitally. So I’m guessing that it was the perfect opportunity for Exizent to kind of enter the market.

Aleks Tomczyk: Yeah, I mean, well, we started this quite a bit before Covid. So, you know, this is something that's been a problem for a long time and I think will continue to be. Partly due to human factors, the fact that some people in particular don't want to talk about their own death or their family members don't want to talk about that prior to it happening but some people are very well organized; they have a will, they have you know, a list of all their assets and all that sort of stuff but actually the vast majority aren't. Certainly in terms of the information and you know we would always recommend that everyone pretty much in any life stage has a will of some kind, but you know people weren't talking about it. So the problem's been around for a long time and there's no doubt that Covid has created some unusual circumstances but you know it's something that particularly in the more digital markets if you like, that’s something that needs addressed and we just took the view really early 2019, we took the view that actually something could be done.

It is true that the Covid has enabled people to talk a bit more about these things, and plan a bit more, but you're quite right, the difficulties of communication have been actually highlighted by this because things like, requiring wet signatures, as a very simple example, but exchange of sensitive documents and things like that have all become much more difficult. And in many respects that people talk about the innovation in digital adoption taking a 10-year leap forward, we're talking on a video platform. Well actually you know in business a lot of people would not have used those, certainly not extensively and a lot more people using them would ever have touched one before.

So, there's some things that it has done that will inevitably have made some faster progress than otherwise would have been the case, but you're right, the general trend towards digitization, people who are more used to digital tools and expect different things, some were saying to me yesterday in a world where people expect to be able to book holidays via Airbnb, get an instant ride via Uber, order wherever they want delivered the next day, why should it take 6 to 12 or 18 months or even longer in some cases, why should it take that time to administer an estate after someone's died? People are asking those questions and we’ll also be a major part of the solution.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that's a great point and also you mentioned previously that the time after a huge loss should be reserved for grieving, not for administration and bureaucracy.

Aleks Tomczyk: Absolutely that's actually core to our purpose, I mean, the purpose of the business is quite explicit. Our aim is to improve the experience of bereavement for everyone involved and that means sort of three groups of stakeholders. But core to that is the fact that the individuals who have lost someone should be able to access the information they need, whether they're dealing with themselves or get the right professional advice and support when they need to, that's really important to us, at a time where you are struggling with these things you should be able to access the services you need in a way which suits you, and we also want to make it easier for all the parties involved to interact.

We often actually talk about three groups of stakeholders. There's the, if you like, the individuals that have lost someone and that might be family members or executors of will or even beneficiaries of the will. We talk about the second group being the professional advisors that help, in the UK that's typically solicitors, accountants, financial advisors, that sort of skilled professionals that know the process and know how it works. Then there's the institutions. The people who have some information about the estate, so that's the banks but also pensions, insurance companies and people that provide services such as utilities. Ultimately our platform aims to sit in the middle of those three groups of stakeholders and manage those data flows to the benefit of all of them to make the process easier, reduce administration, reduce fraud, improve security and all that sort of stuff. Our purpose is to benefit all three of those groups in that triangle, and we believe that the time is right and as importantly the tools are available to enable that to happen now.

Tim Butara: So, it's already a very well developed and well-established vision for the Exizent platform and can I ask you where are you currently with your plans and what are your next steps going to be?

Aleks Tomczyk: Sure, so we have a really strong long-term vision which I just kind of outlined a bit there in terms of the problems we're trying to solve it's things like the bureaucracy and the time it takes to communicate and all those sorts of things. And we've been very focused on problem solving in our definition of what we're trying to do from day one. We've adopted what we call a service design led philosophy to approach building the platform. So, 2019 for us was a year all about really understanding those problems. We did quite an extensive amount of work in market research and talked to all of the different participants in those three groups of stakeholders I mentioned and tried to understand what the challenges they were facing were.

Then we formulated a vision for the platform, which is essentially a multi-sided platform managing data flows. And we designed it, we did what we call the go to market strategy, essentially how we were going to execute that over a number of period of years. So that's what 2019 was about as well as securing some funding to get on with it. 2020, although obviously the pandemic played paid a large part, we were actually largely, because we moved to remote working quite early and have continued to operate in that way, we largely carried on plan and there were three big things that we were doing in 2020; one was build the team, to execute the vision, the second was to start to build a brand and a marketing and sales strategy that would enable that to happen, but most importantly it was to build the platform and build the first versions of the platform, recognizing it's a multi-year journey to get to where we want to go but to get the first version out there.

So, version one of the platforms was made available to the legal services part of the sector that helped people administer an estate after death, that was made available in Q4 last year and then we'd be continually enhancing it. Obviously the name of this podcast includes the word agile, we're very agile, approach to delivering what we do, we’re iterating the functionality as we go. So that product’s available and is in use by customers to manage estates. In our case these are primarily solicitors that are assisting people at the moment. And we're gaining feedback from that but also continually adding to the functionality. There's lots we want to do and we started with something, you know, classic, modern software as a service platform. You start with the basic version and reiterate and add stuff as you go, we're on that journey there. 

So that bit’s in place. The second bit is the side which is the institutions and we're in pilot at the moment with an organization called the Scottish Building Society, to build that side of the platform and talking to a number of other significant financial institutions, primarily about pilots with them to make sure that we get that functionality right. Again, very service design led, understanding their problems, making sure that there's an appropriate driver which for most of those institutions is really very much all-around improving customer service because that's really important to a lot of them and it's something that in the region states you just have to look at the press and you know that that's not been done very well historically, so and a lot of them are looking to improve which is obviously a good thing so understanding that how it can affect their customer journeys is really important.

Also, there's efficiency and cost reduction which is really important for a business case for those organizations as well. So we understand all of that and build with that in mind. All the time we're doing this we're adding other things to the platform, so the platform is cloud native, API first, so the aim is to, we're not shy, we're not going to build everything ourselves, we'll be plugging into a number of other organizations or tools to enable the overall effect. We want to get to the benefit for the individuals as quickly as we can, achieve our purpose as quickly as we can. So we'll-- it was natural for us to build in that way so that we can execute as quickly as we can to help people. So, 2019, understand the problem, come up with a plan, 2020 you know release the first version and start learning it for real, 2021 and beyond iteratively improve the functionality of the platform and bring more people onto it fundamentally.

Tim Butara: Speaking of integrations, 2021 is also proving to be a very successful and groundbreaking year for you in terms of the partnerships that you're forming. Am I correct? If I remember correctly you recently announced partnerships with several firms, with both Arken.legal and Experian, right?

Aleks Tomczyk: That's right yeah, the two were in fact-- very nicely linked, Tim. Yes, it's back to our philosophy of integrating key people. Arken are a leading international provider of digital will writing software. And this comes to, although our platform at the moment and what I’ve really talked about very much focuses on the probate part of state administration, it's obvious that there's things that people can do prior to death, around the time of death and post-death. And we very much focus on that post-death at the moment but the partnership with Arken is about connecting pre and post-death with seamless data transfer. So that again it's about trying to remove friction from the process and we're working with them to work out how in fact the information that's gathered in their tools that their customers have, can be seamlessly transferred to our platform with permissions and all that sort of stuff to enable the estate settlement after someone has unfortunately died.

So that's a real connecting up the ecosystem piece and that's another part. The Experian thing that partially speaks to the core of what we're doing, which is managing that data flow in the triangle. Because we've done extensive research and one of the things that we found is that one of the frustrations people have is finding out the information about the assets and liabilities of the platform. What we're going to do with Experian is use their data to ease that process and enable the basic parameters to be established very quickly. We're already integrating with other data sources in the platform, for example in indicative valuations of houses and cars and what have you but this is just to bring another level of granularity. And as an example of where with the direction of travel in terms of partnerships, data, integration, they're two really good examples and strategically important to us, but of huge value, I was going to say we hope, but hope’s not the right word, because we talked a lot with people before we’ve gone and embarked on them, we expect once they’re there as well.

Tim Butara: Yeah, it’s really a huge deal for the field basically and for Exizent, obviously, and for the field as well since it's a huge groundbreaking move for the whole industry basically.

Aleks Tomczyk: Yeah, I mean our aim ultimately is, we’ve been liking ourselves, if you think about us in a few years, our aim is to be, a bit like the plumbing that sits in the background. You don't think about your plumbing and how the water gets around and you don't even necessarily know who did the plumbing or puts the pipework in place, but ultimately to enable the whole process to work much better and that's really what we want to do. It's an ambitious vision, if you think about that in, we're currently really only dealing with the UK, but the same problems exist we believe and in different forms because obviously different legal jurisdictions and different approaches in other countries as well, so there's an ambition definitely to grow that internationally as well, so yeah, fairly interesting times, we're pretty busy.

Tim Butara: Yeah, and a really great analogy with the plumbing, it's like as you said, something that you shouldn't even think about but it just works and it works it's just part of the whole infrastructure right, and this is basically what it’s becoming, part of the digital infrastructure.

Aleks Tomczyk: Absolutely right, you know it's funny I wrote, very early days when I just updated my LinkedIn profile to say that Nick and I were embarking on Exizent. I said something like, I forgot the exact wording, you could look it up, something like you know, I expect us to benefit people who will never know who we are. Because the legal services firms for example their customers don't know what necessarily what software they're using to manage their estate, but they'll get benefit from it because the legal services firms will do things more efficiently, better and deliver better customer service as well. And likewise the institutions will benefit but their customers won't know who we are, so I quite like that, the sort of doing generally good in the world bit of me really sort of appeals.

Tim Butara: This reminds me of that quote, you know, the best user experience is invisible basically.

Aleks Tomczyk: I’ve not heard that quote but yeah, I can absolutely align with that.

Tim Butara: Okay, so maybe now we already talked about what the platform will do for your users but maybe if we look at it from the other direction. So, what are the common challenges and like the biggest pains that people who are in those situations typically have that your integrated platform will basically eliminate or solve for them?

Aleks Tomczyk: That’s a really good question and I said it's kind of where we started from looking at the pain, so what do people typically find? They typically find that the process is very time consuming. It involves a lot of administration, a lot of paperwork that if you're an individual experiencing this for the first time or even the second or third time, you don't really know your way around. It's opaque and it's time consuming and there's a lot of sending of copies of things to people in the post. Genuinely that's how the process works and whilst there have been some improvements over the last while through some of the key institutions you have to engage with such as HMRC and the courts services in the various different jurisdictions in the UK, the fact is it's still very much based on in and around producing paper.

Those things frustrate individuals and equally they frustrate the professionals that deal with it on a day-to-day basis and the clear feedback from state administration probate people professionals has been, why does it have to take this long? I want to do a better job for my clients, it's just tremendously frustrating. And one of the other big frustrations that the feedback we got from them was the amount of time it takes to communicate with institutions. Even a professional person, qualified solicitor possibly or someone just a probate practitioner from paralegal or something like that and communicating with all of the different accounts that an individual might have had now. And also this is a very interesting trend you talked about sort of longer-term global trends earlier and one of them is an increased fragmentation of our lives. We have savings accounts here, pensions there, all that sort of stuff so this, actually the trend is it can become more complex rather than less in terms of those states.

So, the amount of time taken to establish whether someone has an account a particular organization, confirm that you're the person that is able to deal with that and that is appropriately authorized by the estate to do that and then get the information about  the account or asset or liability, whatever it is, confirm what that was on the date of death and then work through all of the estate administration work out the net tax, for example, submit the tax forms which could be done in paper, although there was announcement earlier this year that they'll look to eliminate some of those or digitize, and then submit all of those to the various different places to get your grant of a probate and then administer all of the actual incoming cash and that sort of, that's all done largely manually and often in century.

We did a lot of that work in 2019, but we recently commissioned a study which we published in, I’m going to say late March, might have been early April, called the bereavement index which is we hope a landmark piece of study that we're going to do every year to get a really wide view, it's a quite extensive survey, a really wide view of all these problems. And these messages come back time and time again, it's about time for responses, it's about duplication of effort, it's about lack of clarity, so the aim is that we reduce all that. We're not going to do it all overnight, we don’t have a magic wand, but we're going to, we very much intend to reduce all of that as much as it's humanly and in fact digitally possible over the year. There's a lot of problems but that's a high-level version.

Tim Butara: Yeah, definitely, I mean, I think you really hit the mark there and for a moment there I have to admit I forgot that this was about the paper way of doing these processes. So, I was like, okay, you know if this is done digitally it doesn't actually sound that bad but then I remembered, oh wait, this is actually all has to be done through paper, through paperwork, through the mail and you know then it got me thinking - typically even in those rare cases where this was done digitally, it was typically done you know through Excel sheets or something like that probably.

Aleks Tomczyk: Yeah, you're right, there's you know Excel sheets or documents stored on a shared Drive or something like that. I mean, there's a lot of that. But particularly in the sort of, at the individual or for professionals, but also in your large organizations, they've got some particular challenges as well. They have obviously had a relationship with imagining just being a bank for example, with a savings account, and they've had a relationship with the person that's died, so they don't know the person that's necessarily approaching them. So, they've got to for obviously anti-fraud and type reasons, they've got to validate the person has died, they've got to validate that the person approaching them is who they say they are and they are authorized to act on behalf of the estate, and then they've got to manage the communication to and fro and they potentially do then they're doing that across.. Obviously Covid has been a little bit of an exception, there's been a bit of a spike of deaths in in 2020 and early 21 unfortunately, but you know, the only certain thing is that we will all one day die and therefore there's a consistent workload that they have to do and typically they're doing that without all the tools available. So, we're solving problems on all sides of that and yes, it’s very heavily paper driven at the moment and you know we'd like to be part of that solution, a major part of the solution solving that.

Tim Butara: Yeah, so as we said in the beginning Covid has definitely had a huge impact on this field, both in terms of the digitalization and in terms of as you just said the increased number of deaths in 2020 which I don't know the statistics but I guess is diminished this year due to the protection that the vaccines offer and everything, but still obviously, the short-term effect of Covid on this field and on Exizent is obvious, but what about long-term effects. I think we touched briefly upon this in the intro but maybe do you have any more thoughts?

Aleks Tomczyk: Yeah sure, I mean the short term effects have obviously produced the spike and that's created a backlog because the organizations that we're dealing with whether that be the Courts Service or HMRC, we weren't really expecting that. And so there is a substantial backlog and at a time where actually there were some changes going about particularly in England and Wales in the way in which that was the Courts Services  were managing that it was its created quite a substantial backlog and a problem and there's you know you just have to read a few forum to for it to understand what that has caused as an individual impact on people.

So the short term has definitely been something but the longer term, I mean, the vision for this platform came about before Covid was even a word that anyone knew. And therefore you know there's a long term need for what we're doing and that isn't going to go away, it will always be here and I just think that hopefully people will be a little bit more focused on finding a better way of doing it in the long term. And certainly you know in in the conversations that we've had with partners we've talked about Arken and Experian but also other people involved in the space whether they be charities assisting the bereaved or the professional bodies that people are accredited by and such like, there's a real focus on fixing the stuff for the long term and a really great attitude towards that.

So, you know, we're really positive and pleased but I think that the fact that it's come up the agenda as a result of Covid for me is the most important long-term effect and people will be looking at and how they manage this for the future. So I think that's the key and I actually finally on the personal side, I hope people talk about death a bit more and preparing for it and have conversations within their families, make sure they've got wills, all those sorts of good things because that will help them and their families in the future. There are quite a few other tools that are coming out as well which will help with people to plan that. There are other companies working in the space, at the pre-death sort of life organization side of life as well which is quite interesting, digitizing that piece so that, I just hope the overall ecosystem will improve as well and then people talk about it.

Tim Butara: So, this was kind of paving the way for future innovation in this particular field, in essence.

Aleks Tomczyk: Well, I’m really passionate about, I mean, my whole working career as you can tell I’m no longer in my 20s, my whole working career has been about technology innovation in a variety of different sectors and business building and making that a success. And it's been really interesting to see how different sectors have their moment where the heat of technological evolution creates some fundamental change in that sector, there's lots of case studies around the world about that.

But I think we describe ourselves and I’ve done quite a lot of work in the fintech space in the past and then prior to that my first involvement in technology innovation was in the 90s when I ran with UK's first ever corporate venturing scheme for a big FTSE 100 company investing in technology in a whole variety of different sectors. And you see how different sectors find a time where the tools and the techniques, but more perhaps as importantly the customer demand for improvement reaches a tipping point, and we sort of think ourselves as a legal tech / fintech hybrid because of the natures of the three sides of our platform. And certainly fintech is a subject that people know about now, but legal tech innovation is perhaps a little bit further behind and if you think back into the past things like this sort of dot-com boom, biotech and all these sorts of things that have had really a focus in the public mind as well as in the business mind.

They're driven by a bunch of things; one of them is a desire to improve customer service, one of them is people's demand for a change in the type of services they want, but there's also some really hard those businessy things, such as organizations wanting to improve costs, innovators in the sector, organizations wanting to increase their revenues, organizations wanting to reduce their environmental impact, or actually to increase their market share. And it's these kinds of business drivers that often drive innovation. But I think in this particular case it's also a wider group of socio-economic but particularly and personal drivers such as you know a growing desire to do things more holistically to think wider about people and the planet and digital access as well so education. I mean for us has always been a really important one and we you know we try and make sure that our team are continuing developing as well. But it's all of those things coming together, I think, to help drive innovation, I just think it's this sector's particular time, or this space’s, subject particular time because, there's a number of strictly of sectors involved, it's this particular space’s time to see a step changing in what's going on it's been around for a long time. I think going back to what we said a minute ago, the fact that people are now talking about it will help.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I agree 100% I think that this is definitely a field where we're likely to see much more innovation in the near future and probably one of the fields that's likely to experience still massive change even more so than it already has so, yeah, excited to see how Exizent will factor into all of this.

Aleks Tomczyk: Thank you, we are very positive about making an impact, but we're excited as well. Whilst it's a very serious subject matter, we can see the potential to make a real difference and that gives us energy.

Tim Butara: Nice, I wish you the best of luck with that, both currently in all your future endeavors.

Aleks Tomczyk: Thank you very much Tim.

Tim Butara: So that's all for my questions, just before we wrap up our call; if our listeners want to reach out to you or if they want to learn more about Exizent, where can they reach you?

Aleks Tomczyk: Of course, there's a number of ways. I’m glad you asked that question. Our website exizent.com, contact me directly and connect on LinkedIn or whatever. We also have some specific-- If someone works in the space and wants to make use of the platform, we're very happy to have them sign up as a customer. We really have a program of making sure we get feedback from our customers to help improve the product as well, so that’s a great help from a number of angles, but helps us with that product direction and roadmap and stuff as well.

If someone doesn't want to do that, we have a research group as well which is deliberately aimed at people who are customers and who are not likely to just know the space well and that's something else that people can sign up for or just frankly follow us on LinkedIn and comment and like, they're all good ways. We've been hugely pleased with the support we've had by the sector and people elsewhere who aren't involved in the sector who just don’t realize so and it's a really good idea that who you know we think that the time has come for it. So any of those or all of those would be great.

Tim Butara: Great. Thanks again so much Alex for a very insightful conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with you today.

Aleks Tomczyk: Thanks Tim. I’ve enjoyed speaking to you too.

Tim Butara: Well to our listeners, that's all for this episode. Have a great day everyone and stay safe.

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