Laxmi is the Founder & CEO of La Meer Inc. – A Risk and Compliance Management Software Company for Financial Compliance in Institutions, based out of Silicon Valley. She started this current company coming out of the 2008 Financial crisis that was impacting the entire world. She analyzed the crisis at depth and realized that proper governance, risk, and compliance are necessary in financial institutions for consumer protection and made that the theme of her company and life.
Empowering and building transparency around governance, risk, and compliance processes and functions through integrated technology was necessary to help organizations see their issues and risks early and take mitigation actions. Too little too late leads to a crisis, as seen in the Silicon Valley bank demise. Many of the lessons from the 2008 crisis are still very pertinent today for financial institutions as we see risks escalating on multiple fronts – sales conflicts, cybersecurity, climate risk, Money Laundering, and financial crime, among others. Regulators worldwide have been releasing numerous regulations to establish the risk guard rails, and examinations and scrutiny have increased substantially. La Meer’s GRACE solutions have evolved over these years to address multiple aspects of risks to financial institutions that handle customers and closely follow the regulatory guidelines, alerts, and expectations from OCC, FINRA, SEC, and other regulators, along with industry best practices. La Meer’s solutions help banks, broker-dealers, wealth advisors, and institutional investors to manage customer obligations with compliance, due diligence, and proper risk management.
I met Laxmi at a Fintech is Femme event in San Francisco. She quietly approached our small group of women and introduced herself, letting us know she was more on the financial side than the Tech side. As I learned more about her and what she has done, I asked if I could be privileged enough to interview her – and she said she’s always happy to help and support the development of women, whatever path they would be on.
Let’s back up a bit to learn more about how Laxmi Ramanath became the Top 10 to Watch in Wealth Management in 2023.
Laxmi’s Growth into University
Laxmi was born in Bombay, India. Her father worked, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom to raise her and her little sister. She loved living in the big city and even commented casually that because all her neighbors spoke different languages and came from different parts of India, she grew up speaking ten languages and learning a lot from diverse cultures that are all beautiful. She credits the big city living as teaching her many skills, like learning to take the train at a young age and always being open to more opportunities that would come later. Her parents loved her and encouraged her to study. Most of her extended family were into the sciences and that established her identity as a person of science.
When it came time for University admission, she had excellent scores and got into the top Science College of Bombay University. Once there, she mingled with the brightest students in the country and was set up for a community of other nerds and ambitious people “breezed through” and completed her degree in Physics. Computers were a growing field then, and her logical mindset allowed her to make computer programming her career. She enhanced her financial market and business understanding with a Systems Management MBA degree from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.
Laxmi’s Career – The Path to becoming a Financial Compliance Founder
Laxmi’s first job out of college, which she found through newspaper ads, was at a computer processing center. She got the job by taking an IQ test and being the top scorer of the 150 people who applied for the job. But as soon as she realized this job had no coding, she quit in 6 months. These were the early days of computers back in the 80s. She joined a small programming company and stayed there for three years, where she mastered all she could. She enjoyed the many responsibilities and learned and grew a lot.
“I think there are many pros and cons of being in a small firm Vs a big firm early in your career. In a small firm, you get to do a lot of different roles and also feel important as a contributor. For a fresh graduate, I think it is a good choice to start with a small firm and be deeply involved with learning the job. The early years of your career help you build very strong skill sets. Realizing what you like best, knowing your areas of strength, and working very hard to build and hone your skills is very important.”
It was in the third company that she worked for that she became the person she is today. It was called CMC Limited in Bombay (now part of Tata Consulting Services).
Laxmi Helped Build The Indian Stock Exchange
“CMC was an absolutely wonderful place to work in. I was there from 1988 to 1995 and had a very great journey where I got to be part of building the first stock exchange systems in India.” Back then, it was a Government of India company that funded the core infrastructure that the country needed at that time. CMC helped build and manage many complex IT services for the Indian economy, including railway reservation, port automation, power sector automation, and many others. There were a lot of brilliant scientific minds working on finding solutions for India, and the work and her time there became fundamental in how she thinks about the social contributions technology can make in making life better everywhere. Building the Bombay Stock Exchange systems taught her so much about market transparency and the difference it can make to a whole country, and she is proud she could contribute to making it happen. As a 29-year-old, she had the proud privilege of leading a team building the equivalent of the NYSE and Nasdaq systems for India.
“I want to give you a glimpse of the manual way things were being done at the Bombay Stock Exchange when we began the project before the automation. Traders would be trading in the ring with the open-outcry method. One hundred thousand transactions in 4 hours of trading. Transactions would be written on little pieces of paper. A blackboard outside the exchange would be updated with stock prices with white chalk. It is not an easy task to provide price transparency. This process was automated by having runners who would gather the price information and feed it into a computer for display to the stock ticker and information vending that would go onto the TV channels. This was when I realized the absolute power of information and what it means to end-users. I am talking about 1992-93.
The next phase was taking the stock trades that were done in the ring and automating the operations. Trading would start at 10 am and finish at 2 pm. The verbally confirmed quantities and prices of stocks would be punched into their computers and downloaded onto a floppy disk. Five hundred forty broker office folks would bring the floppy disk to the mainframe, which would be loaded into the mainframe one after the other. The mainframe would run the match/mismatch algorithm and spit out the reports, which were printed for the next 5 hours in the middle of the night for the traders to pick them up in the morning. We automated this to allow the brokers to load the files from their own broker offices to the main frame and receive their reports of matches and mismatches into their own PCs. It is phenomenal how far technology has come, and the operational efficiency theme has always stuck in my mind.
Next was, of course, the actual BOLT Bombay Stock Exchange Online Trading system. The absolute challenge of taking a physical system and using computers to do it was more than a technical challenge. It was a human one on how to mimic everything you do in the ring and bring it into the computer. As a trader looks one another in the eye, they can make rapid judgments on the price they want to offer and what they think the other trader may be driving towards; almost impossible to mimic when people are just sitting on their computers in their room. Principles of reaching the same information of buy and sell orders to everyone simultaneously so no one can trade ahead of others in the fraction of time they had the advantage had to be built into the system. Deep and engrossing discussions on critical paradigms for building online systems, high availability, equal information, 2-second response, and tolerant behavior were so thrilling as we built and rebuilt our algorithms to perfection. My best friends to date are the team I worked with for the Bombay Stock Exchange systems. The sheer brain power and complex design ideas that we brainstormed and brought to fruition as a team are still the best days of my life. One thing that it really taught me was never to be afraid of complexity. I can today look at any complex challenge and work with it without feeling threatened. I think all young people, especially girls, should embrace complex problems so they learn a lot in finding the solutions and in that process become very rugged in their abilities.”
After the thrilling journey on the Bombay Stock Exchange project for over four years, she moved to her next thrilling journey in the worldwide financial markets with Citibank.
Laxmi Gets into Banking – Financial
“I always knew I wanted to work on very complex stuff.” The creation of the Euro was happening, and there were no rules for the game. Each country made its determination, and the rules for exchanges and financial markets constantly evolved in the two years preceding the Euro. Citibank, being one of the largest and main participants in the change, and Citi London, being the processing center for all European market transactions, got deeply involved with the changes from the Euro. She headed the Derivatives technology systems changes that were needed to convert the systems from their original country currency to Euro for equity, bonds, bond options, swaps, and swaptions, again another thrilling experience that taught her a lot about markets and the processing challenges. Of course, her complex experience from building the Bombay stock exchange systems stood her great stead.
I asked her if she had had mentors or people to help guide her along the way, and she laughed it off and said, “If I got into trouble, I had to figure it out.” Her career trajectory, to end up learning in such difficult but amazing circumstances, was quite impressive. “I was never scared of complexity. It’s complex, of course. I’m going to take it on. You put all your energy into deep thinking on the problem at hand, what you need to learn, and how to come up with a solution, and you get on with it.”
The next large project she did was helping conceptualize and build the Credit Data Warehouse for 11 countries of Citibank. She learned the many lending fundamentals from this project, which she brought to La Meer after the financial crisis. The many aspects of prospect whetting, credit verification, application processing, delinquency, early warning, write-offs, and recovery that she learned on the project rang many bells for her when she saw the crisis blow out.
“As I tell my daughter and all the young women out there, in your career, you build your core strengths by constantly thinking very deeply about the topic at hand and putting your heart and soul into solving it. Once you have built your strong core, no one can push you around. Sometimes, as a newcomer to a crowd, when you start talking for the first time, people may not listen to you. But once they realize your strength, you get your respect.” Never be intimidated. You will always win by being very strong in your knowledge, and you can only do that if you work with whatever you have on hand intensely and learn from there.
“It’s like when you play the piano, and the first time you play, it sounds ok, but when you work at it more, you make music. And the same is true when you learn new things at work as well. Working hard to bring perfection into your work and building knowledge will help you create music.”
In 2000, she moved from London banking to Silicon Valley. Three days after arriving, she started work at Silicon Valley Bank on their Internet banking delivery for their corporate and private banking clients, servicing entrepreneurs through consortium lending. It was a Corporate Bank a different funding model than the larger CitiBank. The complexities are not as intense, just a different model of raising capital and managing money for entrepreneurs. While working there, she had her daughter Meera (who I met and is quite impressive as well).
The 2008 financial crisis was a turning point in her life. It really hurt her emotionally to see the world reel from the impact of banking failures, and she decided to do something about it. She built La Meer Inc., her company, to address the market challenges and use risk management as her way of contributing to correcting the failures of financial markets that had such a profound impact on consumers worldwide. With La Meer, she also enjoyed the flexibility of raising her daughter on her schedule and terms.
Laxmi’s La Meer Journey – Becoming a Founder of a Financial Compliance Software Company
Laxmi has been deeply involved in the think tank discussions of PRMIA (Professional Risk Managers International Association) a worldwide organization of risk managers on various aspects of risks, including operational, climate change, financial crime, and cybersecurity from the banking perspective. With La Meer’s GRACE solutions for Enterprise Risk, IT cybersecurity risk, AML, and climate risk, she contributes to making easy-to-use, affordable integrated solutions that banks and financial markets entities can use to manage risks in an integrated way, allowing senior management to have transparency to risks as they happen and be able to take corrective action early to prevent damage.
With her involvement with the Wealth management industry and the importance of protecting each family’s investment and retirement portfolios, she has built the GRACE solutions for ensuring proper compliance oversight to prevent citizen violations and build consumer trust while enabling these organizations to be operationally efficient through compliance-enabled solutions. This is a big area of work that is close to her heart again, given the sizeable generational wealth transfer and the large number of baby boomers being serviced by this industry.
Climate risk has been another daunting area for the world, and helping organizations understand their contribution to help mitigate this risk from escalating through GRACE solutions to gather environmental, social, and governance metrics and enable that change is an area in which she has been able to contribute. With the large sums of institutional money that have started to be directed to make climate risk management and the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) happen, greenwashing is a danger, and due diligence on investments for institutional investors is again a big theme she feels is close to her heart to help with positive change. GRACE systems help in that area.
Systems in organizations can get quite dated, and the ability to manage risks, compliance, and governance processes get hindered by a lack of integrated tools that can bring visibility to risks as they happen. The ability to empower governance, risk, and compliance teams with easy-to-use, affordable tools can be the differentiator between seeing the risks and not seeing them and preventing the risks from driving the clients and organizations under.
Her mind is constantly working on creating a sustainable world for our children by preventing and managing risks before they get out of hand.
Laxmi is happy with her life and her career as she has built it and feels good about the work she’s continuing to do for risk management, hoping to make a difference.