In Conversation with RealPort’s Head of Product: The Translator of the RealPort Vision
The following interview is a discussion between RealPort’s Head of Product, Zeel Shah, and Director of Market Outreach, Ina-Alice Kopp. This piece is a part of our “In Conversation with RealPort” series.
Ina Alice-Kopp: Let’s jump right in, what is your area of responsibility at RealPort?
Zeel Shah: At RealPort, I am responsible for Product and Operations. I have been managing all things related to product since RealPort was founded in 2018. We have built the product from scratch, right from implementing the securitization process to devising the investor experience and integrating the legal and regulatory framework.
Specifically, my job consists of taking business requirements from the concept phase to validations with business, legal and risk teams and lastly execute them into the product with our development team.
I also play a key role in integrating and building relationships with various key partners who have been fundamental in the development of our product.
On the operations side, my remit extends to creating operational processes necessary to run the business which ensure that we have the necessary resources, direction and tools in place for efficient execution.
Before we move on, can you give us an overview of your professional background and your area of expertise?
I’m an engineer by education and then I went to business school at Duke. For the entirety of my career, I’ve mostly worked at start-ups. This has included marketing and product roles in the content, ad tech, mobile and messaging space. I’ve always been passionate about solving business problems using technology and this really comes together at RealPort. My position lies at the intersection between the business and technology teams, and here I use technology as a driver to solve business problems.
How does technology serve the RealPort value proposition, particularly in the case of asset holders and investors?
The biggest value that we provide is creating efficient access. For asset managers, we provide efficiencies to their refinancing needs for small and medium sized assets in terms of lower transaction costs, minimised effort and increased flexibility. For investors, we provide access for small and semi-institutional investors, who would usually not have the chance to invest on a single-asset level in renewables assets, through our ultra-efficient securitisation processes. The result: flexible and affordable investment tickets.
Can you explain how technology helps us with executing AML KYC within our product?
The module that we designed first and which we have automated to the largest possible extent is the investor KYC process. In traditional settings, an asset manager would take weeks to vet investors. However, thanks to our digital onboarding process and our partnerships with the likes of Solarisbank and NFS Netfonds, we can complete the exact same process in a matter of hours. We carry out a three-step verification process which includes a business KYC, an anti-money laundering check and qualification of investors as “Professional Investors”. This entire process can be completed in an automated fashion, taking a fraction of the time.
We apply a similar, rigorous vetting procedure in the case of asset managers as well. Here we have spent a lot of time aligning the vetting processes that our partners would carry out on asset managers so that we only perform a single KYC rather than separate processes for every stakeholder, thus saving a lot of time and resources and streamlining the process for all parties involved.
What would you consider the core of the platform?
The entire securitization engine and our secure transaction processes. Here, we use a combination of API banking capabilities, digital custody and integrations with issuing and paying agents. RealPort orchestrates the entire securitization process and our smart contracts and the blockchain lie at the core of this process. This is the engine that drives the transactions in an automated way. The advantages of this are not only automation and efficiency gains, but also the higher element of security. Nothing is happening manually, so there’s very little room for human error.
Also, there is no room for fraud as the smart contract is immutable and acts as a single source of truth. Within these automated processes, we still have a second factor approval with a trustee — this is an independent third party who adds another layer of security and control. Technology is making everything more efficient, secure and trustworthy.
Are these the two USPs that set us apart from other players in the space? The automation of AML KYC, and the automation of the securitization processes, which bring increased efficiency as a smart contract governed, blockchain based platform??
Undoubtedly… But I would also include everything we are building around the secondary market. Our securitisation process makes the securities fungible. The platform gives investors the opportunity to take positions in securitised assets but additionally investors can also sell their assets — in full or in part — to other investors.
Can you please share with us how you have built governance and risk mitigation practices into the platform?
In terms of governance, any time there are funds moving from one place to another, there is a multi-factor authentication processes in place. Here, we are working with the renowned and regulated banking partners. In order to protect investor’s funds, we are working with a third-party trustee who approves all outgoing funds from the securitisation vehicles. The trustee acts as a neutral trusted enforcer of the transactions and acts strictly in accordance with the terms of the Private Placement Memorandum.
As an organisation, we have put a significant amount of thought into all our internal controls. We track and carefully consider the controls to mitigate any risks. Another control function we have in place is a manual review process where each and every investor that’s interested in a deal is vetted with a quick KYC process and also checked for suitability with the asset manager. These investors then need to sign a legally binding NDA before they get access to detailed deal information. This has been put in place to make sure that the confidentiality of the deal information does not get compromised. Currently, RealPort is preparing for the ISAE audit which is laser focused on internal controls and governance; therefore, it truly will audit and test the controls that we have in place.
My last question is: what excites you about RealPort’s future?
For me, it is the product that we are building as it is incredibly versatile and fungible — this excites me the most. The securitization engine and the onboarding of investors and asset managers that we have created so far is just the beginning! I’m very much looking forward to the next phase, which will be the secondary marketplace and the deal flow services. At this point we will have morphed into a platform with numerous options — rather than having one way to invest, there could be four! The internationalisation of the product is also something that excites me. We are starting in Europe but we will undoubtedly grow and hold a global presence. As we are expanding, we are always looking for new engineering talents and highly reputable partners. The diversity that will come with such growth is also something I am drawn to. The scope of all that we will be able to do with our core product excites me very much.