As I write this, Breana Patel is currently in the middle of taking French classes with her firm’s recent top-performers. Later, they will be heading to a nice French restaurant in Brooklyn, a stone’s throw from their offices in the Financial District of Manhattan where Breana and her team are doing something in the financial services industry that no one else has been successful at in recent memory.
It’s all part of a friendly work environment where profits are shared, client partners are encouraged to be “intrapreneurs” within the company, and of course, dogs are welcome to visit the office.
Breana, the Millennial-aged person of color running Bonova Advisory, with degrees from the University of Greenwich in London and MIT in Boston, Massachusetts, sits atop the only woman-owned business in the financial services industry that specializes in risk management for Fortune 500 organizations, major banks and hospitals, and public sector institutions.
Founded in 2014, the firm already has dozens of team members tackling all different types of business challenges and finding success, whether it’s helping large banks save over $52 billion in fines, putting up to $50 million back into clients’ pockets by eliminating redundant processes from their day-to-day operations, building entire compliance departments for various government agencies, or something else entirely.
Breana, what made you decide to open Bonova Advisory? How did you get started?
Prior to founding Bonova, I worked as a “solopreneur”, providing consulting services to various banks and financial service institutes. My average contract was anywhere from six months to one year, and there were two things I gained besides the obvious through these engagements.
First, I built a network of other consultants. I also learned some “best practices” across the industry while at the same time finding this white space between the needs of the banks in Risk and Regulatory and firms offering niche services in those areas.
With regulations, one size does not fit all. What may work for Bank A doesn’t necessarily work for Bank B when handling compliance for the same regulation. Throughout my experience of working across a number of banks, I learned how to develop an approach to problem-solving that would work for any given bank.
There are a lot of factors to consider while designing the roadmap and strategy for regulatory compliance such as the lines of business our clients operate in, their total assets, risk tolerances, current systems in place, the skill sets of existing staffs, and many other factors.
With each new client, I reached out to my network of consultants and asked if they were interested in providing consulting services through my firm. The added benefit would be owning a certain percentage in the client account given that they’d be responsible for the account day-to-day. I thought this was a simple business model where everyone benefits from the services Bonova Advisory offers, and it was an immediate hit. Our clients were happy that they had access to a pool of niche resources in predictable supply versus working with our competitors who may lose their talent to other firms midway through a client engagement.
Is there a certain dialogue or opening conversation you have with all new clients of yours to ensure a successful working relationship? What do you do to put clients at ease, who are responsible for millions, or even billions, of dollars and are writing large checks to you and your firm, despite the fact that Bonova Advisory isn’t as large or well-known as the Deloitte’s and McKinsey’s of the world?
We are small and this allows us to be nimble. For example, have you ever been to a bar where the wait staff asks if they can help you every ten minutes, and all the while you’re trying to impress a date, read a book, or have a conversation with your friend?
That’s exactly what we don’t do.
Our process is simple. Before we approach a potential client, we dig deep into what their business is all about. We see if there is a need for what we offer instead of waiting for them to approach us so that we aren’t bothering potential clients, but present them instead with a solution to their biggest problems at the time in which they need our help, therefore doing them a great service. We obtain an understanding of what matters to them, including their vision and mission. We refuse to be generalists and pride ourselves on being specialists.
Our subject matter expertise is what puts our clients at ease. We are not a Big Four consulting firm, but we know exactly what our prospects are looking for at any given time. And, if I combine the experience of all my consultants, then I’m confident we know a little bit about every bank on Wall Street, which has a really big compound effect when we make our pitches.
You have a very employee-friendly environment at your firm. What made you decide to provide profit-sharing opportunities to your team members, and does that help your clients at all?
I come from a family of doctors and engineers who were very diligent employees for their firms. In spite of stellar educations, they wanted more power to create and work as they pleased, but ended up being limited in their 9-to-5 jobs.
Growing up and seeing this firsthand, I always thought that success to me would mean being able to live on my own terms. When I launched my business, I wanted everyone who worked with us to have that ability too. I wanted to give them the freedom and power to lead the lives they wanted.
The employees at Bonova don’t work for me. We have a flat structure and don’t value bureaucracy. Our staff doesn’t work for us. They work for themselves, and that benefits the business. We get things done. By giving them power, everyone is responsible for their own projects, accountable to one another, and “intrapreneurial” in their efforts. This helps us serve our clients in ‘above and beyond” fashion.
When your workforce is happy and motivated, it nurtures creativity and innovation, which makes everyone more successful and helps us all earn more loyal clients together.
Additionally, In recent years startups have been disrupting the industry. Many people are leaving their 9-to-5 jobs and starting new companies or joining a startup. Co-working spaces are booming, and have now become hubs. The workforce now wants to be where they feel invested in a company’s culture and success. It is surprising that it’s more common for someone to leave a $100K job at a large corporation for a $60K job at startup, and while we aren’t a startup ourselves, knowing our workforce has allowed us to retain top talent. We aren’t a start up but knowing your workforce is important.
What do you think our peers stand to learn from someone like you that, if they didn’t pay attention to now, could seriously hurt them in the long run?
We all need to pay attention to workforce trends and changes. Millennials are reaching their prime spending age, and there are more Millennials than Baby Boomers. Spending patterns are changing with the shift in dominant generations, which means the way we invest is changing too. Sharing cars, homes, and offices is the norm now.
While all this is nice, it has many of our peers trying to create the next big app, or start the next unicorn company. Our peers should invest in themselves instead. Deepen your knowledge in something you want to do for the rest of your life, regardless of marketplace trends that will only be around for a few years.
It is necessary to run fast in this day and age, but not at the cost of running the wrong direction.
What are some books, articles, or white papers you’ve read that you think other Millennials should check out?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab (founder of the World Economic Forum). This book is a great insight into our current era, which he called the “Second Machine Age”.
Self Made: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant, and Rich In Every Way by Nely Galan. This book resonates with my ideology of being self-made and living without excuses.
Finally, where do you see yourself in 20 years? What legacy are you hoping to leave, either on Wall Street or elsewhere?
I love building new things and contributing to my community and our society. Ten years is a long time, but I definitely see myself expanding our firm’s presence globally and taking a lead role in tackling social issues that are important to me such as economic empowerment, combating elder abuse, and curbing child labor.
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