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The latest in our Industry Insiders series focuses on the gambling industry and hiring UX professionals into this space. Our Head of UX and Associate Director of Consortia, Ryan Ollerenshaw speaks to Head of UX at Kindred Group, Ash Clay. Kindred is an online gambling operator which consists of eleven brands, among them Unibet, Maria Casino, 32Red, and iGame. The Group offer products such as online casino, online poker, online bingo, and sports betting.

Ash talks us through his background and how he got into the gambling industry, and subsequently how he hires into the controversial industry.

Ash has always been involved in technology, and for the last twenty years since leaving university, has been enthralled by the way technology impacts people’s daily lives, with particular interest in how it can enhance and improve their day-to-day work.

Ash mentions that he has worked across a number of industries, and has never been affiliated to a single one, having worked across the breadth of telecommunications, media, mining, transport/logistics and now, gambling. He describes this as a privilege and having had this experience across numerous industries has strengthened and underlies his main passion: problem-solving.

Working across such a variety of environments has provided Ash with extensive experience in developing and tailoring user-centred design methodology, rather than industry-focused. This has enabled him to drive and propel a user-first mentality across his teams.

UX Leadership

Now Head of UX & Design at Kindred and leading a team of thirty, Ash is focused on providing leadership to passionate and skilled creative teams, tasked with delivering high-quality, simple and usable experiences. He takes a data-driven, results-orientated approach to problem solving, with a desire to question everything and drive for innovation. Ash’s passions lie in problem-solving and subsequently communicating ideas and more importantly, solutions to audiences at any level. He talks of the positives of leading a team and working in a larger business being preferable: to have peers, rather than solving every problem yourself. This structure allows for more complex problems to be solved in a collaborative way.

At Kindred, Ash works towards two main goals: Leading the team through growth and scale and negating the complexities and challenges that exist whilst building UX teams in the gambling sector.

Leading a team that will grow to fifty comes with a whole host of new challenges. Particularly when deciding on the direction in which to take the business. There are many moving parts to consider. Ash describes trying to get the business to a “baseline level” across the eleven brands, which are across a dozen licenses and six products. Consistency across such a complex infrastructure is no mean feat. They are striving for a comfortable level in UX, information architecture, design, and research. Once this has been established, there are rough plans for service design improvements. Whether this is accounted for in the fifty-strong workforce will depend on the brands and how the Kindred portfolio is built out further.

We asked "What does the Kindred workforce look like under your lead"?

Within the last two years at Kindred, since he joined, Ash spent the first twelve months evaluating and restructuring the team. Ash set up his stall of what his plans were to be, and developed the right team to suit, growing the team by ten within the two years. He recruited from several different backgrounds in order to increase the learning opportunities from a variety of sectors; i.e. what can we learn from banking? Some of the candidates had gaming experience, but not substantial amounts, and Ash is quite keen to take people on from varied backgrounds.

He mentions that the make up of the Kindred workforce tend to fall into two categories: those who are interested in the digital gambling world, who may already be familiar with the products; and those with an interest in sports.

We asked “in terms of brand marketing or educating externally, have you promoted how Kindred are doing things differently to your competitors, in order to attract new UX candidates?

Ash explains that they are at the beginning stages of this and there needs to be a company-wide adoption of this: To present and promote a responsible message. It’s very important to Ash to align on the key message – bringing it back to a UX-focus. And continuing to learn and keep on top of the sector’s developments by attending responsible-gaming focused conferences. Ash wants to ensure to tackle the negatives of the industry and align on the effort to set the bar as high as possible. Particularly in reference to UX and learning from responsible speakers within gambling and gaining accreditation or awards for these conscientious efforts.

Why the gambling sector for you?

We asked what it took for Ash to become involved in gambling, what the tipping point was for him.
He mentioned that it was about the company, rather than the sector that appealed. Ash explains how diverse the Kindred workforce is, with good work-life balance and ethical integrity. One of the fun parts he notes was the sports-based aspects of the company during the World Cup. He heard from existing staff at Kindred, which swayed his decision.

He speaks of his time at Kindred and being “up against a set of continually evolving and changing compliance needs”. “If you like a challenge, this is great.” He’s experienced very positive changes from customer experience and a UX point of view: sitting in the “Experience” side of the business.

During his experience at Maersk Line, there would not have been the same challenges as hiring teams and building them into the gambling space. It’s been nice to not have such a technical focus and people who are not used to working in digital.

Are you faced with hiring challenges in the gaming/ gambling sector?

There are a few challenges involved in hiring into the gambling space. Ash talks us through his experiences here, including his introduction.

Ash agrees that the industry can be seen to be “seedy and underground”, and he has to “convince” candidates to consider a job in the field. He mentioned that the biggest challenge is often getting the initial “foot in the door”. At least, this is the case for London. Additionally, the fact that “Kindred” is not a known consumer-facing brand can prove to be a stumbling block.

His role is global, and because he hires into different countries, he sees how perceptions differ from country to country. Whilst in the UK the “bad press” is particularly pertinent, it’s starkly different in Malta, due to the presence of gambling/betting companies.

One of the candidates that he has hired for, previously working with him at Sky has explained that had he not personally known Ash, and worked with him before, there is “no way” that he would have taken the initial interview in the first place. This is based purely upon the reputation of the industry.

Ash explained that of course, some of its’ reputation is warranted. The industry needs further regulation, however, what you don’t see very often is the positive side of what it does in terms of fraud protection, responsible gambling and sports protection.

Historically, he feels that there’s been an attitude where some companies are doing the bare minimum that their license dictates: A “box-checking exercise”, (e.g. implementing the 18+ logos etc.) The image that is conjured up is dark, smoky pubs. Ash says that Kindred is a breath of fresh air, due to its consumer-safety focus. The ethics of a workplace is unlikely to translate well within a job advert. When hiring, Ash provides examples of corporate social responsibility initiatives that may be taking place at Kindred which may put peoples’ minds at rest and tries to be as transparent as possible about the realities of the industry.

Once at the interview stage, any questions or reservations that the potential candidate may have are answered and addressed. As well as highlighting the unique (and positive!) aspects of the industry, Ash tries to ensure that the candidate understands that the application of UX is the same in gambling as every other industry.

Earlier we spoke about how Ash hires people with non-gambling work experience, and how, whilst this does bring fresh perspectives, it does require for new employees to be hungry to learn. He mentioned that, in his experience joining Kindred, he had to get up to speed quickly on the compliance aspects very quickly.

What advice would you give to someone looking to apply to a UX role in gambling?

  • Research: Really do your due diligence on the company you are looking at, in terms of their finances etc.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility programmes – Who do the team partner with? How is the message underpinned in the company values?
  • What does the UX experience look like? Easy to Use? Plain English? – if the answer to any of this is “no”, you’re right to have concerns.

Ash suggests a face to face meeting with someone from the organisation before discounting them completely. He encourages people to come-up with difficult questions, urging them to “interrogate” and bring concerns to the table. Be fair and ensure you’re not dismissing the company due to the reputation of the industry: Do not tar everyone with the same brush!

And what about building a team in the space?

Ash advises ensuring the potential candidate buys in to the ethos in the first instance: Presenting openly about the company, and its challenges.

He also asserts the importance of pushing the team to become involved in the wider community (comparing notes with competitors etc.), to always “sense check” what your own company is doing and to develop an ongoing sense of self.
Ash is doing what he can to ensure changes in perception are made. The negativity facing the industry needs to be overcome, so it is important to be part of the push to set and manage the expectations. "Make sure that you are conceptualising the short term and long-term needs. Ask yourself: Do we need more specific or generalist skills from our next hire? Working in an agile way – being adaptive to the company need."

We asked Ash if he had any frameworks that he uses in his team-building process.

He states that he has nothing specific but ensures that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and continues to recognise trends within the workforce. E.g. If you are spotting a trend in people wishing to become managers vs skill development etc. It’s all about timing – align your recruitment to that timing. Ultimately, working with such a large team comes with a certain level of responsibility. There must be one underlying company culture and universal goal: Delivering value to the customer in a timely fashion.

We’d like to thank Ash for taking part in our Industry Insiders series. Are you interested in securing a User Experience job? Click here to view all our latest vacancies, or alternatively, please click here to send us a UX job brief.