Data Dialogue: Zions Bancorp Capitalizes on a Master Data Strategy

Lessons on Master Data Implementation from Zions’ Business Intelligence Manager

“We always knew we had a number of small business customers, but we didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity that was in front of us until we began rolling out an enterprise-wide master data strategy.”

Always looking to better serve its small business community, Zions’ Business Intelligence Manager, Laura Cecil, recognized that employing an enterprise-wide master data strategy would help the Salt Lake City-based bank provide greater opportunities to better service its growing customer base. “This type of information enhances how we market to, and interact with, every one of our customers across the appropriate channels,” she says.

Understanding each of Zions’ customers in more detail was no easy task. Through the years, Zions Bancorp was a collection of seven banks (referred to as affiliates) with separate data systems and structures for every affiliate, creating more disparate information than was desired.

“When one piece of information gets updated in one data system, how many steps and how much time does it take to get updated elsewhere? And does it even get updated everywhere it needs to?” To answer these questions and improve the process, Cecil needed a definitive way to have a single, enterprise-level customer view that everyone within the organization could see and that could be updated once, with changes cascading to every other system.

Cecil recognized that the only way to truly solve the problem was to undertake a master data strategy across the enterprise.  The goal was to make it easier for all of the bank’s applications to have the same information and ultimately provide better service to customers, creating a valuable relationship for both parties. And that all started with mastering the customer data.

Master data is quickly becoming the most important data companies have. It’s the foundational information about an organization’s customers, vendors and prospects, and is the basis for making smarter business decisions. For Zions, master data represented a more efficient way to attain a single view of all its customer records and reap the associated benefits.

“Our master data strategy was put in place to reduce expenses and increase customer satisfaction,” says Cecil. “We're hoping to reduce costs by having all of our data feeding into a centralized system, and mastering it. It’s very important that all of our business entity information, such as the customer-level attributes, contact information and their accounts, are current and accessible for the entire organization.”

What makes mastering banking data so difficult?

In banking, each account may have multiple associated users where one person is a primary account holder and the other is a secondary user. Therefore, we have some customers that have no primary relationship with the bank whatsoever, meaning they’re only in the secondary position on every account and we were not fully understanding the potential with the secondary owner. By understanding more about such secondary-relationship customers, we believe we have a better chance at developing a strong, long-term relationship with them in a primary relationship capacity. Examples include spouses or children of a primary account holder, or managers of companies who have signing authority on an account, but may not have a primary relationship with Zions. When such a person applies for a loan for example, we’ll understand the entire relationship we have with this individual and offer products and services that serve them best.

How did you drive this master data initiative through the enterprise?

The consensus to move forward was unanimous; all agreed that Zions’ customer data needed to be mastered.
Laura Cecil, Business Intelligence Manager, Zions Bancorp

I worked with our Director of Enterprise Information Management; together we retained a consultancy to review our current technology, which served to help everyone understand the importance of unifying all of our applications. We presented the value proposition to our affiliates, including the heads of lines of business and the executive teams. We spent some time interviewing them about the state of our data and discussing the challenges they may have experienced. It was really important for everyone to be heard. The consensus to move forward was unanimous; all agreed that Zions’ customer data needed to be mastered.


What type of questions do you hope master data will answer?

Using online banking as an example, we need to better identify customer preferences, especially from a channel management perspective - what’s the best platform to communicate with the customer, what messages are important to them, etcetera.

Did you face any internal challenges with your stakeholders?

To some degree, yes. The first challenge was ensuring everyone understood the advantages of master data, which is easily done when one brings in people who have already implemented a master data strategy and can share the real value it achieved. Additionally, we had to demonstrate how it would be better than the data warehouse that was in place. At the end of the day, it’s about educating the extended team.

What were some of the ways you helped educate your stakeholders to gain universal support?

As our representative for our data governance and business intelligence, and working closely with a team that was really born out of our data governance, we had a head start in having a general notion of the role of master data. We also have information architects on staff who have experience in implementing master data in different industries. We took this base knowledge and developed a presentation that defined and explained the benefits of master data. 

We scheduled a lot of one-one-one conversations with stakeholders and management. We also established a business decision team. Compliance was included, which is critical in the banking industry.

Do you have to show any ROI metrics as part of your project planning?

Yes, which is why we’re taking a phased approach with our implementation. Within phase one we have certain goals we need to hit along the way, but we know that phase one is really the hardest stage to show ROI because that’s where we need to invest for setting up the rules for future use. Simultaneously, we are replacing our core system, so all of our mainframe systems are being redone at the same time.

Can you give us any examples of how you will be able to prove out ROI?

I think the ROI will be proved on reduced costs, such as reduced volume of return mail, improved time for updates to be made across the various systems, and lower customer acquisition costs. We also expect to deliver improved service and product offerings to customers, resulting in a stronger customer relationship.

How is Dun & Bradstreet helping with your strategy?

Better understanding the commercial markets in which we operate and knowing exactly who those customers are, both from a business perspective and a regulatory perspective, is very important.
Laura Cecil, Business Intelligence Manager, Zions Bancorp

Better understanding the commercial markets in which we operate in is very important. Knowing exactly who those customers are, both from a business perspective and a regulatory perspective, is very important. In this, Dun & Bradstreet plays a substantial role.

We’ve been working very closely with Dun & Bradstreet to better understand how it’s data is captured so we can determine the type of vetting process needed to make sure that we’re getting the most accurate data for our business efforts and can ensure we make it consumable for the team to use in our marketing efforts. You can have the data sitting somewhere, but you have to figure out how to use it. That starts with Dun & Bradstreet.


Can you give us an example?

We’re testing a small case in the healthcare industry to try and comprehend the market share in that area. Our goal is to find more prospects that meet our criteria, and to really drill down to understand their needs. We know they are in the healthcare industry, but what do they really look like and how can we best serve them? We’re leveraging D&B’s Market Insights tool to better identify prospects and where they may fall in the buyers’ journey and be able to share that view across the enterprise.

Master Data is going to help us with that as well, probably in the beginning, but as we get further into the maturity of the product it will become more of a proactive data governance by helping us establish set rules for defining and implementing records.  The notion of proactive governance is almost the opposite of reactive data governance in that proactive is about discovering completes issues like in data profiling at the onset of implementation.  It essentially supports data governance. We anticipate Dun & Bradstreet supporting us in the future.

What advice would you give to other companies planning to roll out an enterprise-wide Master Data strategy?

From the very beginning, whichever partner you’re speaking with, always speak with the technology side and the sales operations team. You need your operations team and the technology people to work together. Sales and operations may have different views and different needs, so when you are seeking to deploy an enterprise-wide solution that meets everyone’s needs, you may sometimes get different answers.

Secondly, having senior management support is very important because you want to avoid having the same discussion over and over, and being able to inform the various stakeholders that senior leadership supports the initiative definitely generates support from the entire company for the project.

Finally, having measurable goals at the end of every phase will help keep you on track. I think taking things in small pieces or milestones is much better than trying to bite off the entire project. You will want to start to show immediate value and that can be done when you have smaller phases and milestones to meet.

Parting Words

Cecil understands that a master data program really begins with bringing together disparate sources of information and then mastering it to provide a trusted and enhanced view of their customers. “What can we learn about that customer when we bring that trusted view together into a master data environment? This will help us better understand who they are and provide the right information at the right time in the most cost-efficient manner.”