The Power of Data Podcast
Episode 4: Data, diversity and science fiction
Guest: Ann Cairns, Vice-Chairman of Mastercard
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO Dun & Bradstreet
Hi, welcome back. I have the huge privilege of being joined today by Ann Cairns, Vice-Chairwoman of MasterCard, and also Co-Chairwoman of the 30% Club. Welcome, Ann.
Thank you, it's great to be here.
I read recently, a Sunday Times article and the article actually began in your office and it described your office and I'm now wondering, sat here, why we're actually even in this office. I think we would have been much better over at yours.
Well, I don't know you have a beautiful view of the river here, Sam. So it's a pretty nice office too.
We do and the sun is setting. It's not too shabby. Ann you have an incredibly impressive CV and it's so diverse. You started on an oil rig for British Gas, and you now have the enormous role as an industry legend and Vice-Chairwoman of MasterCard. Can you tell us what happened in between?
Quite a lot happened in between because I've got a long career history. But long story short, I moved from engineering into banking in 1987. I joined Citibank and retrained as an investment banker and I joined on the 1st of October and on the 21st of October, it was Black Monday, so three weeks in, and the world's markets crashed. And I learned very early on in that part of my career, how to unwind swap portfolios and restructure, which came in very handy many years later, when I left ABN AMRO Bank after the takeover by Royal Bank of Scotland, because that was the year that Lehman crashed. And I ended up as the CEO of Lehman Holdings here in Canary Wharf, managing their portfolios across Europe into the Middle East, but more importantly, their 6 trillion swap portfolio. So quite a few years later, I was back in the old routine.
Wow. Let's start at the very beginning then with your scientific and math background from engineer to investment banker, which is not an uncommon trend, having engineers in investment banking. What excites you most about the technological revolution we're facing… a lot of people don't really Realize that AI is really just math put together to find patterns. So you must have a pretty unique insight into the changing world that we live in, particularly with financial technology.
Yes, well, you're quite right. Early pattern recognition was the sort of start of AI if you like, but of course, we didn't have the types of computers that we needed. We didn't have the internet. We didn't have the level of data that you need to really be successful in the AI world. And I think the thing that's going to be really important now as the next click, if you like, is 5G. 5G will revolutionize everything. But right now, what I see AI doing is a lot of fraud detection in the financial space. But I think it has so far to go to actually change the whole way that we work. But on the other hand, I have a very optimistic view of it, that it will augment us rather than replace us.
I couldn't agree more. I think human EQ is going to become more and more important in a machine-led world, and it'll be the true differentiator rather than the commoditized aspect.
Well, that's right, because I think anything that we do by deductive reasoning, you know, things like accountancy, and any process that you could program can obviously be done by a computer. But when you get to inductive reasoning, which would be the thing that makes you creative, I mean, you tend to be in a situation where you could think of infinite number of answers, you know, we say, oh, well, how many colors are there in rainbow? And we'd say, well, there are seven, but that's just a simplification of the world. There are an infinite number of colors in a rainbow. So actually, once you get into that ground, the ambiguity of answering question like that is the thing that will actually cause the human brain to become something which is helped by a computer rather than replaced by a computer.
We started when you arrived, talking about science fiction films, in fact Blade Runner, I'm already getting a sense of that. You mentioned that we didn't have such vast quantities of data. So the digitization that's happening across all industries is creating vast amounts of data. MasterCard is an organization that is almost famous for its data, you know, alternate data created by payments transactions. Data is being created from sentiment and social, it’s being created from the Internet of Things; your bank, talking to your car, talking to your fridge. What do you think the opportunity for a firm like MasterCard is with data?
Well, I think it's a big opportunity. But one of the things that I would say is that we're very, very conscious that we're in an age where you have to pay a lot of attention to privacy, and we actually don't hold people's private data. So if you're doing a transaction, I don't know who you are, whether you're a man or a woman, I don't know where you live. I don't know your bank account information or anything like that. What I know is that card or thing inside the telephone that's identified by a 16 digit number was used to buy an airplane ticket from London to Paris, that kind of information, which is big data. And we think that we have a role to play in helping people understand how to manage their data. And we say that, you know, companies have got to make sure that data is secure and private, they've got to be sure that what they're doing is transparent, and that they're in control of what they're doing. And that the actual control of the individual’s data is in the individual’s hands. And that companies should be accountable and deal with things with integrity. And they should be constantly innovating. But they should also think about social impact when they're looking at data. So the whole concept of data for good is going to become something that I think is really important in the future.
You've got an enormous role at MasterCard, Ann. The good news is you don't have to worry about the numbers. Your results about a week ago were excellent and…
You always worry about them. Once you stop doing that that's a bad sign.
That's true. Maybe you are worrying about numbers, but at least they are great. Other things in your portfolio include AI, which we’ve spoken about, and diversity. What does MasterCard do around diversity? How is it a part of the fabric of the company?
Well, there's a whole range of things that we do. My particular focus at the beginning has been gender diversity. And we've thought of that in terms of three pillars, we think about what do we do for people? And what do we do for our markets? And what do we do for society? The thing that's interesting for us is that over 80% of everyday buying decisions are made by women. So if you think about transactions, women are our largest customer base by far. And from the people side, we want to be the employer of choice for women. And we do things like standard maternity and paternity leave everywhere in the world; four months for women, and two for men or, you know, whatever you choose if you're a same sex couple, and the great thing about our firm is that men take their paternity leave, which actually, you know, is not that as common as you think it is. About 80% of our men take their leave, which I think is great for the family, great for the dads, great for the kids and great for the moms as well, because it creates, you know, a sharing environment. And I think that helps, you know, both people in the couple to be successful in their careers. That's sort of one thing. Other things we do are things like girls for tech, where we actually rolled a program out for over 400,000 girls now, and we're aiming for a million because there's so few women graduating in STEM subjects, and we want to encourage more. And we're bringing girls in aged between 10 and 14 and saying, hey, it's actually quite fun and quite cool to work in a technology company. So don't drop those subjects of you know, maths and physics and those kinds of things now, because tech is a good place to be. So we think about that .
All of those are resonating. My wife and I are about to have a child. So we're talking every evening at the moment about how to create that balance. And she's got a much more important job. She's a Doctor. So we're hoping that yeah, the balance helps her get back to work as soon as possible.
Well, actually, I think that when you first have a child, I had mine when I was 37, my daughter, sometimes you're just working to pay for your nanny and pay your mortgage. And it doesn't make sense from the numbers point of view. But if you're a professional woman, and you step out at that stage, it impacts the rest of your life. You know, it impacts not just your growth in your own career, but it impacts your pension. And you find that women live longer than men. So you're creating actually a poverty trap if you start interrupting women's careers and not giving them the ability to get back into the workforce. Whether it’s immediate or whether it's a few years in the future.
At MasterCard, you announced a commitment of $50 million and an open invite to companies to join your work with the Rockefeller Foundation on Data Science for Social Impact. What is using data for good mean for you? And what are your ambitions with this initiative?
Well, I think, you know, it's early stages with the Rockefeller Center, we're actually looking at a whole range of projects now to be investing in. Interestingly, we did something earlier on with Unilever, where we actually worked with them to automate the supply chain through to small shops in Africa, to try and solve a problem where people weren't able to borrow money in order to buy more Unilever products to fill their shelves, because many of the shopkeepers, by the way, are women and women tend not to own property so they can't get collateral. So what we did was we went in, we digitized the supply chain and that really gave us a whole raft of empirical data that we took to a local bank and said, look, these shops are very profitable, they're run really well, and on this basis, can you give them loans so that they can ratchet up and do more. And the bank did, its KBC Bank in Kenya, and as a result, something like 18,000 shopkeepers ramp their business 20% in the first few months. So that's a really concrete example of where you're using data to actually cause inclusive growth in society.
Let's flip from MasterCard to your other position, you’re Co-Chair of the 30% Club set up by Dame Helena Morrissey. It's now in 14 countries. And last, and this is testing my research head here, but I think last September, you reached the target of a minimum of 30% women representation in the FTSE 100.
Well, the FTSE 350 actually.
And this is just the start.
Yeah, I keep saying, you know, people are saying why don't you call it the 50% club? And I said, look, 30% is the floor. Not the cap, it’s the minimum level. And quite honestly, as you point out, we're in 14 countries, I've just come back from Japan, where the number of women on boards was originally 4%. And today, it's 10 and a half percent. But you can imagine they've got a long way to go. It's 8% in Brazil, we estimated something like 2% across the GCC. So you know, when you think about it, this is actually a good target, based on the idea that once you've got about 30% of any minority in a room, and women aren't minority, but they are in the case of boards, then you actually have a working group where you stop being the odd people out and you just become, you know, part of the whole.
It's awesome to hear that the UK is almost leading the charge or at least trying to be a trailblazer in this critical opportunity. Really, it is an opportunity. Think back when, all the stuff you talked about regarding education, some of the greatest British inventors – and we are a nation of inventors – have been women. Ada Lovelace changed the planet, right? What are some of the other things that 30% Club is doing? How does it engage with organizations? So, many of the listeners of this podcast are leaders of large organizations around the world, how can they work with a 30% Club?
I mean, the great thing is that we are actually launching a paper tomorrow at the London Stock Exchange, where we've actually started to put together a whole raft of examples of what companies are doing to change the gender balance within their own company, and how they're allowing women to basically rise up through the levels to C-suite and what they're doing to solve market-level problems and so on. It should be a fantastic launch and we've got the CEO of Unilever there. You know, I'm there, HSBC has been sponsoring it, their CEO is there, you read about Diageo in there. So really global companies that are making a difference and thinking about this and, and sharing their best practices really, which is what the 30% Club’s about that sharing of good ideas. Also, the 30% Club has this amazing mentorship scheme. I think there's almost 150 companies involved this year. And what they do is they get 10 mentors and 10 mentees from each company. But the mentors from one company are actually mentoring mentees from another company. And what this cross-company mentorship does is it exposes high potential people to senior leaders across the whole of industry. And also it allows a bit of sharing about what's working and what's not working without actually having to have that conversation with somebody in your company further up the line. So you can have a bit of candidness and you can have a bit of you know, reverse mentorship where you know, the seniors and they're often guys in other companies are hearing ‘oh, this all this worked’ or ‘actually this is a barrier for me’ and it starts them thinking I wonder whether my company's working that way.
Reverse mentorship is a really interesting topic. We talked about diversity in so many guises, one of the areas we don't is actually an age diversity. And I think in a world of technology-infused innovation it’s actually really important. And it's important to think about what the customer of tomorrow is thinking about too. I'm really looking forward to that paper coming out and you've already given me some ideas as to how Dun & Bradstreet can maybe help support future initiatives.
Oh, well, we absolutely welcome your support. Absolutely. And there's so many companies around the world that are keen to work with us because you know, they understand it's important and by the way, we're expanding. One of the things that I'm doing coming in as the CO chairs to say I want to see the 30% Club in all the G20 countries. So I’m talking about; I want to open up China, I want to open up in India, Mexico, and Russia. And I've actually been to all of these countries recently, and met people who could actually set up the Secretariat and start the movement which would be fabulous.
I, in my international CMO role have teams in India, China and Hong Kong and Taiwan. And I was delighted to hear when I was there recently, that we have just under 80% of our workforce, in Asia, are women.
And it's been something that the company has been adamant to drive. So it was incredible to see.
Well, maybe we can work together in some of these geographies that would be great.
Perfect. We're going to take this offline so you don’t share all your good ideas with our listeners. Couple of lighter ones to end on, but that was all fascinating, thank you and what an incredible career and having so much impact particularly in that diversity space. You’re super busy. And it sounds like you're traveling all the time as well. Both with MasterCard and the 30% Club. What's the best advice you can give our listeners to use their time better? Time is the one commodity we don't have enough of how do you structure your time?
Yeah, this is interesting. Actually, what I quite like when I'm traveling is, and it's being destroyed a little bit by more planes getting WiFi, but I actually like to use my time on planes and in airports, to read things, to read books and to read papers and to actually sit down and do a bit of thinking, because I think when you're in a constant office environment, you're distracted and people are grabbing your time, and sometimes you need to have that time to really get your thoughts in order and decide what you want to focus on. So I think a good piece of advice is don't wake up in the morning and immediately switch your phone on and start reading all of your emails, although, that's such a tempting thing to do. You know, wake up in the morning and think what you want get out of the day, then switch your phone on and read all your emails. And you know, try and make yourself work in a very specific direction to achieve something rather than just responding to what everyone else is saying to you around the world.
You're wearing a Sustainable Development Goals pin.
And yeah, perhaps this is slightly random off the cuff one, but, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about why you're wearing it and the areas of it that really ring true to you.
Yeah, well, one of the reasons why I'm wearing it is that we are part of the organization UN Global Compact. And this is the business organization of the UN that looks at the Sustainable Development Goals. I'm a great believer that we have to work together to solve our climate change problem. I believe that we're running out of time to do that. I believe that unless business stands up and works together around the world, to help solve this, it's going to be you know, a bad result because I don't see that the politicians are going to solve it, especially In this age of popularism. And to me because I'm such an advocate for gender, I think that you know, these goals touch gender in so many different ways, not just goal number five, which is about, you know, gender equity. But we've been working at MasterCard with the World Food Program. And we've been running these programs all over the world where we try to deliver 100 million meals for school children and actually, we achieved that last year. And the sort of things that we do is, you know, if we want to promote using your card or your telephone on the London Underground, we say, every time you tap your telephone or your card, one child receives a meal. This is the kind of thing we've done, along with our partners, the banks and the FinTechs and so on. And the thing about that is, if you think about it, it hits five Sustainable Development Goals because it's about eradicating hunger, which is one of the goals. It's about eradicating poverty, which is definitely one of the goals. It's about education, because when people know that their kids are going to be fed, they send their boys and their girls to school. So it's about gender equity, as well. And you know, it's all of these things combined. And I love to think of the world in that kind of way. And I think that business should think about the world in that way.
Final question, thinking about the world in a certain kind of way. You're talking about Blade Runner earlier? Yeah. What's your favorite movie?
Well, it's got to be Blade Runner. I mean, I, you know, Blade Runner was made over 30 years ago by Ridley Scott, who actually comes from the same part of the world as me. And in case you’re wondering, he is a Geordie. And I love science fiction, because it's great to see what people are predicting the future will look like and right now Blade Runner actually hit many of the things that we have today; smart keys to get into doors, video conferencing, things like this. You know, when he talks to his devices and his apartment, you know, it's like talking to your Alexa. Okay, we don't have the flying cars yet. And the robots have a bit of development to go. But all of the concepts are there. Unfortunately, what is also there is this experience of having pollution and dark skies and this kind of thing. You know, I’ve seen that in places like Beijing. So we're having the climatic events that Ridley Scott's movie predicted. So very interesting.
It reminds me of the Fifth Element as well, those looks into the future that I loved.
Oh, absolutely. The Fifth Element. Yeah. And the good thing about the Fifth Element is this whole thing about ‘who is this woman?’ You know, the all-powerful being, the perfect human, is some woman who appears to be very frail for most of the movie, right?
Yeah. And disappointed with how the world has turned out.
Yeah. And then you've got The Matrix. But if we start talking about that, I will talk forever.
I must tell you story about The Matrix, because it's my husband's birthday today and for his card I got him a card, which actually is a cartoon of Keanu Reeves in Boots. And he's picked up a packet of neurofen which is red and he's picked up a packet of paracetamol which is blue, and he's wondering whether to take the red pill or the blue pill.
Love that. Happy Birthday Mister Cairns. And I could talk movies all day with you. But thank you so much. That was awesome. It really was.
Thanks Sam. It was great. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.