The Power of Data Podcast
Episode 14: The Variety of Data
Guest: Claire Thompson, Head of Data & Analytics, RBS
Interviewer: Louise Cavanagh, Communications Director, Dun & Bradstreet
Louise Cavanagh 00:00
Welcome back to the latest episode of the power of data podcast, it’s Louise Cavanagh here from Dun and Bradstreet and I'm honored today to be joined by Claire Thompson, Head of Data and Analytics at RBS. Thanks for joining us today, Claire. And also, congratulations on your 20 in Data Technology award. I understand that you had several nominations from lots of colleagues. So that's always a very good sign.
Claire Thompson 00:21
Yeah, no, I was hugely honored when I found out back in June and it's just amazing.
Louise Cavanagh 00:26
Congratulations again. I wanted to get started by talking about your career and how you've ended up in the role that you're in now at RBS. And I read that you originally planned to go into accountancy, but then ended up doing a degree in applied stats. Can you sort of give us a little bit of a short version of your career so far and how you've ended up in the data industry?
Claire Thompson 00:45
Yeah, so I went to Sheffield Hallam, I did an Applied Statistics degree, which was a fantastic course it was a four-year course the third year was a placement. And that really gave me some hands on experience, which was the really great thing about the degree it wasn't just the theory, but it gave you the practical application as well. So that really gave me a great start. And then I joined Bradford & Bingley, was with them for about eight years really fantastic company, very small, very regulated, but gave me a huge opportunity to get involved in a variety of different areas with data. And then move to Barclays was involved in doing a lot of the business intelligence reporting. And my final job, there was the strategy and planning director for all of the distribution channels, so branch network, digital, and all of their customer contact centers. So hugely fascinating role. You know, branch design was part of that as well, which again, was something perhaps a little different outside of data analytics, but again, you know, just hugely interesting. I then worked for a really small little company called Beyond Analysis. So small, big data consultancy, 50 employees in the UK at that period in time. Visa at that point were a partner in the company so we were using huge volumes of data with Visa as well to drive more insights, but very different culture, you know, five dogs running around the office, beer fridge, so really good. And then five years ago, joined RBS. Man, it's been a hugely enjoyable career there. Most recently back in September, I've just taken on a new role. So I'm now heading up all of the data analytics team for the commercial and private bank. So my career is always broadly been in financial services, and always had a theme of data analytics, and just one that I find hugely enjoyable.
Louise Cavanagh 02:30
Yeah. And I think that there's definitely a sort of theme with financial services there. But it just shows you how data runs through the industry so much like the lifeblood really and how the industry works.
Claire Thompson 02:40
Even my placement was in financial services because I actually worked for Eagle Star financial services. So yeah, it's always been there.
Louise Cavanagh 02:47
Excellent. Thank you for sharing that with us. Talking us back to data analytics. What is it about data and analytics that you find so exciting and interesting, and what do you think has been one of the biggest or the biggest changes and developments in the recent years with AI and machine learning and well, the massive amount of data that's available as well?
Claire Thompson 03:05
So the most exciting thing about data for me is the variety, I look for roles that have variety in them. And that's what data brings. You can do anything from fraud, to finances, to risk, you can do customer experience within there, there's a whole debt governance angle to it data management. And it's that variety and different applications for me that make it hugely exciting. And not just within financial services but insurance or advertising, it's across the board. The advances as well, it's really changed from when I first started out over 20 years ago, to now with new tools and infrastructure coming in, which means that the compute power and the storage are enabling us to do things that we would have never been able to do when I started out my career. And again, that's that variety and that excitement that comes in by, you know, beginning to demonstrate to the business new insights or new information that they've never seen before. So yeah, hugely excited.
Louise Cavanagh 04:00
It's a great industry to be working in. I think financial services and sort of the data side as well, really, really interesting, although I'm probably biased, given what we do. But the other thing I wanted to ask you about is the sort of regulatory environment. So, obviously, there's the regulation in the financial services space. But we've got loads more data becoming available at GDPR. Coming in, is that sort of changing how you and your team work? And how you find this of the most valuable insights from the data with the huge amounts of data that are available?
Claire Thompson 04:27
Yeah, obviously, it does, you know, with the introduction of GDPR, yes, there were changes that we made as an organization to make sure that we're complying with the new policies and procedures coming in. And I think that's a good thing to make sure that the industry is being regulated in that way. And I think it's also as we now move forward, there's bigger ethical debates coming in, so as I mentioned, with the sort of size and scale of you know, that we can now bring, that's as I said, bringing new information, but it also just because we can do something, doesn't mean to say we should and I think that's going a really interesting point as we now move forward into the future, and organizations and regulators are going to have to think about Okay, so what would that mean? So for example, if we're able to start predicting companies that are perhaps in financial distress, what do we then do about that, That information? Not just necessarily about that company, but about the supply chain that they're in as well? Um, so yeah, so hugely interesting.
Louise Cavanagh 05:21
It's a really interesting debate, the whole data ethics piece, and I think there's a real balance to be had isn’t there between, you know, there's more data than ever and a driver sort of openness and transparency, but then you've got to balance that with the regulation and the private data and the personal information. It's really hard for businesses to sort of find that that line
Claire Thompson 05:39
It is and obviously, when you see in the in the news where data hasn't been used in the right way, or there hasn't been transparency, that doesn't help, you know, that then makes it a lot harder for where you are trying to use data for good. So yeah.
Louise Cavanagh 05:53
It's tricky. But we're getting there. So the other thing I want to talk about and given that we're at the Women in Data conference today and diversity is the topic of the day.
Claire Thompson 06:02
Louise Cavanagh 06:02
Allison Rose started this month as new CEO of RBS
Claire Thompson 06:05
Louise Cavanagh 06:07
First ever female boss of one of the top banks so it'd be great to hear your thoughts on that. But also as a senior leader at RBS, how important is a sort of diversity agenda to you and and your teams and how you operate?
Claire Thompson 06:17
On Allison first, hugely excited that Allison is now CEO of RBS, and as you said, first female of a big four bank within the UK is really amazing. But we've also got a female CFO as well, you know, I've been in this industry a long time, it is predominantly male dominated. So now to have that female just I think, is a hugely exciting opportunity. So yeah, watch this space. I think Allison's really good. I really like her. I think she's going to be a great leader for the organization.
Louise Cavanagh 06:46
And so in terms of your team and your career, do you think there's still barriers that need to be especially in financial services on the data side of things. Do you think the world is changing? Have you seen a change in the last few years?
Claire Thompson 06:57
Yes, it’s definitely changing. I've been very fortunate in my career to have had lots of really great female leaders as well. So it is male dominated but for some reason, I've just been fortunate to have a lot of female bosses as well, great male bosses, you know a balance, but it has shifted, you know, where I would perhaps be the only female in the room at my level, that's now beginning to shift, which is really great. And that does bring a very different dynamic into the room as well once you start to get that balance. So I'm hugely passionate about diversity inclusion. And you know, that's one of the things that we try to sort of focus on to make sure that the recruitment we're doing, you know, the advertisements that go out are, you know, gender balanced. And in the interview process, we're getting a balance between male and female colleague interviewing together to make sure there's balance as well. So yeah, I think we're seeing really big shifts. Really interesting, you know, things like paternity leave coming in. Fathers in our organization taking extended leave to look after children, flexible working, those things and beginning to make a real difference. They weren't around when I first had my kids. So yeah, it’s really good to see.
Louise Cavanagh 08:04
Yeah. And events like today, I mean that they're great support as well. I mean, there's so many sessions today about to help empower people and build their skill set and just help women in that next stage up in their career in data industry. There's so much more stuff now available to support people.
Claire Thompson 08:19
It's incredible. So I was actually involved in the first event back in 2015. And they've just opened up today talking about the rain and the tent and the leaking roof. But it was really exciting for me to be involved. At that point. There's 150 people in that room and you walk into the room today. I've not been able to attend for the last couple of years. But you walk into the room today, and it's just huge. Looking at all of the attendees, over 1000 people. It's just incredible what racial machine have actually done to build out.
Louise Cavanagh 08:45
It's very empowering to work in this morning and it's a sea of red because everyone's wearing a bit of red today. It's the fifth annual event but also just as real energy in the room and it's great to be here. Lucky that we've been invited to take part. I know that we've got limited time with you. One final question I had that we've been asked a few of our interviewees in the past is there, someone who's really supported or inspired you in your career or some piece of advice that that you can pass on to our listeners as a final nugget to leave them with.
Claire Thompson 09:14
So in my career, one of the sort of key transformational moments that I had was actually having a sponsor, a lady called Helen Sachdev sponsored me into a senior position at Barclays, really stretched me beyond where I thought I was capable of, but she believed in me, and she said, I know you can do this, I need you to believe that you can now do it. And I would recommend, you know, yes, mentors are really important, but it's also that sponsorship as well. Having those people around you that are really going to help you up and you know, really champion you as well, so that that made a massive difference for me.
Louise Cavanagh 09:49
Great. That's a lovely point to end on. And we all need a champion behind us, whether it's personal or at work.
Claire Thompson 09:55
And I must mention it here at home as well because that's, you know, huge thing so yeah.
Louise Cavanagh 09:59
Well thank you again, Claire it's been great. I only wish we could talk for longer.
Claire Thompson 10:02