How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Data and analytics is a core pillar of Pepper’s vision. Some 24 months ago, there was a view that data and analytics could help drive further business performance and over the past two years we have proven that to be the case. As a consequence, and as we look to grow further in South East Asia, our data and analytics capability underpins everything we are doing – from evaluating new markets through to engaging with investors and building new businesses.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
2020 turned our plans on their heads, but also created momentum around how we innovated to use data analytics in new and exciting ways. As a lender and loan servicer (we help lenders manage customers), the crisis changed everything – from the affordability for customers who found themselves furloughed, to the way that the government asked lenders to support customers with payment holidays.
Existing transactional data stopped being remotely predictive in understanding and predicting behaviour, so we had to start to explore using alternative data. This has opened up a whole new world of opportunity and using alternative data has now become part of our day-to-day work across all the countries in which we operate.
Additionally, our local business units and their clients have needed faster insights and new ways of understanding customers, so we have had to grow the team in order to meet the new demand – hiring talent across Europe and Asia.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
We are expecting the business to continue to grow in 2021 fairly significantly – we have already acquired a business in Japan this year and are looking for further growth opportunities across South East Asia.
We have started to create an analytics formula, or blueprint, in the lending and servicing world that is delivering significant value to investors and our business units, so expect 2021 to be a year of scaling our insights, ML and AI work in new businesses and new territories. Data and analytics is now absolutely at the core of our strategy when trying to attract new investors and winning new servicing business.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Our mission is to help people succeed and since the business was created in 2000 the focus has been on serving the under-served parts of the market in all the territories we operate. From a data perspective, this manifests itself in making sure we are using data about customers to deliver appropriate products and, more importantly, when we are managing customers who have fallen behind with payments, we use analytics to find the best way to get the customer back on track and to help repair their credit scores.
What has been your path to power?
I have a very average degree from a very average university but was bitten by the data-bug early on. In a summer holiday project, I worked with a small software firm to help them build a solution that enabled a grocery retailer better locate their stores and it struck me then that the commercial opportunities in applying data to solve problems were huge.
That set me off on a career spanning over 30 years in using data and analytics in a commercial context. Along the way, I have run large-scale data transformation programmes at businesses including Telefónica (O2), News UK and Sainsbury’s – always with a focus on the applications of data and how they deliver value for customers and the business.
Having spent the lion’s share of my career in large corporates, I joined Pepper two years ago as part of the global leadership team to apply the skills I had learnt in the corporate context in a more entrepreneurial environment. It’s a been an amazing learning experience and presents some genuinely unique and new opportunities for me. I’m also a non-executive director on the board of GlobalData, the AIM listed business, and work with two data start-ups (one of which, AIScout, was shortlisted for a DataIQ award in 2020) in a mentoring capacity, which I love.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
There are lots of things I’m proud of; the teams that I’ve built, the growth and development of the people in those teams (a significant number have featured in the DataIQ 100 over the years), as well as the value that those teams have delivered back into the various businesses. But probably the proudest was when I landed the role as chief data officer on the executive team at News UK.
As one of the first CDOs with a seat at the top table, it was amazing to see how much cut-through and progress we could make, and it is one of the reasons I believe that with data becoming ubiquitous businesses need to have a senior data professional on their leadership team.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
I’ve been fortunate to be able to build a genuinely stand-out team at Pepper, spanning three continents, with experience across pretty much every business vertical. This year we are going to take the capabilities we have developed inside the business and start offering access to the analytics platform and people we have developed to third parties. I’ve never been more excited about a business opportunity and am hopeful that by the end of the year we will have put our data and analytics platform and business on the map.
How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?
I think it’s now difficult to draw a distinction between "the business" and data and analytics at Pepper – the two are completely aligned. From an industry perspective, we are on a journey. In some parts of the globe there is a good understanding and engagement with data and analytics, but, in others, the markets are still learning. I see that as an opportunity for us to take what we’ve done in more data-mature markets and apply it to the emerging markets where data is present but isn’t being used as extensively as it could be.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
I’ve said for years that the only way to really get cut through is to focus on solving business problems. Most people don’t really care what sort of data platform you are using, what technologies you have employed or what sort of algorithm has proven to be most valuable; they care about how they can do their jobs better. If you show them how that’s possible with data, then it quickly turns them into fans and the biggest fans start to think data-first and create even more momentum.