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Samir Boualla, chief data officer, ING Bank France

Samir Boualla, chief data officer, ING Bank France

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

ING has the ambition to be the leading data-driven digital bank. Data and innovation have always been to be part of our DNA and a firm pillar in our business strategy and transformation. We started our data journey many years ago by defining our data strategy based on a global data architecture and data foundation which includes several data and analytics platforms and capabilities. In parallel, we defined the frameworks to enable data governance, data quality, data protection and data ethics. Not to be forgotten - data fluency. After all, data is mainly about people, mindset, skills, and competences to be successful as a data-driven organisation.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

Due to the Covid-19 crisis last year was hectic, with many new challenges, but also new learnings; a year where data, innovations, adaptability, and new perspectives accelerated.

 

I’m proud of our infrastructure and the teams which enabled us in more than 40 countries to switch quickly to home-working. Our agile way of working showed its value as it not only enabled us to smoothly adapt, but also allowed us to continue working cross-border on our common goals. Looking back to the achievements of the teams, I’m truly wowed by their engagement and what they have been able to accomplish in such circumstances.

 

As a financial institution, we are expected to ensure continuity for our customers and meet the regulatory demands. Our data strategy and agility proved its value as we were able to meet new regulatory demands despite the circumstances, while continuing to innovate.

 

People were highly impacted in their personal lives due to the coronavirus crisis. This made us all aware of the reality and the fact that we are all very vulnerable. Working remotely was for some of us a big personal challenge. At the same time, it also made us strengthen our relationships and caring about each another.

 

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

The economic situation has changed dramatically, however, we will pursue our ambitions and continue with developing customer-centric innovative products and services that are fuelled by data and analytics.

 

At ING, we feel a responsibility to support our customers, employees, and our communities as they navigate through this crisis. Data, analytics, and innovations will play an important role in identifying our competitive position and strategic planning, proactively supporting our customers, and lowering operational costs by accelerating the adoption of our digital banking and assurance solutions.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

Don’t you think that it would be strange if I would say, no? As a data professional and data evangelist, data plays an important role in my life and will continue to do so in 2021. I have always been intrigued by data because it reflects our world and helps us to connect the dots and gain insights we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

 

2021 will be a year where the amount of data created over the next three years will be more than the data created over the past 30 years (according to IDC), especially due to the acceleration of digitalisation as result of the Covid-19 crisis.

 

AI and machine learning will help us to leverage these huge amounts of data to create better models, innovations, and customer experiences. Data quality will remain key to ensure proper interpretation and decision-making based on data.

 

Customer awareness around the use of data will continue to increase; something that I have been flagging up for decades, therefore ethics, BIAS control frameworks, data protection and security will play a much bigger role in maintaining and ensuring the trust of our customers in how we treat their data.

 

I believe this one of the major factors in making a digital data-driven organisation successful.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

I don’t see my path as one to power, but one of learning, experience, failure, success and sharing.

 

I started my career in a small unit within ING. We would probably call this now a start-up or data lab. My first job title was data resource manager. The unit was set up to introduce database marketing and campaign management. I was co-responsible for external and internal data and building the data warehouse and analytics platform.

 

I was lucky to have two senior professionals with me, who I’m still grateful to as they gave me the foundation and understanding of data, analytics and how to harness the power of data. This brought me a good understanding of banking, products, processes, and our system landscape. There was a time when ING had over 140 banking products (yes, we have simplified this!) and I knew how they were administered and processed; maybe I was a data steward before the term even existed.

 

Our analyses and dashboards became more and more important in several transformations. This is where my data journey continued in other areas such as wholesale banking, operations, finance, and risk. Following this, I was asked to contribute to the first design and implementation of our ING data strategy and global data management office.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

I’m immensely proud to have been working with a great team on our first retail and wholesale customer profitability system in the Netherlands. We were able to deliver a global platform within nine months. Not because we thought we were ready, but our users in marketing, sales and finance were so enthusiastic that they demanded from us to go live and accepted the fact that some functionalities could be delivered later. Think big, act small was our credo.

 

We experimented with web-enabled analytics interfaces, purpose driven data-marts, reconciliation frameworks and provided a broad set of self-servicing BI and insights to all our branches, account managers and staff departments.

 

The underlying data collection was well-managed and broad, covering longer periods of history, so we became the single-point-of-truth resolving several differences between marketing, finance and risk and enabling sales to manage their customer portfolios and related profitability and P&L.

 

This gave us the foundation to start creating new data products, feeding several new applications in different domains, and acting as a reference in major back office migrations and organisational transformations. This sounds now all basic, but at that time, we had to create many functionalities ourselves as no supplier was providing affordable and scalable web-based self-servicing analytics or big data solutions. That was a very educational and exciting period in my career.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

We believe its customer experience that will set ING apart. Harnessing the power of data to fuel analytics, operations, AI, ML, and regulatory demands will continue and so data will become more and more a basic service. Data democratisation, data fluency and analytics will continue to be important aspects to enable the ambition of becoming the digital data-driven bank.

 

To remain relevant for our customers, we will keep looking for ways to improve. With new ideas, new solutions and new approaches to make things easier for our customers and our organisation. Our platform strategy gives us the scalability for open and borderless functionalities to offer the same experience to our customer everywhere across the globe. It will enable us to extend our markets in a short period.

 

Innovation and data assets play an important role in realising these ambitions to deliver the customer experience that our customers expect from us.

 

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?

 

Our purpose is empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business. Our promise to customers is to make banking frictionless, removing barriers to progress and giving people confidence in their ability to make decisions and to move forward.

 

We have to find ways to empower people and businesses on their preferred platforms with a clear and easy experience – or become a platform business ourselves. But the real advantage of these platforms is their mastery of data. Knowing what people want and need helps them to drive value for themselves and their users. This attracts more users, which in turn attracts more businesses to the platform and this creates more data. A virtuous circle.

 

The other thing about platforms is that they are scalable, open, and borderless, offering their users the same experience everywhere. With little to differentiate one bank’s products from another, we believe it is customer experience that will set ING apart. To create this superior customer experience, we are focusing on four strategic priorities: using our advanced data capabilities to understand our customers better and meet their changing needs; innovating faster; thinking beyond traditional banking to develop new services and business models; and earning the primary relationship.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

Most people already use data in their daily lives but maybe without being conscious of it; the weather forecast, sport results and your account balance are simple examples. We all know how to interpret these facts and take necessary measures if needed because we understand the context and how to derive meaning from them.

 

A data culture doesn’t mean that we all need to be coding or applying sophisticated econometrics. It is about being able to understand the data, its origin and quality and its meaning and to be able to interpret these facts in the right context to answer the question you have. Being able to use data visualisations and explain your findings in an understandable way will be a key competence. At ING, we initiated the global data and analytics academies to give everyone the chance to get familiar with different aspects of data and learn complementary skills.

 

This creates a data-first mindset. Being familiar and aware of the data that will best help you to measure and articulate the effect of your design on your users, and therefore your business.

 

Establishing purpose driven multi-disciplinary teams in an agile setting can help to accelerate this understanding across different areas of expertise. This is where data communities, data ownership, data stewardship and a central data glossary play a key role to support and empower the users and bring data providers and data consumers closer to each other.

 

This way you can ensure that the right data is used, based on a common understanding, quickly finding the answer to your questions and swiftly identify the processes and root-causes of any issues. This also supports you in identifying weak spots in your operation or processes that require attention.

 

The slogan of our data awareness programme at ING France is, “We are all actors in data”, meaning that everyone is involved, whether they in the phase of capturing, managing, summarising or analysing the data.

 

Data reflects our world, what the organisation is doing and what our business is doing, and this is one of the most important links you have in deciding how to move your business forward.

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