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7. Anita Fernqvist, Chief data officer, Zurich Insurance UK

Path to power

 

I started my career in consultancy and have spent the last 14 years in the insurance industry. I spent a number of years as a programme manager, putting systems live that would generate tremendous amounts of data. As I moved into senior management, my focus turned to operational excellence, looking after continuous improvement, automation and numerous operational disciplines. All of these were reliant on data, created a lot of data, and have heavily impacted on the resulting data architecture. Data had become a major issue for the organisation that needed focus, dedication and investment and, due to my delivery track record, I was asked to take up the challenge. In year one, I carried out a data deep dive, proposed a strategy and created a data architecture and analytics function, securing significant investment for delivery. By year two, we had put live the first phase of our strategic data asset and laid firm foundations for becoming a truly data-centric organisation, with year three significantly maturing the asset and the benefits flowing into the organisation. 
A combination of loving the job, having a natural affinity with all things data, and a fantastic team behind me has resulted in a temporary challenge becoming more permanent through my appointment to CDO for the UK business in 2017 and with a great team around me, I haven’t looked back!

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

Unequivocally, the highlight of my career in the industry was Zurich winning the DataIQ Transformation with Data award in 2018. I took on an area with fabulous people, but with no voice and facing huge challenges, alongside an organisation screaming for data. We presented a strategy, secured funding and, against all odds, delivered on our plan and made the team vision a reality, while having tremendous amounts of fun along the way. We had no expectations of winning an award, we joined for the experience and were having a relaxed dinner when someone at our table pointed out our name had just been called. Leading my team on stage to pick up an award for three years of hard work transforming the data landscape for the business was the proudest moment of my career to date.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Having a genuine passion and a desire to do the right thing is the most important. No-one has all the answers, so rather than worrying about becoming an expert in all things data, or being intimidated by jargon and personalities, trust your instincts, think less and take those leaps of faith.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

2018 far exceeded my expectations. It was both far harder and far better than envisaged. The team really mobilised and built on lessons learned which meant we managed to streamline delivery and absorb significantly more scope. We ended up working on a number of new projects, but alongside this delivered on our original commitments for year-end which was a tremendous achievement, going live on the 31st December!

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

I expect the pace of change will keep increasing and, with all roads leading to data, this will need us to think differently and far faster in order to balance the competing demands of keeping the lights on and building for the future. While new technologies continue to emerge, as CDOs we have the challenge of managing stakeholder expectation. In some cases, technology can significantly help, however, this does not replace robust data management and firm foundations. In my view, evolving regulation, organisational structures and business strategies requires an agility with data that requires a focus on the fundamentals.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

Data recruitment is a challenge, particularly when balancing technical excellence with soft skills and behaviours/cultural fit, both of which in my view are critical. We are tackling this through growing our own skills, investing in apprenticeships for our staff, and getting creative about different ways to attract talent. Sharing our story and our message is a part of that. In a buoyant and price-competitive market, our best recruits have been those who fell in love with the challenge and genuinely wanted to be a part of solving it.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

For the journey we have been on, I am most optimistic about the insight generation we are unleashing on the business and seeing the far-reaching business benefits emerge from all corners - 2019 really is going to be an exciting year!

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