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Claire Thompson, Head of data innovation and AI, RBS

Path to power

 

Originally, I had planned on becoming an accountant, although I saw the light and actually took a degree in Applied Statistics instead! As a result, I have a career that I love because I really enjoy solving problems. It has allowed me to play a key role in positively influencing the direction of the businesses I’ve worked in, or to help to enhance an experience for literally millions of people. I started my career as a SAS analyst and now have over 20 years’ experience within financial services and analytics. During this time, I’ve had a variety of roles, worked for companies both large and small, as well as being fortunate to work with some extremely talented individuals. Typically, my roles have been focused on either turning around under-performing teams, or growing new capability. My current role is very exciting as I head up the data innovation and AI team at RBS, supporting the commercial and private banking sector. I lead a team of data scientists, data engineers and web developers, successfully delivering benefits for the business using machine learning and AI techniques.

 

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

 

I’ve had several highlights. However, the one I’m most proud of is influencing the business to set an ambition to become “the most accessible bank”. This was achieved by creating key insights from both internal and external data, which helped to obtain the critical senior exec sponsorship that was needed at the very top of the organisation. My design team then created and implemented accessibility standards to ensure that customers were are the heart of all design processes and testing. This ambition is something that endures to this day.

 

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

 

Be brave, be bold and believe in yourself - you may be surprised at what you can achieve. Keep learning - knowing the latest tools and techniques is vital in an industry evolving at significant pace. Lastly, don’t wait to be asked to apply for that next role - you will lose out!

 

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

 

2018 definitely didn’t turn out as expected as the role I’m doing now didn’t exist at the start of the year! It was great to be given the opportunity to stand up a new multi-disciplinary team which is focused on leading the bank into a new era, using advanced machine learning and AI techniques. Within six months, we’ve collaborated closely with our stakeholders to establish a new way of working that rapidly allows the business to benefit from AI, through enhanced data-led decision-making, improved customer experience and identifying operating efficiencies.

 

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

 

I think we’re going to see a drive towards hyper-personalisation as the accelerated and exponential growth in data continues. Continued advancements in technology mean that AI will become more prevalent, which in turn will enable many more companies to change the way they work dramatically. This will lead to an increased demand for a variety of data and analytical skills, so recruiting and retaining staff with the right skill set is going to become increasingly challenging and competitive. It’s going to be a great opportunity for people to develop their skills further or perhaps, with some training and development, to have a complete career change.

 

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

 

Firstly, by promoting the excellent work that we’re currently undertaking to help attract new talent into the organisation. One of the benefits of being part of a large organisation is that we have a huge amount of data available that can be used in a variety of ways. This provides people with a fantastic opportunity to grow and develop using different tools and techniques. Secondly, we need to ensure we retain talent within the organisation as well. We believe that everyone deserve a great line manager, one that makes them feel valued, provides them with opportunities to learn and grow and supports their personal development.

 

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

 

I’m most excited about the continual advances being made with AI, particularly in supporting healthcare, for example, in helping patients recover the ability to walk. It’s amazing to see this become a reality as, through undoubted evolution, it will significantly change the lives of millions of people.

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