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Johanna Hutchinson, Head of data, The Pensions Regulator

Path to power

 

I am head of data at The Pensions Regulator and our remit is the regulation of occupational pensions, including master trusts. Our role is a challenging one and we have been involved in some of the highest-profile cases, such as Carillion, ToysRUs and BHS. It’s a changing policy landscape and we are embedding data more into our operations to drive insights and efficiency. 
Previously, I worked for the Civil Service focusing on the best use of data by government. A data evidence base to advise policy-making and to ensure the transparency of government decision-making adds huge public value to the UK, but getting the data to the necessary quality to reflect the complexities of an ever-changing UK society is hard. 
As a regulator of National Statistics, I embedded high data standards in the UK’s economic statistics portfolio and, in HMRC, I wrote and embedded the data strategy across an organisation of 60,000 people on behalf of the Permanent Secretary. I hold a PhD in Quantitative Psychology, which spurred my interest in data and analysis and led to the search for a meaningful career where data would be at the heart of what I did.

 

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

 

In HMRC, I wrote and embedded the first data strategy. Not only does this lead one of the government’s most data-rich departments, but because of the influence of HMRC’s data on operations across government, this now impacts and builds momentum in the data agenda across government.

 

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

 

Ensure you have the widest variety of experience possible. With variety of experience comes ideas, creativity, resilience and confidence.

 

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

 

One should never have a concrete view on how transformation will turn out, it inhibits the art of the possible! But I’m pleased with both the capability and outputs we are building.

 

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

 

In the pension industry, we promote the importance of digital applications to improve member outcomes, from the pensions dashboard to better use of data and technology. Internally, we are embedding data in our key strategic operations; working closely with master trusts as they conclude their authorisation applications or exit the market; setting out our expectations to trustees and encouraging consolidation where schemes are unable to meet the standards we expect; and, as part of our new supervision approach, we will be meeting more schemes than ever before to prevent problems arising. In what are challenging times, I believe the impact of Brexit could be positive for the data industry as businesses err on the side of caution, consolidate what they know and invest insights and innovation to maintain a competitive edge.

 

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

 

We use a matrix approach, coupling external hires with internal mentors, re-training internal colleagues, expanding into new roles to support data, with a smattering of consultants to support lean areas.

 

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

 

We are building capability in machine learning models to use the power of data to determine where we should focus resource.

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