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David Tracy, Chief analytics officer, Castlight Financial

Path to power

 

I cut my teeth in the Insurance industry ten years ago primarily in the home and motor markets, dealing with the challenges of optimally pricing premiums, predicting attrition, bad debt, cross-sell and developing customer retention strategies, all against the background of the rapidly-growing - and hugely disruptive - price comparison website distribution channel. I progressed to run price optimisation across the group’s European business, before returning to the UK to run data science at a challenger bank’s insurance arm and then at a sports gambling start-up. I am now chief analytics officer at Castlight Financial, a finance-technology start-up that specialises in using open banking data to help optimise lending, debt advice and collections products and processes.

 

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

 

I’ve been very lucky that my career has given me the opportunity to live abroad and work with people from all around the world. The sum of those experiences and exposure to different cultures and perspectives has been so valuable to me personally and professionally. If I had to pick one highlight, it would be the time I spent working at our Turkish insurance partnership - such a welcoming team, with a passion and commitment I’ve never seen anywhere else, and who I’ve made friends with for life. Istanbul is such an incredible city and it was a real privilege to be able to visit and work there.

 

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

 

Learn to speak the accountants’ language. Times are changing, but the finance department is often the route to decision-making power and progression in any organisation, and building relationships there is such a key component of firstly getting things done, and secondly improving your own career prospects.I think the start of open banking has been slower than many would have hoped, and that the market is waiting for the first beautiful and useful personal finance or money management tool to break through and truly scale and monetise. It’s a case of many established companies playing wait-and-see just now and only a matter of time before it all clicks into place, driven by new services and products coming from teams like our own.

 

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

 

With data misuse or loss issues manifesting at some of the larger tech firms, I expect ethical and privacy considerations to be much more prominent this year. I suspect the incidents we’ve seen in the last year are sadly only the tip of the iceberg and that there’s another big scandal likely around the corner. I expect increasing demand for more transparent and audited data usage and sharing regulation (building on GDPR), and for much improved privacy and permissions tooling, driven by government and public pressure and, critically, revenue opportunities. Whether or how the big tech companies deliver this is a different question, though.

 

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

 

I don’t understand the data science industry’s obsession with PhD candidates - I’m more than happy to recruit BSc grads, Boot Camp alumni, and self-taught data scientists, a talent pool that many companies will dismiss out of hand. We also look to train and promote from within - no-one knows our business and market better than our data analysts. Domain knowledge is the most valuable skill a data scientist can have and is the hardest thing to teach, so we are giving our entry-level analysts the time and opportunity to learn the data science or other skills they need to make more impact and start moving on the career ladder.

 

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

 

I’m excited to see the data science and technology community moving and growing outside of London. With the acquisitions of Aquila, FanDuel, Skyscanner and FreeAgent, and exciting companies like Mudano and Snap40 attracting funding, there’s a vibrant and diverse tech scene exploding in Scotland. Long may it continue.Data and analytics technology/service provider
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