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Tom Spencer, head of customer science, Aviva

Tom Spencer

Path to power

My undergraduate degree was biochemistry and I was all set to do a PhD but got so bored stuck in a lab all day, I decided to pivot into business. I found out about a small (at the time) company called Dunnhumby, who were doing exciting things blending the art of marketing with data science and the exhilarating pace of retail. It was a perfect match, and I was fortunate to be part of their explosive growth for the next 14 years.

 

My first role at Dunnhumby was as a customer data analyst (effectively what we’d now call a data scientist), where I cut my teeth analysing large retail data-sets. In 2008, I relocated to Seoul to set-up Dunnhumby Korea as the analytics lead in a two-person team, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Tesco. I spent the next nine years in Asia; two years in China building and leading the region’s analytics teams, and then as country head of the South Korea business.

 

I am now back in the UK as head of customer data science at Aviva, leading a world-class team focused on using data science to make Aviva better for customers.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

My Aviva customer science team winning “Best Place to Work in Data” at the DataIQ Awards 2019, of course, as it was the culmination of several years’ hard work, from many talented people. It was great to be recognised in that way, and it also gave me a chance to stop, look back and appreciate just how far we have come in a relatively short space of time. Always more to do, though…

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

My father passed away recently, so he is front of mind. He held great store in doing things right and delivering what was promised. Aside from him, I try to take inspiration from everyone I meet; I strongly believe everyone has something I can learn from.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

It’s been a year of change in my current role, with a new CEO, new strategy, and people changes. That’s been quite challenging to navigate but we’re in a good place. “Using data science to understand customers and take better actions” is difficult to disagree with, and that is exactly what our customer science team specialises in.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

Increasing scrutiny from regulators and public alike. This is a good thing. It will separate companies who truly put data and customers at the heart of what they do from those who are just going through the motions. There will be further pressure on “big tech” to clean-up its act. Governments and societies are getting sick of perceived wild-west tactics, and there seems to be a greater willingness to regulate and take them on.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

The biggest opportunity is the automation and augmentation of human capabilities that in turn free up talent to focus on other more complex or more creative problems. It will be challenging and disruptive on many levels. The proactivity of government policy to support this change will separate the winners from the losers.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

In our industry, the challenge is not about appreciating the value of data per se. Data is, and always has been, central to the insurance companies. Rather, the challenge lies in understanding that the sources and applications of data have massively evolved, and then ensuring that organisational structures, strategies, business models and ways of working keep pace.

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