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The Role Culture Plays in HSBC’s Data Strategy

Kate Platonova, Group Chief Data Officer at HSBC, shared how she’s building a data literate culture at the bank in her keynote session at CDAO UK



HSBC’s Group Chief Data Officer, Kate Platonova, delivered a keynote speech on the first day of Corinium’s recent CDAO UK conference in London, in which she outlined the importance of creating a data-led culture at the bank.

During her speech, she also explained the challenges of transforming the 157-year- old organization into a data-led financial institution.

She started by telling the remarkable story of Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, HSBC’s Chief Manager at its Hong Kong Branch during World War Two. When the Japanese forces were set to take control of the bank in 1941, he had to make a decision between protecting the gold and jewels in the vaults or the customers’ data. He chose the latter, instructing staff to hide the ledgers and the customer files and make sure that they are protected at all costs.

This, Platonova said, showed how vital data was. Everything else - money, goods, gold - could all be replaced. But customer records couldn’t.

“The data that underpinned our operations was absolutely invaluable,” she said.

“The reason I tell this story is to show just how important data is for us in banking.It is absolutely ingrained in everything we do. It is our business.

“It is an integral part of our culture. We recognize critical assets and we protect them at all costs. It's not only the gold and the jewels, it's your information.”

Data Literacy is the Foundation of HSBC’s Data-Led Culture

Platonova outlined how HSBC is working to ensure that everyone in the bank, from the board to its branches, gets data literate enough to understand the role they play in the bank’s data ecosystem.

“If I am real about the mission when I say publicly that we're going to make HSBC a truly data-led organization, we have to make sure that everybody is on that journey in the company,” she said. “It cannot just be the professional data team preaching and everybody else doing something different or not being aligned on the message.”

She said that one of the key ways to ensure everyone understood data was to “make sure that we are not speaking in a highly technical language”.

“The way we talk to each other in the data land, we really need to break it down into business-relevant terms and not assume any levels of knowledge, “ she said. “The onus is on us as professionals to make our discipline understood by all.

“If you are trying to communicate a message to 256,000 people, it needs to be something they can remember and they can relate to. It needs to be something they can explain to their families, to their colleagues and, most importantly, to their customers.”

She added that HSBC was putting its efforts into helping branch colleagues understand how critical they are in capturing data properly.

How AI and Analytics are Transforming HSBC’s Business

Instilling this data literacy culture across HSBC is increasingly important for the bank, as it uses AI and advanced analytics technologies to transform both customer- and employee-facing business processes.

“We have an enormous amount of change happening in our systems on a daily basis,” Platonova said. “Finding the changes that are more likely to cause an outage or an incident is not a humanly possible thing to do. It is a job for a machine learning algorithm.

“Our technology has developed quite quickly. So, one thing we’ve done is to show our technology colleagues that, hey, AI can play a part in your life, too. It's not just for the customers outside, it's also for the colleagues.”

With HSBC digitizing at scale, she acknowledged that AI and machine learning would take more prevalence, but said it could not do the job on its own.

“We have to remember, it is still about human beings,” she noted. “We still have to make intelligent decisions and have to make sure that that trust with our customers and with our peers and with ourselves is not broken.”

Data-Led Culture and the Future of HSBC

Platonova concluded that HSBC’s data strategy is “deliberately incredibly simple” to ensure her colleagues can easily memorize and get behind her vision. She believes this will be crucial as the bank continues its data-driven business transformation.

She said: “If you have a well-protected set of data that's clean and well-managed and well-governed, if you have an engaged set of colleagues who understand what they can and cannot do, you can unlock an enormous amount of value for your customers.

“We can have the best policy in the world, the best platforms in the world, we can have very smart data professionals, but without the right cultural shift we will not shift the needle significantly.”

Chief Data & Analytics Officers, UK returns to London for the 11th edition in September. To access more valuable insights from the UK's most respected data leaders, register your interest for more information.