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CAO Fall | Speaker Interview

Katya Hall, Sr. Manager, Enterprise Data Science & Analytics at CUNA Mutual Group

Katya Hall is senior manager, Enterprise Data Science and Analytics at insurance and investment solutions specialist CUNA Mutual Group. Ahead of her appearance at CEO Fall we caught up with her to find out more about why she thinks a company that’s smart with their data will always have a competitive edge, how tracing her heritage is top of her bucket list and how she uses opera to unwind.

Your role is senior Manager, Enterprise Data Science and Analytics, CUNA Mutual. Can you explain more about what your job entails and what a typical day might comprise?

“My team is responsible for driving adoption of the data science and analytics insights with the business, as well as performance and risk management of the data science models. On any given day I work with the business partners to establish their objectives for the analytical projects, understand the user group populations, how analytical solutions will change the way they make decisions and the ways we’d measure the value of the improvements. I work with data scientists to define how to measure performance of our models. We work to continuously improve our analytical processes from data sourcing to model development and deployment to business process execution and reduce their inherent risk by implementing innovative controls in the end-to-end process.”

Much of your responsibilities are around risk – how important is data in risk management within a business and do enough people understand its importance?  

“We are an insurance company so risk management is in our DNA. However, data science model risk management is a newer discipline and something we are still working to mature. My team has partnered with our corporate risk management group to build out a complete model risk management framework which is similar to our pre-existing actuarial risk management framework but takes into account the unique challenges and opportunities offered by data science, machine learning and big data. Also our corporate risk management function makes great use of data in their own risk analysis and management.”


You led a process improvement to identify and reduce risk in the analytical process that resulted in cost avoidance of at least $1.5 million in CUNA and identified 12 improvements within 2 months – can you tell us more about that project and how you achieved the savings and improvements you helped deliver?

“This was a cross-functional project with participation from Data Science, Data Platform/Engineering, Marketing, Analytics, Governance, Risk and Assurance, and Business Continuous Improvement functions. The project was focused on improving efficacy of marketing campaign optimization through changes in the analytical, data sourcing and campaign execution processes. The team did a lot of fantastic brainstorming and leveraged continuous improvement methodology to focus on the highest value/risk links in the process to improve campaign response.”

How did you get into the world of data and analytics?

“I had majored in Economics with a focus on macroeconomic policy before completing my MBA in 2011. In parallel, I managed implementation and business process automation projects for an enterprise software firm where I was for 9 years before coming to CUNA Mutual Group where I’ve worked in IT, PMO and now Data. I have always been passionate about technology and innovation. When I was presented with an opportunity to bring together my technology, statistics, project, change management and risk background to drive value in the data science realm, I was thrilled to join the team."

What do you think is the biggest advantage of data?

“A company that is smart about its use of data will always have a competitive edge because in a way data can become a crystal ball for any kind of decision-making that can drive not only optimization of existing business processes but also invention of completely new business models and sources of value for an organization.”

What’s a fun fact not many people will know about you?

“I love opera and sometimes sing in Madison Opera and Fresco Opera productions. It’s my favorite art form that incorporates many other beautiful arts within it.”

You are taking part in two discussions at the show – the first is on being agile. How important is this and how can businesses ensure they are able to move faster?

“Agile is a critical success factor in technology and data projects because it enables rapid innovation, being responsive to business needs and efficient value creation. It can help to reduce project risk significantly. It’s a simple framework that can be difficult to execute correctly because it requires a mindset shift. In order to ensure that businesses can move faster they need to hire and promote leaders who have that mindset and can empower the organization to truly become agile in everything that they do. Also Agile requires discipline to consistently execute the process table stakes in order to deliver quality and value. It requires trust and communication among participants in order to extract the greatest value from the efforts and empower the teams to execute to their greatest potential.”  

The second session you are taking part in focuses on demonstrating ROI and how to avoid being data rich and decision poor – how can businesses prevent themselves from drowning in data and ensure they do something valuable with it?

“Organizations that do this best start by understanding their key business objectives and building a data strategy that aligns to them. The best data strategy would incorporate facets contributed by the business leaders themselves, from the industry insights and from the data teams who through working with their business counterparts are intimately familiar with the daily decisions and processes that can gain the most incremental value from becoming data-driven. While return on investment can be difficult to measure and attribute, empowering the business with self-service access to their key data and insights will go a long way in boosting quality of those decisions.”

If you weren’t working in data and analytics what would you do?

“I would probably find a way to be involved in music and performing arts.”

What’s top of your bucket list at the moment?

“I want to trace my heritage in Galicia, Spain. I have never been to the country and everything I hear about it fascinates me.”

What excites you most about what you do?

“Seeing the difference that data can make in our business, the value that it can bring. When we are able to offer new unique partnership opportunities to credit unions that take their business strategy to the next level, help them better connect with their members and their needs, and help them achieve greater financial security – all through the power of data.”

What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?

“Taking my children somewhere fun and watching their lively energy as they explore. I also enjoy traveling alone with my husband, just the two of us.”

If you had to pick someone to play you in a film of your life who would it be?

“I am going to go with Anne Hathaway.”

Katya Hall will be taking part in two discussions at CAO Fall. The first will look at will look at Adopting an Agile Methodology for your Analytics Projects. The second will look at Demonstrating ROI.

Author: Liz Morrell

Katya Hall