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Capitalism, Socialism and the importance of data

I attended a conference last week, in Berlin. (where else would I be?) It was a multi-industry event sponsored by SAS, the Premier Business Leadership Series (basically it was their client conference).

Before I delve into the banking stream, the first half of the conference focused on big issue, global economy and business leader issues. It was without a doubt one of the most unashamedly pro-capitalist conference I have attended in a long time (and I'm not saying that is a bad thing)

Norbert Walter, of Walter & Daughters Consult (and ex-Deutsche Bank economist) commented that Europe's current problems could be seen as a failure in socialism, since most European governments are concerned with job creation at any price and not free market economics. Well, I'll let the Smith/Marx/Keynes-theorists debate that amongst themselves.

The one thing that always strikes me when I go to multi-industry events is just how grounded the banking sector seems to be, when compared to retail or telecommunications, for example. There were a few keynote speakers that bordered on a certain American-style, motivational tone and gave presentations on 'how to tell the future', how to 'think like a child' and how to follow up on your networking contacts - "Send an email, after the event, recommending a good sushi restaurant" (huh?).

Listen, I'm all for innovation and creative thinking - I am a big believer in advancement and harbour no nostalgia for a bygone age riddled with legacy systems (and attitudes). But Steve Jobs and Apple may go on and on about how the iPhone 'will change the world', but last time I checked those swishy new phones some of you waited in line for weren't exactly free. There is something grounding about having a benchmark that always brings you back to money (how to make, increase it and keep it) it tends to keep your head out of the airy fairy clouds.

Moving on, the various speakers in the banking stream presented a variety of topics on marketing, customer relationships, profitability measurement and changing business models. But one thing they had in common was very much grounded in the real world - data. Organised, managed, centralised, integrated data. An issue that underpins most technology systems and business models in banking, yet gets comparatively very little attention or respect.

Danske Bank talked about point-of-sale marketing. Barclays France implemented a programme to measure the profitability of its business units. GE Money in the Czech Republic sends its client transactional data to India to be analysed, then marries that data with geographical information once it re-enters the country. This allows the bank to take advantage of the efficiencies in using Indian outsourcing, while protecting the private domestic client data. 

Phillippe Wallez, general manager, marketing at ING Belgium said that the bank decided they needed an integrated view of client data back in 1985. If you think that the majority of banks are still dealing with silo'ed data stores in 2010, than this desire by ING to integrate its client data into real marketing and product decisions, 15 years ago, must have seemed...well, let's just say 'up in the clouds.'

It took ING seven years to realise the first version of their integrated client database. Today, it is not biased to say that ING does tend to score high on customer satisfaction surveys and market share with its retail banking products. They achieved this front office innovation, by taking the long, hard, back office road of effective data management. 

There is a lot of talk today about improving customer services, taking advantage of better risk management and reducing costs by creating greater efficiencies across the enterprise. So, before you start a massive brainstorming session with your most creative types on what the future has in store, set about fixing one big, legacy, back room problem - your data. Where is it, who owns it, what's missing, and how can you access it for all those 'up in the clouds' ideas. 

I leave you with the words of one of the keynote speakers, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "The ability to *see* the future is a rare skill and those who claim to have it usually don't". However, if they do process an accurate crystal ball it is probably supported by one kick-ass database. 


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Elizabeth Lumley

Elizabeth Lumley

Global FinTech Commentator

Girl, Disrupted

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05 Nov 2007



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