FStech meets: Dave Parker, head of data governance at Arrow Global

The asset management industry has not been immune to the COVID challenges faced by the financial services industry.

In fact, as one of the sectors slowest to digitally transform and be disrupted by challengers, things like app operational resilience and secure remote working have been particularly difficult.

To tackle some of these issues, FStech virtually sat down with Arrow Global head of data governance Dave Parker.

Can you give me a brief overview of Arrow and how it differentiates itself in the asset management space?

What makes Arrow Global different is how we work with our customers, and particularly in terms of their data. If you go back 15 years or so the industry didn’t have meaningful relationships with individuals. However, when the TCF [Treating Customers Fairly] regulations came out there was a real change in engagement levels within financial services.

For us at Arrow Global, that means we’ve embedded those regulations in the way that we work. For instance, during COVID we’ve been proactive in working with customers to make payments – which is something we were doing before the legislation kicked in. We take our responsibilities keenly so delivering outcomes is embedded operationally across the business.

While other parts of finance - most notably banking and to a lesser extent insurance - have begun realising the value of customer data, asset and investment management has been slower to do so, why do you think that is?

I’ve worked in financial services for over 20 years and I’ve seen the change happen first in banking, then in insurance, and latterly asset management. The difference is that asset management is built on a one-to-one relationship, which is the same for some wealth management organisations.

However, when you look at mainstream retail banking, they’ve been able to work with and see the value in customer data because they are doing so at much a larger scale. The one-to-one approach isn’t possible in the same way because they’ve got to think about their cost base.

I think in order to see value from customer data, businesses need to move to a more digitised platform, as it reduces cost and allows for a level of self-service that hasn’t permeated the industry before. But to make it work, you’ve got to have data that is fit for purpose, with the systems and processes to support it.

What have you been doing at Arrow to make the most of the data you hold - and has it been difficult getting it all together, and in usable formats?

If you look at any large organisation, spread across multiple countries and departments, having a view of data is really difficult. You have to break down silos and bring it together in a usable format. There can be a real challenge around understanding what you have and where you have it – as it’s rarely in nice easy structured databases.

The first challenge came from the GDPR, which got to grips with where, how, what to do with data. Post-GDPR a lot of organisations were faced with the same challenge around how to get visibility of all their data and how to operationalise the processes. We took that responsibility seriously and invested just shy of £4 million in new technology to enable it.

The Exonar data discovery tool for instance, gives us a single view of everything we’ve got, both structured and unstructured, and helps us develop data governance strategy going forward.

Can you give some examples of teams or products that have made use of data recently?

Operationally, subject access requests have gone up in volume. Given the amount of information that individuals have a right to request, having the ability to mine their data across all our systems and pass it back in a single format - in low time and cost - is a big win for the business.

As for the governance side of your job, what are some of the risks and concerns you've had to overcome?

Some of the newer legislation that’s coming is a key area for us at Arrow Global. We’ve got Brexit on the horizon, but we’ve also been hit by COVID – so that’s presented a unique set of challenges. Working from home and making data available is hard to do securely and in a compliant manner.

An example is the government-mandated payment holidays. That means we have to find all a customer’s accounts and being able to do this quickly was hard for a lot of organisations that couldn’t get a single customer view. Automation of our systems and processes has really helped us. So, for us it’s been a case of looking at how can we apply those systems and processes to deal with new regulation.

How do you balance regulatory requirements, cyber security controls and customer privacy requests with commercial demands for data use?

As a regulated entity, having a regulatory compliance framework that we work within is our focus first and foremost. It takes precedence over commercial usage of the data. But the reality is, one facilitates the other. There shouldn’t be any conflict, as we spend a lot of time and effort to ensure our data is maintained within the framework.

Arrow has been acquisition-hungry over the last six years, and we’re now able to use quite complex use cases to analyse data. For instance, by knowing our data, we can facilitate better informed decisions to the c-suite and legal. The same applies for internal teams who need data for analytical purposes. And there’s a commercial aspect to this too, that’s giving better outcomes to customers.

The Coronavirus, and the recession it has brought, are likely to change the financial services landscape. Do you believe that those furthest ahead with digital transformation and data will survive and thrive?

It’s very difficult at the moment - we’ve seen the impacts in different countries, but we’re not unique. Having the ability to use technology has been paramount in allowing us to get all of our people home working – within two weeks. Digital capability is absolutely critical to come out stronger on the other side and data is the key enabler to any business that functions like ourselves.

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