Duncan Ash

Capitalizing on data a challenge on many fronts: study

Humans have access to more data than ever before. We can generate more ourselves and easily obtain data generated by others.

But knowing how to properly leverage that data is entirely another thing. How do we best determine which bits of data are relevant? Who decides? How do we employ that data and how do we get it into the hands of the staff on the ground?

Results of a new study sponsored by visual analytics provider Qlik and conducted by WSJ Insights suggest most executives see the value of providing customer-facing financial services employees with greater access to data. In fact, 83 percent believe fully leveraging financial and customer data would increase annual revenue but at least five percent.

That’s the good news. The bad news is fully leveraging data is easier said than done. Companies struggle with a host of issues, including poor communication and a lack of confidence throughout the company in being able to properly take advantage of that data.

Duncan Ash
Duncan Ash

“We were curious to know how people felt about analytics,” Qlik senior director of financial services Duncan Ash said when asked why the study was initiated. ” Business intelligence was widely used, but how?”

Mr. Ash said most people see value in visualizing data, getting it into the field and using it to talk to clients, but they lack a strategy.

“My personal view is the industry is good at building analytic functions. People in the head office have strong mathematical backgrounds but they are not as good as getting it out to the people who need it at the ground level.

“The closer that data can get you to the customer, the better the customer service experience will be.”

That data is also good for business, Mr. Ash said. Complete access to data across the business means better insights and opportunities for cross-selling.

Data also looks different depending on your position in the company. Regional sales personnel derive one set of conclusions while a branch manager or area sales representative in one small part of that territory may have a different view of what works in their sector.

Mr. Ash said most companies are great at capturing customer information and securing and safeguarding that data but have a harder time determining which employees need which information.

Even when they know who needs what problems can arise:

  • 42 percent struggle with data spread across incompatible systems;
  • 43 percent report critical information gets lost because of poor communication;
  • 41 percent struggle with employees not recognizing data as a shared human resource.

A majority of executives believe information is often too complex to be properly processed, analyzed and timely disseminated. That means many companies believe they have to completely revamp their data analysis function.

In a data intensive industry like finance competent executives need to have a great command of data and its potential, but the results are middling. Most believe their analytics functions are highly effective, but a minority feel they have effectively communicated the need for improvement, even though most believe their customer service staff are more than competent enough to make the most of that data.

That is an issue as startups are lapping banks in their ability to better serve customers.

Capital markets firms are very good at getting information to front line staff but a minority of their executives feel confident in using that information to support decisions and improve outcomes. Most also believe their customer service staff are confidently using that information, yet a majority plan on expanding the volume and variety of data they provide those employees.

Insurance companies are better able to collect data from multiple sources and offer access to it anywhere yet they report doing a poor job of consistently getting vital data to the people who need it the most.

The common challenges companies report depend on their size. Smaller ones struggle with internal communication, systems interoperability, information complexity and poor standards, while larger ones cite data ownership, end-user training and senior leadership accountability. A majority of large companies plan on transforming their analytics function while expanding the volume and variety of available data. Smaller ones plan on investing in new data infrastructure.

“Financial services firms face the analytical perfect storm: the greatest complexity and frequency of data, combined with the rapid-fire questions that come from the business,” Mr. Ash said. The person who can act the fastest in a volatile market stands to profit the most from their decisions, incentivizing business and technology teams to work in unison.”

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