Geraldine Wong PhD, Chief Data Officer for soon-to-launch GXS, is passionate about building solid data processes and governance into the future of digital banking from the ground up
What would you say have been your greatest professional achievements of the past 12-24 months, and why?
It’s been a busy 12 months since I joined GXS, which has been awarded one of Singapore’s four digital bank licenses by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). I was one of the first few appointed within the bank, as the Chief Data Officer.
With technologies that today enable us to do more with data, we are in a really exciting time to push the boundaries of digital banking. With the ability to be more creative, more innovative and more agile, we can improve access to financial services and empower more people across the region to reach their aspirations.
I see the task of creating GXS’ data strategy from a blank slate as a privilege. One of the achievements in the past 12 months has been establishing the data partnerships within the consortium which was not an easy task given that each company has its own sets of governance, policies and processes.
Having established these partnerships, we can leverage data assets and technology within the ecosystem to drive our goal of promoting financial inclusion across the region and to create an engaging experience for customers.
At GXS we also take the trust of our stakeholders very seriously. I’m proud that over the past year we have created a set of robust policies, processes and systems to managing, processing and protecting data in service of and for our customers.
Another achievement that is close to my heart in 2021 is having been recognized among Singapore’s Top 100 Women in Tech this year by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
What business challenges did you encounter while driving toward these goals? And how did you overcome them?
Taking the establishment of data partnerships within the consortium as an example, there were many considerations, as each organization has its own data governance standards and risk appetites.
It was important to agree to a common standard and articulate clearly from the start who would be responsible for what and what the timelines were. What we found helpful was to have a RACI matrix plotted out as the clearly-defined roles and scope enabled us to have more fruitful discussions both within the team and with our ecosystem partners.
The second challenge I would say has been around platform and tool choices. When you are building everything from scratch, how do you balance short- and long-term goals?
We had to consider whether we wanted to boil the ocean with tools that are built for the long term or embark on a phased approach and build on the tools as we grow our business. That was something we had to examine.
Based on your observations in the region, how would you say the events of the past 24 months have affected business priorities in financial services?
Let me give two observations. The first is on the financial services industry in Singapore. Following the announcement of successful banking license applicants, I saw that a lot of the traditional incumbent banks also ramped up their digital footprints or accelerated their digital transformation.
This may be because they see the entry of digital banks as a threat, which spurred them into upgrading their services. That’s a good thing because that’s what we as disruptors are meant to do – to create that competitive space for the benefit of customers!
The second is on the use of data in a world that has been reshaped by the pandemic. In the past 24 months, consumers have made the shift online and their primary touchpoints with businesses are now more than likely digital rather than physical. As data people, this is a positive trend as more data enables us to harness deeper insights into how consumers engage with businesses and for goods and services.
However, the pandemic has also shaken up the behavior prediction models of the past. Pre-pandemic, behavior prediction models worked quite well because consumer behaviors were consistent. For example, we would know when someone would usually travel based on his or her past travel schedules. This has changed in the past 24 months as people have changed their lifestyles to adapt to the pandemic.
There is a need to consider more about how we analyze and even collect data, and factor that into any models that were built more than two years ago.
What do you hope to achieve in the coming 12 months? Are there any emerging trends or industry shifts within the data and analytics profession that you are particularly passionate about?
At GXS, my team and I are now working to operationalize all the data policies that we’ve put on paper. This is a priority for us and one of the ways we’re doing so is through roadshows across the organization to educate our colleagues on how to handle data, how to govern it and where it will be centralized. This is important as setting the right data culture starts from day one.
As the central data team within GXS, we are intentional in embedding anything we do with data. We will always be exploring how we can do things faster and more efficiently with data, and how we can get certain parts of the organization to make data-driven decisions.
External to the bank, in addition to being named among Singapore’s Top 100 Women in Tech, I’ve also been named an Adjunct Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS). NUS is where I got my statistics degree, so I’m really happy to be asked to take on that position and to develop a pipeline of strong data experts.
I am excited to bring my experience from the corporate world into my role at NUS to offer feedback on the types of data skillsets that are or will be in demand so that we can prepare the next generation of graduates well through the curriculum.
Another thing close to my heart is the increasing number of research and industry initiatives around open data. At the recent Singapore FinTech Festival, the MAS announced initiatives such as having a central data sharing platform and sandbox for building anti-money laundering counter financing terrorism (CFT) solutions. They have also launched an initiative called the SGFindex, which allows you as a customer to have a consolidated view of your financial information in one central location.
The use of alternative data is really gaining traction in Singapore, and I’m excited about the possibilities for us to use data that is shared securely to make financial services more accessible to a wider pool of consumers.