Opinion: Why Sri Lanka’s financial services industry need to be data governed & data driven?

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By Jithendra Antonio

The Impact of Big Data on Products and Services

The quality of data used in every business is more important in today’s global business landscape.

Our world is changing at a rapid pace as organizations and societies are digitizing faster and moving online and mobile to conduct business. We have more people doing their day to day shopping from home via a smartphone and cutting unnecessary costs and saving time to get involve in many other activities. However whilst they are more online, they indirectly generate millions of data in their day to day life that both online sellers and buyers could study to be more effective in sourcing and selling the products. A recent Microsoft study has pointed out that in the next five years, we’ll generate more data as humankind than we generated in the previous 5,000 years.

So the next famous author of coming 5,000 years may be the person who writes a book titled first ‘5,000 years of Data’ which may highlight how world was built using data as key driver of development.

Hence the trend is clear – in today’s world consumers are moving online and shopping from the comfort of their homes, while organizations are digitizing their assets rapidly to gain competitive advantage. The global digitization trends have dramatically increased the power of the data, and necessary steps have to be taken to manage this phenomenon. Organizations that capture data and make sense of it will be going ahead in the coming years.

The number of mobile-connected devices exceeded Sri Lanka’s population 6 years ago and similarly the world’s population after 2 years since then, in 2014. By 2019, it is forecasted that there will be 11.5 billion mobile-connected devices exceeding the world’s projected population at that time of 7.6 billion.

In a virtual environment, not all sources where data is derived from are created equal. As such derived data itself come with unique risk, security, and privacy issues which should ideally have a framework in place for its governance.

Data Governance

Thus Organizations that harness data to gain insights of their customers will position themselves for better success in the long-haul. However, realizing these insights to become a data driven organization requires a disciplined approach.

If any of the organizations want to deliver good business results, that company’s data must be accurate, and the use of that data must be governed through policy and monitoring.

Data governance is about decision-making, management, and accountability related to data in an organization. Often, in any organization a data governance team is built to ensure data will be handled smoothly and effectively and to instill data quality. Data governance programs are designed to prepare rules and regulations for an organization and to handle any issues that may come up regarding data. They also ensure compliance to policies. They tell a corporation who the owner of the data is and who can perform certain functions with it.

As far is data is concerned, it is evident that the strongest sector of the Sri Lanka’s economy is the Banking and Financial Sector, a sector that boasts about several trillions of Balance sheets and Millions of customers. Banks, Finance companies, Leasing companies, Insurance companies and Investment firms are the domestic financial services organizations that are already penetrating to mobile transactions landscape. However they are yet to identify consumer behavior on their platforms to come up with effective services and products that sell faster than usual. Financial Services are built on data, whilst data governance of the industry is a critical concern.

The emergence of a new normal means a need for innovation in terms of how financial institutions meet the needs of their clients. Thus the pace of change in the financial services industry has accelerated with disruptive technologies, regulations, and business models. As a result Asset Managers in the country and across the globe have undergone a drastic change due to the advancement of disruptive technologies. Right now a huge wave of technology disruption is heading toward the asset servicing industry. Over the next few years, Sri Lanka’s Financial Industry too will enter into Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Blockchain and Cognitive Systems that will drive dramatic change and have a profound, lasting impact on service providers’ operations.

The above disruptive technologies will offer enormous potential for asset servicers in creating efficiency, reducing risk and improving quality of service to clients. It has been suggested that automation alone could reduce headcount in the asset servicing industry by 60-70 percent while also achieving a cost savings of approximately 30-40 percent.

The asset management sector employs approximately 200,000 people worldwide. Many providers even domestically are still constrained by the legacy of acquisitions, poor integration, multiple technology platforms, and a high level of customized manual activity. Some of the technology platforms still in widespread use date back twenty years or more.

So much on Stressed Assets of the Financial Sector of the economy had been in the spotlight during recent past.
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The quality of assets has emerged as one of the key risk factors in the Sri Lankan banking sector, as well as the economy. Generally, Stressed Assets comprise of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) and Restructured Loans. A loan whose principal and/or interest remains overdue for a period 90 days is considered as an NPA.

Prudent Data Governance will help asset management firms stay one step ahead of the regulators when it comes to proving the trustworthiness of their data and reducing the potential liabilities that can arise form data leakage. Over the past few years, financial services firms have been under increasing pressure to comply with complex regulations, and without data governance, reporting on and complying with new regulations is a major headache. Therefore it is high time that Sri Lanka’s financial services organizations put data governance in place now, so you’re not caught unprepared when the regulators come around.

Necessity for Data Protection

With the explosive growth of data, where data is doubling in size every two years, a shift in to data protection paradigm is a must and vital. Especially, based on demographics and for national reasons perhaps securing data from a country perspective is also vital.

One such example is the news that came to light mid – last year which highlighted that Sri Lanka is getting ready to create a ‘National Payment Platform’ (NPP) that would funnel through almost all nationwide transactions via a single platform. However things turned into a ‘U-Turn’ when reports revealed that the NPP was trying to reach hands beyond the country’s financial regulator – Central Bank, and it was coming into the hands of a private company that could have sold all the national payment data or consumer behavior including the privacy details of citizens to any other third party or perhaps any other country. Thanks to reports and vigilance and intelligence news organizations it was somehow prevented with the intervention of Central Bank and the relevant authorities.

The use of data to get insights into customers buying habits to location monitoring to identify patterns or habits is now a norm. Another such example from recent news is “STRAVA” which bills itself as the social network for athletes, who has been collecting data from its users (who happen to be primarily US Military) of their training routes. Imagine the threat worldwide if this data is used by terrorist and para military to target US military bases, operations and locations.

‘Good Governance of Data’ does not solely lie with the IT but the C’ Suit level management of an organization. Another case that came to light is in the recent accidental divulgence of confidential information by a leading bank in Sri Lanka; The resulting backlash generated by the public due to it shows, that even in a resilient culture such as ours in Sri Lanka, data governance and protection of especially customer information is of absolute importance.

Hence, the Chief Information Technology Officer (CIO) in any organization today must progress from simply aligning Information Technology (IT) to its business which was the model followed, to becoming the heart of the organization, like the symphony of an orchestra. This should be done in an effort in ensuring proper governance and aligning of IT specially to ensure that its data is generated with trust, utilized with care and most importantly, disposed of responsibly.

(The writer is specialized in Data Analytics with a Special Focus on Sri Lanka’s Future Direction, and in the fields of Financial Journalism, Investment Banking and Telecommunications)

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