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“Why I quit big banks for Big Data”

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For every lifer who stays in banking for the long haul, there’s another who plans an exit strategy for a second career. Tina Hannagan, area vice president in the strategic retail, transportation and manufacturing vertical at data provider Dun & Bradstreet, fits into latter category. Here’s her story from working in big banks from the time she was a teenager to her current role in big data management and analytics.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in banking specifically or financial services generally?

I went to an all-female high school. My junior year, Charles Cawley, the founder, president and CEO of MBNA, wanted to introduce more woman into financial services and started a work study program that I was asked to participate in. After school each day and full time in the summer, I worked at MBNA in database marketing, learning all aspects of the credit card industry…transactional data, prospect marketing lists, model development and CRM, just to name a few. I fell in love with the company and the industry.

How important has having your MBA been in shaping your career and opening up opportunities for you?

I was still working at MBNA at the time when I made my decision to get my Master of Business Administration degree. Having my BS in economics, I wanted to round out my background and ensure that I had the necessary skillset to be more marketable throughout the course of my career. Since I was at the onset of my career, I wanted to ensure that I had transferable skills such as leadership, intellectual creativity, cross-cultural awareness and communication to support any avenue that I took.

Having my MBA has allowed me to see things through a different lens than I would have previously. I had the opportunity to work with a group of very talented individuals from various backgrounds. It gave me a different perspective on common business problems and helped me to master the art of team building, which prepared me for leadership.

What factors made you decide to leave banking?

I was ready for another challenge. I had been a customer of Dun & Bradstreet’s, so when the opportunity presented itself, although I was nervous, as it was completely different from anything I had ever done, I was excited to start this next chapter.

How does your client base break down in terms of the sectors you serve at Dun and Bradstreet? How have clients’ wants and needs with regard to data analytics evolved over time?

I started with Dun & Bradstreet nine years ago supporting financial institutions. It was an interesting time. Banks were pulling back drastically from marketing and were reluctant to extend credit. I knew that I had to build strong relationships with my customers and fully understand their goals and challenges so that I could help them as best as I could during this difficult time. Having come from the industry, I could walk in their shoes. I knew exactly what they were experiencing.

In 2009, I was asked to support our strategic retail, transportation and manufacturing vertical. This was the challenge that I had been looking for. New industries with different problems to solve for – I had a lot to learn.

Over the last nine years, regardless of the industry, times have changed significantly. There was a time when master data management (MDM) was a simple collection of data elements. Now MDM has a whole new meaning…understanding the 360-degree view of that record, whether it is a customer or a supplier, understanding that record’s digital footprint and what interests it has, collecting all of this information in data lakes and making real-time decisions based on this data.

Cell phones and banking were in no way connected, and now you can do everything that you need via a cell phone without ever stepping foot in a branch. Data is being captured constantly, whether it is on an individual, a business or a machine. Mass marketing is a thing of the past.  Ads are served specifically to you based on your behaviors. The landscape for marketing is changing, and to be successful you need to stay in front of it.

Are there any lessons from your banking jobs that you’ve applied to your current role?

By starting my career in a financial institution, I learned early on that attention to detail is always critical. I always quantify results and embrace learning technical skills. My customers appreciate and trust when I am partnering with them, because I can relate to their problems and I have an understanding of the technical piece of their business, which helps when creating solutions.

What advice would you give to students and recent graduates currently considering a career in banking or another area of financial services?

First, I highly recommend identifying one or two people who can become a mentor for you. I truly believe if it weren’t for my mentors, I would not be where I am today. My mentors are great sounding boards and are able to share their personal experiences which helped to shape their careers.

In addition, I believe that you should be open to moving around within the financial institution. Do not settle within one area. There are so many aspects of the business to learn that are easily portable to other industries.

Last, one of the first things that I learned when I started my career at MBNA is still very relevant to me today. Think of yourself as the customer…walk a mile in another person’s moccasins.

Photo courtesy of Dun & Bradstreet

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