Two years ago, something different started happening at HSBC's global banking and markets division. In a small conference room in the HSBC tower at London's Canary Wharf, 20 of the bank's junior technologists were invited to work on something new. 12 months later, their creation was born. Today, its repercussions are being felt across the bank.
“We needed to do this in a way which didn’t require a lot of funding. We had one year to roll this out on an accelerated basis and to deliver real benefits,” says Chuck Teixeira, chief administrative officer and head of transformation in HSBC’s Global Banking and Markets (GBM) division. “We didn’t have a pool of people allocated to this so we had to borrow relatively junior data analysts from different parts of the business and we took over a conference room which became our headquarters for this project.”
What Teixeira delivered in a year, together with the help of 20 young technologists and Matt Sattler, the global head of data science at GBM, was first one of the most enormous data lakes known to man, plus three different use cases that irrevocably demonstrated the value of their project.
"We joined more than 300 different data sources together from a 10 petabyte data lake," says Teixeira. "We ingested the data, tagged the meta data and linked it all using machine learning."
Echoing Manuela Veloso at JPMorgan, Teixeira says what that makes data science jobs in banks interesting is the sheer quantity of data available, particularly compared to smaller fintech firms. "If you are data-driven and are looking at building the next generation of data products, then this is the kind of information you can't get in many other industries," says Sattler.
The three first use cases for the massive data lake were solidly operational rather than focused on the front office and fancy trading algorithms. One involved managing client exits and enables the bank to have full visibility of all the activities of a client they are no longer working with. Another involved Basel's BCBS 239 regulation that requires that banks fully understand the data being used for risk and financial reporting. The last was an account activity review product that allows HSBC's relationship managers to have full visibility on clients' activities.
To pull, tag, and map ten petabytes of disparate data in 12 months was impressive. To also build three usable products in that time was exceptional. Teixeira says a special culture evolved among the 20 young technologists working together in the conference room.
"We all look back fondly to the beginnings in that room," says Sattler. "It felt like you were in this bubble but on mission. We built our own culture of collaboration and perseverance, of dedication and fun. We love working with each other - it's like we're family. Everyone has each other's back. We would get people concerned we were working too many weekends."
Success bred success. HSBC's data effort is now fully funded and those 20 data scientists are now on track to become 150 at data labs in London and Toronto. The first conference room was ditched for another across the street and then for the innovation lab HSBC currently occupies in Canary Wharf's Level 39 technology community. The basket ball hoop from conference room 1 moved along with them.
"To begin with, data people didn't realise that you could do this kind of interesting work in a big bank," says Teixera, who says his job has been to foster the culture of HSBC's data team, while taking responsibility himself for clearing any roadblocks in the broader organisation that could prevent the team's products from being adopted. "Right from the start, we've felt like we're trail blazers," he says. "And that's still the case."
It helps that the data lab sits apart from the rest bank - but not too far apart. "I've worked for banks where the innovation centre is a long way away from the head office and it doesn't work well," says Teixera. "Here, we're just two minutes from the head office. We have our own culture, but we're still integrated with the rest of the bank."
How to get a data job at HSBC
HSBC's data labs in London and Toronto are hiring. The 20 junior staff who started out in the first conference room have become data science veterans and are eminently employable elsewhere. As it works towards a target of 150 data science staff (100 in London and 50 in Toronto), HSBC has begun a graduate recruitment programme focused on bachelors students, masters students and PhDs. Last year, there were 2,000 applicants for 35 places, split between the UK and Canada.
Sattler says hiring decisions are based on technical and mathematical aptitude, but also on interpersonal skills. "We want a well-balanced team. Someone might not get the top grade at maths, but they might have really good softer skills and bring diversity of thought. One of the things we're finding is that being able to tell a story, to give the data a face and to communicate to the customer is very important for the adoption of the products. For this, we need people with a broad range of skills, not just mathematics, and computer science, but also communication skills."
Now that the data lake has been filled, Sattler and Teixera and the team are moving on to the next stage of the project - moving the data to the cloud and collaborating with external firms. HSBC has signed four data parternships in three months, the most recent being with Element AI, a Montreal-based artificial intelligence firm whose algorithms are being applied to the bank's data pool. There's talk, too, of opening new innovation labs in Hong Kong and India.
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