Financial institutions are data companies now?

Big data technology is changing the world, not just for internet companies like Facebook and Amazon, but also more traditional companies in the finance area: companies like CitiGroup and Visa. We have gotten used to internet applications that give us a very personal experience, for Gmail users, we see the ads that appear on the sides of the screen that are selected for us based on our emails to friends and family, and for book buyers on Amazon we may even purchase one of the suggested books before we finalise our order. The technology is available (and even free if we choose open source!) to enable these organisations to influence our behaviour through real-time suggestions that are tailored based on information they’ve gathered about us. This information includes not just personal details, but also informaiton about who our friends are and details of our past behaviour, details like the sites we’ve visited.

The technology is well proven and the application to personalisation has been shown to drive greater engagement with these internet companies. What’s interesting now is to see the more traditional companies are making the shift to realise the gold-mine they hold, the information about their customers is a valuable asset, it can be used to deliver value to the customers which could and possibly should lead to increased revenue per customer.

It may be quite a shift for traditional companies to place such a high value on customer information which may be stored in disparate legacy systems. In past years we’ve seen the much vaunted potential of data warehouses result in expensive implementations that lumber along returning valuable analysis if there is enough time to engineer the requirements into the system. The radical shift here is that big data promises to enable companies to get greater value from the data they hold, wihtout the need to rearchitect or even degrade performance of existing databases.

There is great potential and yet there are some significant hurdles to overcome. There are privacy requirements that are even more complex than the legal requirements. Target’s approach to advertising based on past buying behaviour is a well-known case illustrating that it’s not just the legal constraints, there’s also a creepiness factor – it’s just creepy if an organisation knows too much information that’s too personal.

It will be interesting to see more traditional companies realise the value they hold and navigate the known and unknown issues this new capability will encounter. Personally I’d love my mobile provider’s call center to know who I am and not need me to explain it all three or four times in one support call!