Leaders’ Insights: John Carney, Bank of Ireland

8 Sep 2016

John Carney is the head of retail analytics at Bank of Ireland.

John Carney has held this role at Bank of Ireland since July 2016.

Prior to this role he was the global head of data and analytics at Citi, and before that he worked in data at IBM.

He was also the founder and CTO of Prediction Dynamics, a company founded based on work he had carried out during his PhD.

Describe your role and what you do.

I lead a large and rapidly growing team of data scientists, data analysts, engineers and business analysts to deliver analytics and data-driven insights across Bank of Ireland’s retail banking division. This role encompasses traditional business intelligence and reporting, as well as predictive analytics and the development of infrastructure to manage our big data assets. We have a large retail customer base in Ireland, so there are great opportunities to leverage the power of big data for the bank to benefit our customers. Most of our work today is focused on supporting product, marketing and sales teams for operational business decision support, as well as strategic business insights and market intelligence.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

With analytics! At a practical level, I do rely heavily on data to support decision-making with my management team and also to manage our book of work and capacity with predictability and transparency. This was something I learned at Citi, where I held a very similar role before joining Bank of Ireland in July. The big difference at Citi was that I had a large global team that worked across multiple geographies, time zones, cultures and perspectives. This “always on”, multiple time-zone culture requires you to prioritise and organise your working life in a very systematic and structured fashion i.e. with data.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

There has been a lot of change in the retail banking sector over the last five years, as well as innovation and disruption coming from the fintech sector. I think that if you have an inquisitive and adventurous mind, this actually makes the retail banking sector an exciting place to work. At Bank of Ireland, this challenge is fully understood by senior management and is being tackled in a coordinated fashion across several dimensions. One of the key pillars of this is analytics and using data to both manage ourselves in a leaner, more cost-efficient manner but, more importantly, to establish a deeper understanding of our customers and their preferences so that we can service them with a superior customer experience tailored to their preferences and needs.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

In the analytics space, there’s a wealth of innovation and opportunity currently. At Bank of Ireland, we’re capitalising on the technology enablers that facilitate us to scale rapidly with minimal friction. This encompasses platform-as-a-service for big data management in the cloud, as well as machine learning to better help us understand the ‘shape of data’ when volumes are huge and complexity too challenging for traditional statistical models and predictive analytics.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

I studied Computer Science in Trinity College Dublin in the late 1990s and then stayed on to do a PhD focused on the application of machine learning to predictive analytics. After this, I teamed up with some fellow academics and investors to start a company that commercialised this work. I served as the company’s CTO for almost five years in my mid 20s and it is probably this experience that set me on the road to my current career. I learned many things the hard way (at a young age) about the world of business – how to raise capital and sell a vision, how to ramp up and manage a high-performing team, how to truly innovate with technology and also how to bring a new technology product or idea to market. I think this experience helped to accelerate my career in the multinational sector subsequently – firstly at IBM and more recently at Citi.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

No ‘big’ mistakes so far, just a few little ones!

How do you get the best out of your team?

I think it’s very important for leaders to create a ‘safe’ environment for their team to communicate in a positive way and be creative together. Clear direction and vision are also very important – everybody needs to understand the final destination for the team and enjoy the journey!

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

I think this is a real issue in most STEM sectors, but I don’t think there is any easy fix – in most cases this is a societal issue that goes all the way back to how we educate our kids and introduce cultural biases at early ages. On the positive side, I think it is encouraging that most leaders working in STEM sectors today acknowledge the problem and are working to address it in their organisations with diversity initiatives, communities and better policy.

Who is your business hero and why?

In recent times, I think Elon Musk has been very impressive for the sheer breadth and audacity of the entrepreneurial ventures he has successfully pursued. More generally, I admire the Watson father and son team who grew IBM into the first true multinational and tech company: from the 1930s all the way to the early 1990s no other company came even close in terms of technology innovation or contribution to society.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I most recently read the biography of Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin (Charles Dickens: A Life). We’re all familiar with Dickens’ great works, but I think fewer people are aware of the exceptional life he led aside from his writing, and his broader contribution to Victorian society and his deep understanding of the impact technology can have on our working and personal lives.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My iPhone is easily top of the list. I use the Bank of Ireland 365 app, Irish Rail, LinkedIn, Bloomberg, Met.ie, and Google Maps multiple times a day. Next up is Microsoft Outlook and other productivity tools we use at Bank of Ireland. And, finally, I’ve started to use the Dublin city bikes to travel from meeting to meeting across Dublin city centre – a fantastic resource that (in the summer at least!) makes travel in Dublin a pleasure and not a pain.

John Carney is a judge in Irelands inaugural DatSci Awards, which take place in Dublin on 22 September. Visit www.datsciawards.ie or follow @DatSciwards for more information.