Being the bank for Europe’s future means becoming a truly digital bank. Embedding digital and data across our bank is also crucial to implementing our new lean operating model.
We will invest €2.8 billion in digital and data over the next three years to transform our technology.
Our new operating model will move core competencies in house, delivering a new way of working centered around clients and common platforms. We will take back ownership of our core competencies and move key skillsets – product managers and developers – into our organization, under our control, supervision and risk frameworks.
We will reorganise into three global platforms: technology, data and business.
These will drive our overarching group technology development – and the countries will deliver the last mile products, tailored to their requirements.
In the long-term, we will have the skills and the technology to create a seamless digital offering that can exceed the expectations of our clients.
We will move from being digital to living digital.
Twyla: Hello and welcome to Conversations Unlocked, the UniCredit podcast and your gateway to industry insights. I'm your host Twyla Doone and together we will hear from leading experts from UniCredit and beyond on how they navigate challenges and their tips to unlock success. Handing us the key this week is Marco Bressan. Marco is the Group Data & Intelligence Officer at UniCredit. He's a renowned data scientist who joined UniCredit in February 2021 bringing a wealth of experience in data-driven transformation to help the Group expand its use of data, analytics and AI, as part of its new digitalisation or "datalisation" strategy. That experience includes senior roles at multiple companies including Chief Data Scientist at BBVA and Chief Product Officer at Satellogic, as well as being the recipient of a Digital Masters Award for Excellence in transformational use of data. His works and research have resulted in over 30 scientific publications and 14 patents.
Today, Marco is going to use his digital and data dynamism to help us answer the questions: "What is datalisation?", "How is it going to revolutionise banking?" and "What does digitalization mean to UniCredit?". Marco, welcome to Conversations Unlocked.
Marco: Thank you, Twyla, thank you for having me here.
Twyla: It's a real pleasure and a real honour to have somebody who has so much expertise. So thank you for joining us. We've heard a lot about what data is, whether that be on our mobile phones or online or elsewhere, but before we start the conversation on what datalisation is and how it can be used for UniCredit, could you give me a brief explanation of what we mean when we say data, what types of data do we work with and what do we do with it?
Marco: What we need to understand is that today almost every business is already an information business, so you can't even compete in the market if you don't have the right amount of information. To a certain extent, the information that you have about the business, your environment and your clients, is a key enabler of the business. And that information is in the data. Two implications are relevant for us and for any business in general: number one is we need to use data to learn, we need to use that data to do things better, to be better ourselves, to better understand our clients, their needs, and the market. The second one is, that because data is becoming so valuable, in many cases it's accurate data that is the product. So in the case of banking from providing more traditional financial services we are seeing a large growth in terms of advisory services and advisory services basically are financial services where data is the product.
Twyla: It is so helpful to have a visualisation when you talk about information. So why are you so passionate about data? Why do you think other people should be excited about it? Because it can come across as quite a dense topic.
Marco: I hope not. To start, rather than being passionate about data, I'm passionate about learning and data is key, information is key to learning, but from my everyday work perspective, I think we have huge opportunities ahead. Data is becoming ubiquitous thanks to digital and there is a huge challenge in terms of the potential of manipulating data, and ethical limitations of artificial intelligence - machines that learn from data. So there are challenges in automation as well. We are starting to make automatic decisions that we need to be able to explain to our clients, to our partners and so forth. There are a lot of interesting things coming with data that make it fascinating to us - I mean the broad community of data practitioners within UniCredit, which is huge. Finally, I truly believe the data can change the world and I truly believe that we have some huge challenges ahead for the planet, in terms of food production, energy production, population, environmental challenges and so forth. We've seen it with a pandemic, we're seeing the same with some of the geopolitical events that we have today. In order to address those challenges, the first thing that you need to do, the starting point, is knowing where you are, knowing information and implications. I do believe that data can change the world and this concept is fairly new in that sense.
Twyla: So there are so many different facets of how you can use that data, what implications that use of data will have. As Group Data & Analytics Officer, what are the ways UniCredit serves clients and communities across Europe and how do you use data to do that?
Marco: As I said, one of the main benefits of data is its usage for learning. As an organization, we need to learn in order to provide better services, to be better, to be faster, and in order to be smarter in the decisions that we make we need to use data. So, I would say that the first thing is data-driven decision-making, which I mentioned about grounding your decisions on concrete evidence. Right now, the challenge that we have is if we want all colleagues in UniCredit to ground their decisions on evidence, the first step that we need to make is to make information accessible to all our colleagues. I always say: if I manage that everybody and everyone in this Bank has access to all the data they need in order to make the decisions and go about their everyday work in the right way then I'm done. Then there are a lot of things to consider when you're developing digital services at scale. First, using data to personalise the experience of the millions of clients that we have and focus on the key aspects of what we need to deliver. The last one which is also important is all the benefits around operational efficiencies. In many ways what we want is really not to use data to improve decisions, but actually to use data to eliminate decisions in some cases. Because if you have the right data, the data has the right quality, you just have a typical decision that you would want to eliminate, why would you want a man-in-the-middle to decide whether somebody gets a note or not? You can do that with data and focus on the important stuff.
Twyla: I love how you say that if you create a library of data where everybody can access exactly the information that you want and at the time that they need it, then your job is done. That's a good goal set.
I suppose this is also one of those topics in UniCredit that has equal weighting and importance both when you're looking internally at how data is used and helpful for the employees as well as how it can be also helpful to the clients and that that's a really interesting relationship. So, obviously, we've talked about how it streamlines but UniCredit's digital strategy is more than just automating processes, it's about living digital. So how does UniCredit's plan to live digital set it apart from other banks?
Marco: I think living digital is a really interesting concept from many standpoints. Take for instance, the tools that exploded during the pandemic like videoconference, but also food delivery - everybody had the food delivered at home at least once a week - and e-commerce to a large extent. All these are enabled by a digital transformation and in that sense I think this is what we mean by living digital. A lot of the tools, the interactions, and the enablement that digital provides are already there. We need to embrace it and make it part of our everyday decisions. I think from that perspective UniCredit has an interesting advantage. I mean, number one we operate in a footprint that is pretty homogeneous from the way we access, from a cultural standpoint, the way we use these tools and then we have a plan where data and digital are essential for product-centricity and within that the digital experience. I think we're well off into actually living digital.
Twyla: You mentioned challenges and obviously being very far down the line and living digital you must have come across some challenges and your team must have done as well. Could you talk me through some of those challenges and how you've overcome them?
Marco: Well, there's a ton of challenges. One of the things that one is tempted to do looking at so many things going on, is to be overly ambitious in what one wants to cover in the initial stages and I think we need to be very cautious. I would say that one of the challenges we have is "start by home". I receive people that come and say "Look at these third-party data sources that we can use to improve our service". My default response "Let's first learn how to capture the value and how to manage our own data. If we manage to do that and we're good at that, then we can incorporate other data. Then there are also the cultural and social organisational challenges, which at the end of the day are always the important ones. The main one probably affecting digital is that we come from an industry that has had a traditional division between the business and the technology. The technology was a provider of certain capabilities to the business. Some companies that are already native digital don't have this kind of division and we need to evolve towards that. So that's to me one of the huge challenges.
Twyla: So, it has to become part of your DNA as an organisation. Obviously, that is a really huge responsibility to take on and overcome a challenge. What will the changes mean for employees at UniCredit and how will they revolutionise people's roles within the Bank?
Marco: I profoundly believe that the digital contract between employees and employers has changed in a very fundamental way. What I mean by digital contract - when you sign a contract you're signing your intentions or expectations on the other party and not only what it is written down when they hire you and how much they would pay or whatever right? The expectations that the employee has of the employer are essentially different. What an employee expects from the employer is that the employer will help him or her become a better professional overall, not specifically for the purpose of that company. So employees expect that there is a specific purpose and they have their own purpose and they expect an intersection between their values and those of their organization, in terms of diversity, social commitment, and environment. But also, as a company that needs to change, we expect employees to be able to adapt, to learn, to embrace that change.
So I think that the responsibilities on both sides are evolving. From the company standpoint, I think we need to be better for the employee, we need to help that professional grow and not focus on our own corporate needs, but look at things from the side of the employee. From the employee standpoint, we need to have a commitment and understanding, and a certain level of patience. We have to follow certain values and a purpose, and we have to be willing to change. And one of the most important aspects is precisely living digital. What are the implications that digital and technology will have in our work? We have the obligation as employees to understand those implications and not run away from them, but we have to choose to embrace them, reskilling and advancing ourselves, because it's not only good for the company, but it's also good for us, from a broader environment.
Twyla: It really highlights UniCredit's purpose of empowering communities to progress doesn't it?
There is such a wealth of opportunity here within datalisation, What would you say are the key measures of success? You said your big one is to be able to create this library that everybody can access, but what would you say are the key measures of success?
Marco: I think the accessibility of the information is key. The kind of democratisation of information for decision-making is key. But the single measure of success at an individual and organisation level is the capability to learn and adapt. I think this is the only one. The world is changing really fast, so "Are you able to change as fast as the world is changing?". The example that I always like to give is if you look at the knowledge that a software developer has out of the university 5 or 10 years into their career, whatever they learnt in the university is already obsolete. So I cannot hire somebody based on the courses that the person did in the university because the software programming language which that person learned probably doesn't exist anymore. The only ability that I can consider when hiring, is the ability and willingness to learn. And the same goes for organisations.
Twyla: I could ask you so many more questions, but time, unfortunately, doesn't allow, so please come back. We are asking all of our guests to do a quick-fire round which just gives us a little insight into what makes you tick as a UniCredit leader. So, please, just answer the first thing that comes straight to your head.
Marco: Only one word?
Twyla: Only one word. Ready? Breakfast or lunch?
Marco: Breakfast on the weekends, lunch during the week. That's not only one which works.
Twyla: Spain or Italy?
Twyla: PC or laptop?
Marco Mobile phone.
Twyla: Coffee or tea?
Marco: Morning or afternoon?
Twyla: AI overrated or underrated?
Marco: Both ... absolutely both. Under is miscalculated.
Twyla: Zoom or phone call?
Marco: Probably Zoom.
Twyla: Sitting or standing desk?
Marco: I'd love to try a standing desk, but I have a sitting one.
Twyla: Banking: online or in person?
Marco: Online, only.
Twyla: Thank you so much. The final question we're asking our UniCredit leaders is that we know UniCredit is on a mission to Win. The Right Way. Together., so we want to ask all our guests their top tips for winning. So Marco, in the words of UniCredit's datalization expert, what is your key to winning?
Marco: I think I mentioned it: it is about learning and adapting. Now, one of the things we need to understand is that today the process of learning cannot be limited to what we can do as humans, so we are seeking the support of machines in order to learn for us at a scale. We're delegating some of the learning to machines, but the important thing is that the machines which can learn are those that can make us, humans, smarter and better at our work and good people in many ways. At the individual level, the winning advice that I would give is pretty similar to the one I give to my kids at home, in the same way my grandmother was telling me to learn foreign languages, today we need to learn the language of machines. We need to talk to machines. In the same way you're learning English, Italian or Chinese, learn Python and Java, learn to talk to machines.
Marco: Think of it as a foreign language.
Twyla: Thank you so much it was a pleasure.
Marco: It was a real pleasure, thank you.