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By Sean Farrington, UK MD, RVP Northern Europe at Qlik

When it comes to having a competitive nature, the financial services industry is leading the way. Whether it’s banks competing against banks, insurance companies versus insurance companies or even colleagues against colleagues, this industry constantly strives to be the best. The good news is, when handled correctly, this competition can be great for customers – after all, the more financial services companies can compete with each other, the more they need to aim to provide the best services and rates to get more business.

So what can financial service and banking institutions do to make sure they are tapping into this competitiveness?  How can some institutions differentiate themselves from others and ensure they are leading their market? The key lies in their data and, most importantly, in taking steps to guarantee that it is being used in the most effective way possible.

While many financial services institutions globally are using some form of business intelligence or data analytics, many aren’t taking as much advantage of it as they could be. A lot of these companies have the technology in place to manage risk, meet regulatory compliance, spot growth opportunities and increase margins. However, it’s often the case that these data sets are hosted in silos, with each department only looking at its own data – and only certain people in each department having access to it. This data is also often found lurking in Excel spreadsheets, which can be great for working out equations and formulas, but are often stored in separate files, with little scope for cross reference or gaining a true picture of what’s going on.

By moving to agile data visualisation and analytics applications, organisations are able to reduce the time their employees spend on aggregating data and allow them to shift their focus on exploring the data and making better decisions. The organisations that do this not only save time, but also unlock new realisations and unlimited potential from their data.

Today’s winners in the financial services industry are finding ways to effectively leverage their data through data discovery, to make data interactive and therefore help users explore their data. With data discovery, it’s not just about finding new answers; it’s about finding new questions and new hypotheses. By eliminating wasteful, non-value added work such as time spent on aggregating reports, users can free themselves from data bottlenecks, and instead focus their efforts on analysis and decision making. As a result organisations become smarter and solve problems faster.

In addition, winning organisations are giving more employees access to data. Why limit access to only certain people, when you can be tapping into the competitive nature of the industry and giving everyone across the business access to information that’s relevant to them? While some sets of data will be sensitive in a bank, there’s a lot to be gained from opening up non-sensitive data across departments, so it can be cross-referenced and analysed by a number of employees. With open data on an easy-to-use platform, employees are free to explore information, making discoveries as they go. We often find that the best insights aren’t the ones employees set out to find, but rather those they stumble across while investigating the information at their fingertips.

With the financial services industry thriving on the art of competition, you can see how employees within the sector would relish the gamification trend that’s becoming prevalent in so many business systems. If employees are going to be naturally competitive, then financial institutions should make sure they are harnessing this and providing them with systems that fully embrace gamification and turn data exploration into a competition. This needn’t just be against other institutions – if they give employees software that can help them analyse data themselves and find the best insights first, then this is a way of supporting their competitive nature against their colleagues – challenging them to get the insight that will be of the best benefit to the business first. Ultimately, if employees are harnessing their competitive instinct to drill into data and get a view of market changes in a timely fashion, then they are putting their organisation in a great position ahead of their competitors. If your employees want to compete, encourage it. Don’t just have them battling out against other organisations – give them the tools to ‘play’ against each other internally and find the most helpful information first.

It’s natural for us to want to compete but, in the financial services industry, this competition is rife. If these organisations are able to facilitate better, faster decisions and arm employees with the correct platforms to turn this into a game, then they suddenly find themselves on route to success with data analysis, all in for the best insights before your competitors – internal or external – beat you to it.