In January 2020, Marion Leslie assumed the role of Head Financial Information at SIX. Previously, the British- Australian dual citizen had worked for 25 years at Refinitiv, formerly Thomson Reuters, in various business areas and leadership positions. In her last role, Leslie managed that company’s enterprise business, which included delivering real-time data feeds, analytics, data management, and distribution platforms. She also spent four years in Bangalore, India, where she built Refinitiv’s operational data business with 5,000 staff from the ground up. Leslie holds a post-graduate certificate in education in French and German from the University of Cambridge. She was nominated in the Cranfield University Female FTSE 100 Women to Watch Board Report in 2017, and in 2014 she won the Award for Achievement at the Women in Banking and Finance Awards.
You’ve been specializing in financial information for some time. What has changed the most over the years?
I took my first steps in the financial market data business as a data analyst at Refinitiv, collecting data on the Swiss, Austrian, and German bond markets. A job in data was not really understood back then, let alone seen as an attractive career path. I never thought that this experience would be the starting point of an international career. Today, skills in data are highly sought after across all sectors as all companies strive to use their data assets to improve their performance.
Data is particularly important for the financial markets. It’s the fuel that drives them. Without data there’s no trading, no investment, no risk management, and no compliance. Where data and technology meet is where the magic happens. Data science, discovery and exploitation of new data sets, digitization, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will transform our industry.
What role does SIX play in this ecosystem?
It makes no sense for each and every financial institution to source the same data multiple times over. While SIX takes care of providing well-connected data and valuable insights, our clients can concentrate on their core business. As one of the world’s leading providers of financial data, we’re an essential link in the global financial value chain.
Our clients are under cost pressure, but need to innovate, digitize their businesses, and meet new customer demands. It’s our role to provide frictionless data services that enable them to do that, and we’re in an ideal position to do so. SIX helps financial institutions to better serve their customers, assess risk, and enhance returns.
How important is alternative data in this?
With increasing investor demand for ethical investing and with the progression of data science and innovation, there is no dispute that alternative data, especially ESG data, will continue to gain importance. However, it is important that this data is connected to core reference data. Otherwise, it’s meaningless and leads to data scientists who are busy cleaning data rather than analyzing it.
The cost of managing data is four to eight times that of acquiring it. So, it’s no wonder companies are continually looking for more efficient ways to make greater use of their data assets. By providing data that’s relevant to our clients’ business operations, we prevent data scientists from becoming data janitors.
What goals have you set for your first year at SIX?
I have three goals: to improve customer satisfaction, to boost our performance, and to develop a growth strategy based on our solid foundations. We’ll build on our great partnerships with our clients, our comprehensive datasets, and our world-class expertise. The key to delivering even better services and support to our clients is the SIX Spirit – our culture and values – as well as our focus on innovation, service, quality, and compliance.
“Build on comprehensive datasets.” Can you elaborate on that?
A client recently told me that high-quality data was the core of her business. She said she couldn’t use the data if it wasn’t rock-solid. I totally understand. Without great data, you don’t get great answers. We cannot take our eyes off that. And as data gets used in new ways, we need to understand that the definitions of “quality” and “fit for purpose” will change. Data science uses data on a scale that tests it to its core. This is completely different from more traditional use cases for data.
By way of another example, regulators are holding financial institutions to account for the quality of the data used for regulatory reporting. They expect them to have a good understanding of the origin of the data. So it’s not surprising that we’re seeing so many more Chief Data Officers.
Why is the origin of the data relevant?
The concept of data lineage is becoming ever more important. Data gets manipulated as well as transformed many times, and the financial crisis has moved the focus on effective risk management as well as data governance.
In a survey we conducted, almost two-thirds of the companies said poor data quality was a big problem. This is a staggering finding considering how fundamental data quality is to the day-to-day running of financial markets.
Financial institutions are in need of a “data passport” to provide accreditation for the quality of the data and to track the journey of the data back to its origin. We at SIX believe that the provenance and traceability of data have never been more relevant.
The need for reliable regulatory data has exploded in recent years. How do you see this trend affecting SIX in the future?
Clients have told me that they appreciate the work SIX has done to stay ahead of regulations and to provide compliance services. We are proud of the leading role we’ve taken in interpreting new regulations and allowing our clients to manage them seamlessly and with confidence.
Every new regulation results in new data requirements. We make sure we understand those requirements, and integrate the data fields needed into our services, easing the workflow and reducing overhead costs for our clients.
The data business has a global reach. How important is the Swiss quality label?
Reputations are slowly built and quickly lost. We work hard to maintain our reputation for quality services that are mission-critical to our clients. We know it’s a real differentiator.
As a global business, we can only lay claim to the Swiss quality label by delivering a high-quality data experience, no matter where our clients are. To do that, we have to be clear about what our clients really need and expect. They’re at the center of everything. We’ll continue to make it our mission to help them innovate, stay compliant, and increase customer value through data.
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