Super-user who helps data and IT co-operate

John Halpin is at the heart of the major change programme within The Co-Operative Financial Services. As it moves into a new future, he explains to David Reed how personal and career history combine to make the job possible.

Revelling in the job title “marketing superuser”, it would be easy to imagine John Halpin of The Co-Operative Financial Services goes to work wearing a cape. When you hear he is part of the Banking Transformation Programme, images of quick changes in phone boxes spring to mind.

While acknowledging how grand the title sounds, Halpin is in fact a level-headed and pragmatic data practitioner. Discovering he is an Everton fan certainly puts paid to ideas of any super powers. Yet he does possess a very rare combination of technology, data and business skills and the projects he has been involved with at the business are extremely impressive.

“We are replacing our core banking platform and I am responsible for getting the marketing requirements in,” explains Halpin. “I have full authority to ensure we get the benefits aligned to this huge change programme – this covers the full remit of CRM strategy.”

This gives Halpin two lines of reporting. The first is to the marketing director, to ensure that marketing strategy is linked to the banking platform programme. “I also have a line into the business change director to act as the marketing expert on all aspects of the programme. An example would be, do we want to have real-time sales prompts on our e-banking site and, if so, what are the marketing benefits?” he explains.

Halpin has already helped pioneer more than ten data-driven processes as part of a three-year customer management and data project at the company. One of these projects, Inbound Next Best Activity, involved the insight team model scoring the full bank customer base, applying business contact rules and then sending this to the inbound call centre. This results in a series of sales prompts, from 12 scenarios available, appearing on screen when a customer calls in. This is credited with creating a 15 per cent incremental uplift in sales.

It was this programme that lured Halpin to CFS in 2007. “The bit that I really liked was that they were at the start of a major CRM project that had been budgeted for and I thought I could positively impact this,” he recalls.

In many ways, it brings together all of the skills sets which he has accumulated over his career. Studying Modern European History at University may not seem like the obvious starting point, although Halpin jokes that, “there is a strong numeric element with all those dates to remember!”. Nor was joining the RAF as an officer, which he decided was not for him after about a month.

Things started to get moving when he moved into IT programming where he learned how to code and deal with large volumes of data. By ten years ago, he had reached middle management level in IT. “The company I worked for at the time, Vernons Football Pools, then decided to create a new role – database marketing manager. Because I knew the data structures and the packaged software we were using (Business Objects) I applied for the job and got it,” he notes.

His current role involves a massively expanded sphere of activity. Insights and performance reporting are delivered to product teams, data protection input is given to legal and compliance, campaign selection modelling support is given to risk, and new CRM ideas are given to the strategy team.

“I tell the business about the power of database marketing. I like to think my mantra is ‘information equals profit’ . It’s my job to communicate this all the time at all levels within the organisation,” says Halpin.

While CFS does have a data-driven culture, Halpin says that it was slow off the mark in putting its data to use, although it is now moving in the right direction. “We have set up a Data Governance Committee which encompasses the full data view and includes colleagues from risk, compliance, marketing, IT and internal operations. We also have dedicated data quality people as well. I’d like to think the executive understand the importance of data,” he says.

Even so, data is not a “sexy” subject and can sometimes struggle to gain resources. To counter this, Halpin uses facts from the data to show a good v bad picture explaining why the backing is needed. With CFS merging with Britannia, as well as introducing a new banking platform, there are plenty of challenges fighting for that resource.

Just as the banking transformation takes up 80 per cent of his time at work, three children take up most of his leisure time acting as “family taxi”. But when there is a chance to follow his favourite football team, the history background comes in useful. As Halpin admits: “I’m old enough to remember when we used to win the league!”

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