‘When you find someone passionate about data, keep hold of them’

Simon Kaffel, head of data and analysis at Zurich, has been in his role for a year after a long stint at Sky. Lucy Handley talks to him about how he is building a data strategy for the business.

simon kaffel

Marketing Week (MW): When you start a new job with a blank sheet of paper, what do you do first?

Simon Kaffel (SK): It is a big shift from where I was previously at Sky. Zurich is an interesting organisation. It is very established and it has a huge history. [Yet] it is almost quite young in its approach to the use of data from a marketing perspective.

One of the things that really appealed to me with this role was that they said: ‘Here you go Simon, here is a blank sheet of paper, make the most of what we’ve got.’ So that was a really interesting challenge for me.

I spent 11 years at Sky and the thought of taking a new job was quite daunting. I was quite fortunate that I have also done some consulting, so I am able to do a lot of fact finding and learn very quickly about organisations. Zurich and insurance is a new language and a whole new approach to operating in business for me, so that was interesting. I am still learning – there are a load of acronyms, a load of terms I’d never heard before, for example.

At Sky I was focused on the UK and Republic of Ireland and now I’ve got a lot of internal clients around the globe with very different internal cultures.

The focus at Zurich has not previously been on using data to improve our knowledge of you as a customer. That is the new focus and this is where my job comes in – it is a new role.

MW: How are you creating a data strategy for the business?

SK: Zurich has data assets around the globe and has had no consistent approach. It had been very much focused around delivering products for its customers, that sold themselves to a degree.

A data asset could be a file of customers, or a file of prospects that have been purchased. It could be a database that is very robust, that provides the operating platform for the entire business, or it could be a data mart [part of a data store] that enables us to do a specific function.

There is now a shift [towards looking at] who our customers are and how we can tailor our offer to them, and towards driving the understanding of our customers’ behaviour and attitudes. This is where I come in. Looking at a full range of capabilities – from what data

we are capturing and making sure it is the right data to drive the value we need, through to ensuring we are storing it in the right way and looking at how it is used in the end.

There is a certain amount of selling that needs to happen. People are aware of these assets but they are not necessarily aware of the value behind them, so before we can get a huge capital expenditure on a database, or a customer relationship management system, let’s prove that there is value in doing certain things. In some countries, we are not doing anything, so let’s start to prove the commercial value of the data we have and then we can start to push for more expenditure.

MW: How do you work with the data the company has globally?

SK: Definitions are a real challenge with the global role and so is not speaking the same language. A term such as ‘customer’ might seem like an easy thing to articulate but actually it isn’t.

So how can we manage that across the globe?

I don’t know the full answer to that yet. A customer could be somebody who has taken out a policy for their children or on behalf of their parents: so who actually is the customer? Is it the person you are speaking to or the end beneficiary of the policy? Ultimately, we will deal with both but the end decision has to be made at a board level as something that would potentially get reported to the City. We have to make sure that everybody across the board is bought in – from finance to legal to the directors in Zurich.

The real challenge is understanding what we have got around the globe, whether legally we can use the data within each country and whether we have articulated at the point of capturing data how and why we are going to use it.

In Argentina, I was keen to enrich the data we held to do an analysis project and was told there was some data readily available, which would allow us to identify the cars people drive, the ages of the children in the family, the method they use to pay for their financial services. [So I said] OK let’s just make sure that we can use this data. We did nothing with that data before getting the legal guys to look at that situation.

It is a steep learning curve for me – I know the eight principles of the UK’s Data Protection Act like the back of my hand, but there are quite a fewmore out there [globally].

MW: How are you working with marketers in the business?

SK: It is fantastic that we now have this marketing focus on data. I have a chief executive who is now talking to chief marketing officers about data quality and management. We’ve got people who would normally talk about brands and advertising talking about databases and campaign management software. There is very much a shift towards customer-centric data management.

I am focusing on enabling commercial people to make decisions based on data that they have managed themselves. Rather than having some complex analysis that requires deep coding, I want to give the marketing people the tools to make decisions with simple software from which they can run reports, analysis and build models.

So far it has been very well accepted, my boss [CMO Nick Wright] has been demonstrating the tool to all of the global CMOs. He showed it to people in Dubai and everyone said: “I didn’t realise you could do that.” It is as if a light has been shone on data and people realise what you can do with it.

MW: Can you give some examples of what you have changed in the past year?

SK: We are performing particularly well in Latin America. The guys in Buenos Aires are really keen to use the data assets. Zurich’s IT team in Argentina has built a single customer view and they are saying, ‘we have done this, now what do we do with it?’.

I am working closely with Celerity, a company that I’ve worked with in the past, to run some analysis on this single customer view, the results of which are going to be circulated around the business. It is a big shift. We are running a pilot on some marketing automation software that is enabling the guys in Argentina to use the data in new ways.

MW: Not many people would say they always knew they wanted to work in data. How did you get into it?

SK: Each of my degrees touched on data. After studying, I worked at NatWest, where we had a software tool and my manager decided to send me on a course to learn about it, so that I could add some value to what she was doing.

My role then was very much focused on telephone and PC banking. I went on this course and we were given an exercise to do in 15 minutes, but while the course tutor was talking, I did the exercise. When I was back at base, I was moved to a database marketing role.

Then I became a database marketing manager at Sky, starting off when it was migrating its platform from analogue to digital. That was a challenge, as we had a number of customers we had to continually communicate with to explain that their TV signal was going to go off. We ended up with around 3.5 million customers that were all migrating across with very few dropping off. We then started to investigate the use of data to personalise communication, using socio-demographic data to tailor it.

We had to hit 10 million customers by 2010, which was very challenging, but we did it with a few months to spare.

We also launched broadband without very much time to prepare the data and the platforms. But we had support from a strong agency.

MW: What advice do you have for those who want to advance their careers in data?

SK: The great thing is that there is more focus on data so I am hoping that there is going to be more fresh blood coming into the industry. But when I was at graduate school learning all about databases and coding, I turned around to my lecturer and said: ‘Why are you telling me this? I am never going to need to learn about databases’.

If you were to ask the majority of data professionals with at least 10 years’ experience whether they started out thinking ‘when I grow up I’m going to do data’, none of them will say that this is what they wanted to do.

The data world is very small, so networking is fundamental. It is incredible how quickly you can build up a good relationship with people and a good reputation with regards to the use of data.

Quite often people get into data because they like to code. They like to sit behind their desks. They like to tell you that the number is seven. That is all very well, but what does seven mean?

The real challenge for data people, who tend to be introverted, is to put themselves out in front of a large audience. [They need to] think about what the end client really wants.




Simon Kaffel’s data challenges

1. There are discussions about cookies and how they are used but the legislation around data use is more fundamental than that. It is about making sure that when we gather information, we are doing so with the right permissions and we are using and handling that data in a legal and ethical way.

2. People are becoming more aware of the value of their data. During face-to-face research scenarios, people are very guarded about what they tell you. With social media on the other hand, their attitude is: ‘Hey have whatever you like, here you go.’ It has given rise to a new way of capturing data and it is giving us more information than we could ever ask for. However, we still have to make sure we use it in an ethical and legal way.

3. There is the challenge of finding good quality people. When I was recruiting at Sky, I used to get a hell of a lot of CVs through and I am very fortunate that the people I ended up working with there were fantastic. We really had some strong data practitioners – people who were passionate about Sky as a brand and also about data.

The words passion and data don’t really sit together in most people’s vocabulary, but actually if you find somebody who is passionate about it, they want to do it well and they enjoy it.

There aren’t a huge number of those people when you consider that data is now being spoken about as the lifeblood of an organisation. So when you find someone who is passionate about data, keep hold of them.

Simon Kaffel on…

…how marketers can work with data


The work I am doing is empowering marketers, focusing on the value behind what we are producing. [So I ask whether they] want to give an analyst four weeks to build a complex model that will deliver a revenue of

a certain amount, whereas we could

use somebody who is more of a marketer to ‘push a button’ and it will deliver a model that will provide this amount of revenue.

[We might find that we produce]fractionally less, but [we have to consider whether it is worth the] four weeks to do the really complex stuff or half a day to do something that is simple and effective.

It is all about understanding what it is that somebody is after, making sure you understand where they are coming from, why they are asking the question and providing value that can then be translated into something that is commercial and actionable – that is what we are pushing for.

….global legislation

Zurich is a very conscious organisation and will not do anything that contravenes any laws with regard to data. Anything we do is hugely secure and is very data conscious. From a legal perspective, we have very different requirements [in each country], so in the German market there are very strong constraints over the use of data for market research for example, but that may not be the case in another country.

This is a global role. At Sky I focused on the UK and Republic of Ireland but now I’ve got a lot of clients around the globe with very different internal cultures, so South America versus Germany, for example – and Germany is very structured [in its approach to data].

Latin America including Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico are all growing and give us great opportunities to maximise not just our direct marketing but our face to face communication.



The click moment

Michael Barnett

If success is random, as the author of The Click Moment claims, can anything be systematically done to create it? In truth, a combination of the right kind of people, outstanding ideas and measured risk will form the cornerstone of a successful business.


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