David Charnley, NatWest Group Head of Transformation and Strategy


With nearly two decades of experience working at NatWest Group, David Charnley, head of transformation and strategy at the financial services giant, knows better than ever what it takes to transform systems and services to create great new experiences for customers.

Charnley joined the bank in 2005 after starting his career with consultancy giant Accenture. During his time with NatWest, he held a variety of roles. He became Head of Transformation for Data Analytics in 2019 and his role expanded to his current position in 2020. Charnley says he has stayed so long because of the firm’s ambitions and ethos.

“It has a real sense of purpose and tries to put the customer at the center of everything it does,” he says. “The culture of the bank is productive and healthy. When you come to work every day, you want to be challenged.

“You want to do really interesting work, but You want to like the people you work with, and you want to be in a place where you enjoy your interactions. And when you do that, the work you produce is better.”

Building internal data efficiency

Charnley’s work encompasses two main strands. The first is to define, agree and syndicate a data strategy for the NatWest Group. The other half of his job is to ensure the bank executes a consistent transformation program that delivers an agreed data strategy and a series of related business outcomes. Throughout this remit, no two days are the same, says Charnley.

“I can be 500 feet down, trying to help my team, my program manager, our technicians and our engineers solve challenges with technology delivery, governance or adoption and create a particular aspect of the business,” he said.

“Or I can go up to 20,000 feet, talk to 200 of our senior leaders about where we want to take the bank and how data powers the digital experience, or talk to our group executive committee about the next wave of investments that we – together . want to do our business.”

Charnley said one of his major achievements over the past few years has been Help establish the NatWest Data Academy. This award-winning facility allows everyone at the bank to learn more about data. The academy offers a variety of courses – some entry-level, some going deeper. In partnership with Udacity, NatWest offers nano-degrees for its engineers and data scientists. The firm also works with Datacamp to offer entry-level courses.

“On the one hand, it could be for someone who is brand new to data and who sits in a practice or a function outside of data analysis but wants to become more data literate and understand how to use or interpret data,” says Charnley.

“At the other extreme, it could be someone who has 20 years in data analytics as a data scientist or data engineer and who wants to get the next qualification or understand a new platform or a new technology.”

Providing a single customer view

Charnley says another key achievement since taking on his current role has been consolidating all of the bank’s treasury data. A single view of customers The information it serves can cover a range of areas, from reference data to personal details and insights into transactions, balances and interactions.

“All the data can be used together to ensure personalized recommendations, marketing personalization, pricing and anti-fraud measures, which help keep our customers safe and secure,” he said.

“We can complete all of that work through our data ecosystem, whether through application programming interfaces or streaming directly to other services.”

“We are able to offload all the data to Snowflake for analysis to get a really deep and rich picture of our customers’ behavior”

David Charnley, NatWest Group

Charnley says most of the efforts have taken place in the past 18 months, and most of those initiatives are taking place in the cloud. using the bank Snowflake as its data integration platform And the technology is helping his team develop new services and experiences for NatWest customers.

“We were able to offload all the data to Snowflake for analysis to get a really deep and rich picture of our customers’ behavior,” he says. “And increasingly, customers are using it through our digital proposition to manage their own data, so they can change their address, change their mobile, change their statement preferences and more.”

Charnley’s team continues to work with Snowflake to build the bank’s cloud platform and give the rest of the business the scale it needs. Over the next 12 months, the two partners will work together to migrate NatWest’s legacy on-premise data estate to Snowflake.

“This work will mean all of our enterprise data is available to our business users and our engineers on the platform,” he said. “So, we’re really excited about what this will deliver – it’s going to be a faster time to market, better performance and ease of use for all of our data engineers who are new to the technology.”

Making the most of the cloud

Charnley says Snowflake technology has helped transform the way data-led operations work at the bank. NatWest has over 100 million records that can be processed in less than four seconds with the Snowflake engine.

The bank also boasts a 60% increase in data-modeling productivity using Snowflake and other cloud-enabled tools. Business intelligence specialist Tableau and thoughtspot. This platform layer will allow Charnley’s team to create more data-led innovation for the bank. So, what will they want to do in the next few years?

Charnley says it’s difficult to provide a succinct response, simply because of the sheer scale of the work his team is undertaking.

“That’s a really hard question to answer — not because I don’t have examples, but because we have so many,” he says. “There are so many strands and so many things we want to pursue.”

At a basic level, Charnley says a bank’s data strategy has three main components – championing customer-centricity, leveraging its data for social good and scaling and optimizing a data-driven bank.

“We have ambitions in each of those three areas, but what we’ll focus on is building that 360-degree customer view and plugging that into our top 40 customer journeys,” he says. “We have been integrated with about 20 people so far. We’ve got another 20 to do over the next 12 months or so.”

Creating new customer services

Charnley says the data his team is collecting, sorting and making available to businesses will allow the firm to provide better client-facing services in the future.

“Data and analytics are processes that help us achieve our goals,” he says. “We’re building our decision-making engine, which provides personalized, timely and relevant prompts to help customers meet their needs.”

Charnley’s team keeps a close eye on data-led innovation, and he says machine learning is a really important component of those efforts. The bank is working with Amazon Web Services to deliver its first machine-learning platform.

The bank is investing £1bn annually and £3bn over three years in technology, Charnley said, 80% of which is driven by digital and data programmes. “We could not provide all these ambitions without an investment – and our spending on the cloud is critical,” he said. “We’re fundamentally re-engineering engineering.”

That investment is already paying dividends. Whereas building a new data science platform could once take 40 days, those services can now be built in 24 hours. Charnley says these projects are helping to increase customer engagement and improve the experience.

“We’ve used and built machine-learning models to combat fraud, fight financial crime and identify customers who need help or are in trouble”. “We’ve used machine learning to understand a customer’s lifetime value and help them predict what they need, sometimes before they even know it.”

Looking towards sustainable development

Charnley says his team is also embracing innovation to use the data it collects to develop projects it calls “social good.”

The analytics team is developing emissions models to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and help executives think about the broader impact of the bank’s activities. “Our investments in climate analysis help deliver our ambition to support the UK economy towards net-zero carbon emissions targets,” he said.

When it comes to customer-facing operations, there’s NatWest Partnered with carbon-tracking specialist CoGo to add a feature in its banking app that allows customers to see the carbon emissions associated with their daily spending, as well as tips on how to go green. Users can log their commitments and behavior changes.

The bank enrolled 250,000 customers in the first trial of the mobile-banking feature. The average user saves about 11 kg of emissions per month by making behavioral changes that use less carbon, such as composting, reducing meat consumption, or switching utility providers.

If this behavior were replicated among NatWest’s 8 million customers who use the mobile app, it would save more than a billion kilograms of emissions a year, the equivalent of planting 17 million trees. Charnley says this innovation shows the type of sustainability-focused projects his team wants to pioneer in the future.

“We’re the first UK bank to have a carbon tracker in our mobile-banking app,” he says. “It’s given thousands of consumers the opportunity to see their carbon footprint and, critically, take action to help reduce that footprint. We’re at the start of a long journey, but we’ve already taken some big steps.”



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