Q&A with Dan Kellet, Director of Data Science @CapitalOneUK
First up, could you explain the difference between structured and unstructured data?
A lot of the data we’re used to is structured. If you’ve ever used a spreadsheet with rows and columns, then you’ve seen structured data. Structured data is generally where you’re working with information that’s regular, predictable and in a standard format.
Unstructured data is everything else.
A simple example is free text. Our call centre agents make notes when they’re helping customers over the phone. We analyze these notes and use the insights to spot trends that help us to better support customers.
As you can see, the complexity comes in when you consider that each agent has their own style of writing and uses different words or phrases to describe the same thing. The unpredictable nature of this makes it much trickier to process.
Rich data like images and video take it to another level. Most of us would rather watch a video than read a pages of text, right? But from an analyst’s point of view, extracting useful data from video can be a real challenge.
There’s a lot of analytic software in the market right now, each with its own pros and cons. Do you think there’ll ever be one super programme that does everything?
Ha! In short, no.
I don’t think so. At least not in the near future. There’s just too much complexity, and the needs of different businesses are too diverse for a single bit of software to be able to do it all.
We’re still debating whether open source or proprietary software is best. At Capital One we’ve decided to go down the Open Source road. But I do think there is a strong case for both. And as technology changes, so will we.
Ultimately, it all serves the same purpose – turning data into useful insight. Any analysis, however it’s done, should always stem from wanting solve a problem, or to improve a product or service. You’ve got to understand the problem you want to solve in the first place.
Projects like Capital One’s Growth Labs are a great way to bring big businesses together with startups who are considered to be shaping the future of tech. If your team was a startup, what problem would you try to tackle?
One of the biggest challenges right now is efficiency. So if we were a start-up, I’d be really interested to explore new ways for businesses to understand and translate data in real time.
Up until recently it was OK to work in batches. You know, you might complete a batch of work in a month, or a week – depending on the size of the project.
Now we want answers in a day. An hour. Or in real-time. And that’s where the future is. It’s a big challenge for data scientists. That kind of work takes serious tech, computing power and resource.
Just look at the growth of the Internet of Things. It’s estimated there’ll be around 26 billion devices operational by 2020. Each collecting huge amounts of real time data, some of which will never have been observed before. It’s going to change the way digital businesses operate in big ways.
At Capital One we’re super excited about the potential of new technologies. It’s something we’re heavily invested in. Both because it’s exciting, and because we want our customers to be the first to benefit.
There’s a lot of competition right now for tech talent. Do you think there’s enough talent to go around?
Totally. I think the data science world is flourishing. Schools and universities have recognised the important role of STEM subjects, and we’re starting to see the benefits.
There’s no doubt there’s a lot of competition out there. We’ve done really well to attract some incredibly skilled people, and will continue to do so. A big part of this is the opportunities people get here. We offer people the chance to work on big scale projects, where their work could make real differences to the lives of millions of people.
Looking back on your 15-year career in data science, what’s the one thing you know now that you wish you knew sooner.
That’s a good question.
If I had to pick one thing, I’d say: collaboration. It’s a big part of our success at Capital One. We don’t have any one man research projects. Sure, we have talented people who specialise in particular fields, but we’re not about silo working.
For the magic to happen – you need to bring people together.
Three steps to achieving customer delight with automated predictive analytics.
As President of Mercedes-Benz, Steve Cannon, famously said, “Customer Experience is the new marketing”. Many would not disagree.
Whether you are using Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Effort Score (CES), almost all businesses have customer satisfaction KPIs in place. But how do you know that these measures are useful predictors of behaviour, and more importantly, that they support sales and positive advocacy?
Welcome to CSat 2.0.
By introducing predictive analytics, and in particular automated predictive analytics, you can turn this concept on its head. You can now ask ‘What are the outcomes I am actually looking for?’, and then mine the data to generate the factors which drive those outcomes.
This means that a dynamic propensity model can be achieved for ‘nature’ (the attributes of the customers which predict greater sales and advocacy) and ‘nurture’ (how their customer experience affects these propensities).
In this way, practical indicators can be provided to sales and marketing teams to target the appropriate customers, and prioritise corrective or preventative action. This also has the secondary benefit of optimizing the cost of customer services, as a threshold of spend can be decided based on the desired service levels.
The traditional way of setting all this up would be to bring together predictive analytics software, a bunch of smart data scientists with time on their hands, and of course a hefty budget.
But as this isn’t possible for most businesses, this is where automated predictive analytics comes in. This is a new breed of predictive analytics which does not require pre-defining terms or feature extraction (i.e. the deciding and defining of the variables to use in the analysis). It can be of great assistance in this step, as well as automating the subsequent steps to get to a usable answer quickly, in a matter of minutes rather than weeks or even months (data scientists spend around 80% of their time manually transforming, cleansing and preparing data).
Three steps to success with automated predictive analytics
Step 1: Simplify
The first step is to cluster the Voice of Customer (“VoC”) data from social media, reviews, weblogs, loyalty data, CRM, POS and surveys. Similarly, customers can be clustered by attributes and behaviours. This provides value in itself in terms of insight, and will really help to provide the foundations for further analysis.
Step 2: Predict
Once the data is simplified and aggregated, there are a variety of statistical and machine learning techniques that can take the results and predict what will happen given the mix of events and segments.
Step 3: Recommend
The final step is to recommend prescriptive analytics which present insights which are actionable. This can take various forms such as a traffic light indicator. For example, if the analysis shows a customer who has complained more than twice is 50% more likely to leave, a set of business recommendations can be created to help avoid this, like a pre-emptive outbound call.
Understanding the interdependencies of customer services and sales can bring huge benefit. Predictive analytics, and in particular automated predictive analytics can assist marketers and customer services managers to do the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Welcome to CSat 2.0.
Warwick Analytics is a spin-out from The University of Warwick with proprietary algorithms for automating predictive analytics, even with heterogeneous data. It will be working with Capital One’s Growth Labs on the Capital One accelerator to refine its technology towards this sector and use cases and the teams are excited to develop cutting-edge applications.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Capital One.
A recent study by the FCA has revealed that millions of Brits will still be paying off their current credit card balances in 2026. That’s over ten years away.
A major cause of this is minimum payments. Credit card holders can choose how much they want to pay back each month, as long as they pay a minimum amount to avoid a fee. That minimum can be as low as 1% of the total balance. To put this in context, it would take someone with a credit card balance of £2,000 up to 24 years to pay it off.
Persistent credit card debt is a problem for a growing number of people and it’s clear that credit card companies can be part of the solution.
Capital One are already paving the way in this area. They recently made headlines with a campaign to encourage their customers paying the minimum to increase their monthly repayments. Customers who responded to the campaign upped their monthly repayments by 73% on average, saving themselves hundreds of pounds in the process.
In 2014 I founded Credit Kudos, a technology startup that uses consumer transaction data to build highly accurate and transparent credit score-cards and affordability metrics. This live data can be used to help lenders to better understand their customer’s financial situations.
Credit Kudos founder Freddy Kelly
Over the next ten weeks, I’ll be working with Capital One’s Growth Labs to take the great strides they’re making even further.
The FCA’s guidance endorses behavioural ‘nudges’, but we want to actually predict customer’s ability to repay, enabling fairer credit decisions and maintaining healthy behaviour throughout the credit lifecycle.
Credit scores today are like spot-checks that provide little to no visibility for the consumer. Everyone’s financial situation changes continually, so why shouldn’t credit scoring and evaluation adapt as we do?
Credit Kudos enables a direct link between financial behaviour and lending outcomes. Our process automatically connects to a user’s current account to build a financial health score. This can be used to inform lending decisions, and help give a clearer picture of a customer’s financial health. So rather than missing a payment, we could detect income shocks and allow credit providers to make appropriate allowances on the fly.
How great would it be if your credit card provider could one day offer you a better rate, because it automatically knows you got a promotion?
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Capital One.
For me, this project exemplifies one of the main reasons I joined Capital One in the first place: collaboration. I love the way that everyone here pulls together to create the best possible outcome and best possible product for our customers. It’s a steep learning curve at times. But that’s how you develop.
We’re also currently working on bringing our Online Account Servicing platform in-house. The control is beneficial for a number of delivery reasons, the main one being we can work fast and push forward in this space. Our Agile way of working enables this but, also, not being tied to any third parties when we need to make changes gives us much more freedom.
We work in a genuinely collaborative environment and this, along with our flat structure, makes this a fab place to learn and develop. This is a business where an idea can be born and developed in a matter of a few months – which for a highly regulated financial services company is virtually unheard of.
At its heart, Capital One is a Fintech with a purpose. That purpose is ‘Reimagine Money. Inspire Life’. It's what drives the organisation. It's the perfect marriage of finance and technology. But to bring these two things together in a way that makes a difference, in a way that drives genuine change, you have to have the right people. So Capital One has created a people strategy that delivers for the business as a whole, as well as the individuals in it. Karen Bowes is Capital One's International Vice President, HR. She sees people and the way they mesh – and grow – with the business as being fundamental to the achievement of its goal.
"We really are on a journey here. That in itself is an engaging and attractive message to the kind of minds and people we want to hire. We see ourselves as more than a Fintech. Yes, we strive to make the best use of technology to create better, more innovative and useful products for our customers. But, in doing so, we're achieving our core objective: responsible banking that’s built around customers. We're a Fintech with a purpose – and because we have this sense of purpose, it enables us to craft a unique proposition to the people that work here and those that want to work here.
"I think it's fair to say the financial services industry’s reputation has been badly tarnished over the last few years. In many cases, it's forgotten to put its customers first. That is madness. Conversely, we can realistically say to people that they are, or can be, part of a force for good.
“It makes perfect business sense for us to create products that work for our customers. A business relies on happy customers. But it works from a people perspective too. We have to attract the most intelligent and creative minds if we want to shake things up. We're able to say to these people, you can make a positive difference; you can have a real impact on people's lives; you can work for an organisation that is principled and has integrity. At the same time, you can explore your own potential; you can take control of your career. It's a win-win. Make your journey part of our journey. It's compelling and people are incredibly motivated by it and proud of what they do.
"Attracting the best and brightest talent is essential to any organisation. I think the key difference with us is we focus more on 'fit' and potential. We're just not a tick box or pigeon-holing type of organisation. We can't afford to be. We have to look at things more holistically. Unicorns are rare beasts at the best of times; but we don’t expect one person to be able to embody all of the skills that are needed by themselves. We look at what strengths and what experience we have in a team; then we hire to complement these. It's less about what a person has done; it's more about what they're capable of. How inspiring is that?
“We want to develop our people. They have the curiosity and initiative to explore what's possible; what they have within themselves. We're good at guiding careers, spotting talent, nurturing strengths. But we also believe in handing over the reins too. Make of yourself what you will. We may only have you for a short time so we'll make the most of you and you should make the most of us.
"The way we work together is another major point of difference. We don't do silos; we collaborate. You can see it in our office layout. You can see it in our Agile working methodologies. Everyone has something to offer because everyone is different and has their own perspective. Recognising too that people have different ways of working has helped us work together more effectively. The business needs its dreamers every bit as much as its deliverers and disruptors.
"We have some extremely able and experienced people here; people who have held highly influential positions in high-profile tech companies. Recently, we've hired the Head of Engineering from Amazon and Google’s Head of Design has come on board as well. These were big coups for us. It sends a very positive message because when people ask why they chose Capital One, we can say it’s because they believe in what we're doing.
“We're innovators. We can poach from the leading lights of technology. We can because, at every level of the business, we offer challenging work; fulfilling work. Talking about 'levels' even seems wrong. We have a very flat structure. An open door policy enables the free flow of ideas and creates a better, more connected working community.
"People buy into our values very quickly. Why? Because they are living and breathing them every single day. They're not learned by rote; they're absorbed by doing – and that's so much more powerful than a bunch of made up words that mean nothing outside of HR. They have meaning because we have purpose.
“We're not a perfect organisation. We wouldn't claim to be. But we're always evolving because we're always trying to be better – and that gives you a much better reason to join than ‘perfect’."
Work. Relax. Play. Whatever you do, we want you to feel at home here. At work, we’re more business casual than suited and booted. And at play, well that’s pretty much up to you. So whether you want to elevate your mind, work that body (feel the burn), sing, run, play, dance, sit, chat, eat, club, pub or just escape the hubbub, it’s all here.
Our home in the UK is Nottingham. It's a great expanse of free flowing open-planned spaces designed to inspire ideas and encourage collaboration. We've also recently expanded our London operations to join the tech folk at the White Collar Factory in Old Street. We want to be at the heart of where it’s at technology wise. So our move to our new development in Old Street means we’ll have the perfect base to get in the mix.
Our Nottingham office is a pretty awesome place to work. Everything is so open plan, you have ready access to everybody around the business. It makes it very collaborative and easy to get things done.Dan Kellett, Data Scientist
We’ve recently completed our move to the White Collar Factory to join the hipsters and tech folk of Silicon Roundabout at Old Street.
This is London’s answer to Silicon Valley. And while it might not have been around quite so long as its namesake, what it lacks in history, it more than makes up for in terms of entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking
Here, we rub shoulders with the latest start-ups and established giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Adobe. So there are plenty of like minds to get in the mix with.
Our own offices are none too shabby either. They come fully equipped with the very latest technology and connectivity, including Microsoft Surface Hubs. Not to mention flexible work spaces and spectacular views of the London skyline.
What’s more, this being London, there is a near-limitless choice of bars, restaurants and places to hang out and do more or less anything you’d care to mention.
Nottingham has been our base for over 20 years now. So we’ve had plenty of time to feel right at home. Here are some reasons why you will too.
The first great thing about our city is its affordability. The cost of living is a fraction of what it would be in London. So you can live the life you want to live; whether that’s a city-centre pad or a life in the burbs. There are no eye-watering mortgages or sky-high rents.
There’s plenty to keep you pleasantly diverted too. If you’re the active sort, there’s a host of sports facilities and activities. Nottingham Forest and Notts County are both based here.
Whether you like to see your culture on the big screen in glorious technicolour, on a gallery wall or through the proscenium arch, our eclectic offering won’t disappoint. As well as cinema, art and theatre, there’s plenty of history to soak up at the castle, caves and markets.
Being a vibrant city which attracts thousands of students each year, there’s a very active nightlife scene too. Our bars, pubs and clubs can more than hold their own against what other regional cities have to offer.
Located in the heart of England, Nottingham is ideally situated to be in an easily commutable distance from several major cities, including Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Leicester. It’s also a comfortable train ride away from London.
Chris Newkirk has been at Capital One for 8 years. In his role as CEO, he oversees the UK business as General Manager, as well as taking charge of operations in Canada.
“A business is stronger when it has a clear direction; a genuine sense of purpose. For Capital One, ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’ gives us this commonly held goal. It also makes for a more interesting and engaging environment. Our purpose, together with our technological capabilities and a highly talented and motivated workforce, mean we have the opportunity to be a real force for good. We’re in a position to help our customers succeed financially.
“The technology we all carry with us these days, be that in tablet or mobile form, means we can have a more connected and supportive relationship with our customers. We can really help change people’s behaviours in a way that’s positive for them. We do this in a number of ways, our products being one of the main ones.
“In the past, if you wanted to sign up for alerts, you had that choice. Now our customers are automatically enrolled so we can remind them when payments are due. It’s about joining the dots, so our customers are free to focus on their lives. They know we’re in their corner. It’s a relationship built on trust – and that’s as it should be.
“We’re encouraging customers to pay down their debt with us as quickly as possible too; particularly ones we’ve observed making smaller payments. We’re experimenting with messaging to see what works to encourage and influence them to make the choices that are right for them. They save on the interest they pay us which comes out of our pockets revenue wise. However, we’re comfortable with taking a short-term hit for the longer term gain of building strong customer relationships.
“Banks have a largely earned reputation for not doing the right things by their customers. It’s important for us to stand apart from these providers. We don’t want to do this through advertising campaigns; it very probably can’t be done this way. Besides, talk is cheap. We want to be judged on our actions and build a positive reputation by doing the right thing by our customers.
“Having this objective means we attract good, talented people who want get fired up by the fact that we stand for something they can believe in. In the tech space, in particular, people want to work on solving interesting problems. We can absolutely offer that here.
“People’s personal financial lives are complex. Some businesses thrive on creating friction in their customer relationships that prevent their customers from succeeding. We want to do the opposite. We want to draw on the talent of Software Engineers and others to help us with that.
“My own role involves setting the bar really high in terms of what it means to help customer succeed financially. It’s about giving the team the freedom to do what they need to do. I’m not the one coming up with the ideas; my job is to go out and find the people that make it happen.”
In today’s fast-moving world of financial services, technology can make all the difference to the success of a business. Get it right and you increase customer loyalty by improving their all-round experience. Get it wrong and you risk alienating increasingly clued-up and discerning customers. Capital One recognised long ago the potential of technology to enhance its competitive edge. Add this to its objective of working to ‘Reimagine Money, Inspire Life’ and you have a potent force to be reckoned with.
“We’re always look for ways to deliver improved services to our customers,” says Mike Day, Senior Analyst, Marketing Strategy. “It was with this in mind that I managed the business case for our new mobile app. We recognised the importance of giving customers a new way to make payments and manage their accounts. Getting the buy-in of senior stakeholders in our Marketing team and overseeing what the tech team came up with in terms of features was critical.”
With stakeholders sold on the proposition, Mike’s next job was to manage delivery.
“Timescales were tight,” he tells us. “Our old app had a fixed day on which it would go offline and we had to deliver a quality product so that our customers could continue to manage their accounts. This meant that everyone from Tech to Operations had their eyes on the project – I couldn’t be the one to hold it up. I worked closely with both sides: our team, trying to assess and manage credit risks; and the software developers, who were keen to get a product out into the wild.
“We released a brand new app built on a new codebase completely in house with features we had never had in-market before. This gave our customers a new look and feel, as well as new ways to manage their accounts. There are now over half a million people using the app.”
Mark Rosel, Director of Digital Product Management, was responsible for yet another digital innovation. As Capital One has no physical presence in which to engage with customers, its website acts as both a virtual storefront and the source of all new business. Mark’s role in this critical project involved getting the best results from his experienced Tech teams and the latest technology to deliver a great experience for customers – old and new.
“Our customer are savvy; they’ve got high expectations. Often, though, the financial services sector lags far behind other industries in the digital experiences they deliver. Think how recently it was that payments cleared on day they were initiated. By rebuilding our web technology, we can have real-time interactions with customers to correct errors (fat fingers anyone?) before an application is made and get the credit our customers want to them much faster and with less hassle.”
Mark was fortunate to be surrounded by a very talented and capable team. This left him free to focus on the bigger picture of how the business thinks and talks about being at the forefront of technology in financial services. It was a challenging project but a valuable learning experience for him:
“The biggest challenge was education about cloud computing and applying that to financial services. Cloud computing itself is not a particularly new concept but its application to the highly sensitive and entrenched world of financial services is. This meant I had to learn a lot about it and influence different parties, both inside Capital One and out, not only about why it was the right thing for us to do, but also why it dramatically improves on current technology.”
So did all the time, effort and hard work pay off? Early indications would seem to say so:
“The project is ongoing but we’ve nearly built our first new functionality in the public cloud and put it in front of customers. All the signs are very positive so far. It’s been great for me too. I understand more about cloud computing and future technology trends. I also learned a lot about how to engage and influence regulators, as well as developing a much more critical, nuanced and informed opinion about the FinTech industry.
“One of the best things about working at Capital One is the scope you have to shape and direct your own career. I have spent much of my career as a data and credit geek, running parts of our decision sciences function. But technology has always been an area of interest for me and Capital One has enabled me to pursue this new direction while making the most of my previous experiences.”
We are building a world class technology team. I’m looking for talented people that share one thing in common – they want to use technology to help our customers. When you are looking to change an industry your business needs to be highly adaptable. We have thought carefully about how to build teams from across our business to create fantastic products. We collaborate, we visualise our work and we build great solutions. We pride ourselves on creating an environment where people can come together to do the best work of their careers.
We need people who want to push the boundaries with our products, whether it’s creating new products or improving existing ones. We want people who can grab a new piece of tech and see what it can do for us; people who aren’t afraid to experiment and fail; people who enjoy that test and learn environment. Graduates can have a big impact. You can’t say that of many companies. Culturally, we’re very open to listening, whether you’ve just walked through the door or you’ve been here for 16 years.
I’m looking for creative technologists; people who like making things. Obviously, I am looking for great technical skills but it’s that desire to create, learn and solve problems for our customers that will make a candidate stand out for me.
Graduates can have a big impact. You can’t say that of many companies. Culturally, we’re very open to listening. Whether you’ve just walked through the door or you’ve been here for 16 years.