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What the heck is reference data?

If I wanted to find out about reference data, I’d reach out to Claire Thomson, our Finance Reference Data Transformation Lead, so I did! Claire works in the Finance Data Control team that sits within Financial Control & Reporting.

Claire’s been with us for about 15 years and worked with pretty much most systems that are used within Finance - everything from our general ledger, reporting, Risk and Treasury systems, to core operational data. Day to day she looks at all things related to reference data, and how that impacts the future state of the technology we use as a bank.

Which begs the question, and the reason why you’re here to begin with, what the heck is reference data, and why is it important?

What reference data is

In its simplest form, reference data is data used for classification purposes across an entire organisation. A set of static, or semi-static data that’s maintained throughout all its applications and systems.

Reference data is different to transactional data, which is data that changes frequently and describes core business activities. A customer identification number would be considered reference data, whereas a payment in a shop would be considered transactional. Claire tells me that, ‘we have a wealth of legacy systems and are implementing what will be our strategic portfolio. They all hold different flavours of data and have different data points so they need to talk to each other. We need to map between those systems, and that encompasses a whole lot of reference data.’

As well as mapping between systems, Claire’s teams also manage the hierarchies that drive reporting within Finance. So, if you buy something with your debit card, where does that transaction sit within our organisational structure, what banking product does your account sit on and what infrastructure needs to be in place for that data to take its correct passage through the bank? ‘There are touch points and mappings between the systems, so reference data is the way to trace how data is transformed as it moves through various systems within the bank’, Claire says.

To Claire, her role with reference data is a fascinating journey with a lot of pieces, where there’s always something new to learn.

Why reference data is important

Reference data allows us to understand and report on the journey of data through our systems. And, in turn, how the systems hand off from one to the other. According to Claire, ‘we must classify transactions in certain ways for reporting purposes, so it's important that our systems can talk to each other and maintain a high level of accuracy.’ Bank wide, it also lets us manage every transaction, every account, and who they belong to, mapping together our customers’ interactions. This can help us to adapt, creating new products and experiences for our customers.

With a wealth of data at her disposal, Claire and her team can provide guidance to the wider business on how our systems work with reference data, what processes their teams will need to put in place to be able to achieve a certain level of reporting, or specific slices of data, for example.

Change is welcomed from all areas of the bank. We make thousands of changes every month, and that can have a big impact on data passing through our systems. In Claire’s role, ‘if someone wants to change what happens to a piece of data between A and B, we can provide guidance on what needs to be in place to make sure everything further down the line keeps working efficiently.’

Reference data is subject to the same legal standards as any data, so we must be clear about where the data is going, how it's being used and how long it’ll be retained for. But it allows us to see the bigger picture for reporting, as well as on a granular level within each key business area. Most, if not all, organisational changes will interact with reference data, and because of her expertise, Claire gets to see a broad spectrum of what we do as a bank.

Why this is a great place to work

I wanted to find out from Claire, what makes working in Finance here different from other companies. To Claire, it’s the scale of our organisation, ‘as a large organisation, we can be cutting edge. We’re looking to use and harness new technologies to really further the customer experience.’ Within her immediate team, she works with colleagues from India, America, and Poland, alongside her UK colleagues.

Us being a purpose-led organisation is another key factor Claire likes working here. That focus allows her to know who she works for, and her reasons for being here. Claire explains that she’s always felt supported here, and it’s the people who work here that are massively important, ‘I'm a mother of two young kids, and I’ve been fully supported. Wellbeing is essential, and the people and ideas have always kept me interested.’

In Claire’s own words, ‘you’re the master of your own destiny’ here. If you want to do something to further your own learning and development, then it’s there for the taking – and there are lots of people willing to champion you along the way.

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