Meet Shira Spector. I have never come across someone as truly passionate to the core about data as Shira. Her enthusiasm for the impact on the future of data is palpable. Throughout financial services and more broadly in the industry, there has been an emergence of a new role- Chief Data Officer and Chief Data and Analytics Officer. Shira is among the next generation of leaders with this title as she is currently the Chief Data & Analytics Officer at Partners Federal Credit Union. Before this role, most of her work experience has been in large public companies focused on completely different industries including Darden (parent company of Olive Garden and Yard House among many others) and Burger King Corporation.
For more than 50 years, Partners Federal Credit Union has been serving the Cast, Employees and Imagineers of The Walt Disney Company. Today they are $1.8B in assets and serve more than 165,000 members located throughout the US. They have regional offices located in Orlando, FL and Burbank/Anaheim, CA. They provide a full array of financial products that you would find at the biggest banks, including savings, checking, loans, wealth management and the latest in innovative account access. In addition, they have an exclusive connection to The Walt Disney Company that ensures a level of quality unsurpassed in banking. Partners’ mission is to make people’s financial dreams come true. They see themselves as people looking to help others.
The credit union space is unique and one that is truly collaborative. There is a strong culture of sharing and creating open channels of communication amongst credit unions. Time and time again, I hear stories of credit unions actively working together and sharing their strategies across the industry more broadly, helping to elevate the impact of credit unions at scale. While credit unions are certainly distinct from banks, I like to refer to them as the first “neobanks” as they typically start with a very distinct client base, either geographic or occupational. Being owned by their members, credit unions have an opportunity unlike many others to ensure they offer tailored, relevant solutions to their members where they can receive direct feedback.
How/why did you get into tech?
Oddly enough, I’m not sure I made a conscious decision to get into technology. I pursued an undergraduate degree in System Engineering for two main reasons:
- I really didn’t know at 18 years old WHAT being an engineer meant…but I got to take all of the math classes I wanted.
- It served as what seemed like a logical outlet for someone who really just liked to solve problems.
Every step of the way in my career, solving problems got easier and more fun with the advances in technology. It allowed for quicker, more creative, and more compelling data driven solutions to be realized.
I feel so fortunate to say that I am still doing what I studied in college more than 25 years after graduation, and I believe that the rapid innovations in technology have enabled me to continue to do what I love – solve business problems with data.
What role do you play in the tech ecosystem and why is that role important?
In all of my work, my focus has been on using data to understand the customer.
I see myself as a combination of technology leader and technology enabler through my product – data. In my CDAO role – and any data/analytics role I have had in the past – I have always focused on the innovation side of data capabilities within the organization.
One part of that responsibility requires an emphasis on the technology itself, which is the platform wherein the data resides. That platform has its own life cycle that is tightly connected to the life cycle of your data so to succeed here you must choreograph the fast pace of change between the data itself and the technologies to house that data that provide access and reliability for all data needs.
I also feel that I serve as a technology product enabler. Once the “housing” of data solution is in place, there is then the need to deploy data in faster more innovative ways. Those deployment tools – either in reporting capabilities or advanced analytics – continue to evolve as data grows and evolves. Staying current and being open to utilizing the latest technologies will enable those efficient and effective channels for data to manifest itself into insights…and to allow for those insights to reach a broad audience.
The analytic outputs themselves also contribute to this life cycle of technology. In all of my work, my focus has been on using data to understand the customer. Many times, those learnings re-pivot back to the technology because the action plans generated by those learnings create the requirement for enhanced technical capabilities.
This cycle puts data, in my opinion, in the center of the technology ecosystem – no matter what industry you are in.
What do you believe is the most exciting tech trend for 2019?
Great algorithms can predict what “move” comes next, but the BEST algorithms understand WHY the choices are being made.
I will always be fascinated by and stay very close to the advances in cognitive technologies as it is so closely woven into the ability to draw on the power of data.
Both society and business demand that we seamlessly move beyond looking into the rearview mirror to looking forward into the future in a way that speaks to oneself, your customers, and your stakeholders.
The powerful combination of data and the associated cognitive technologies such as machine learning and broader applications of AI are no doubt on the rise. BUT the most exciting part of this work is the application of behavioral psychology into these technologies.
Many say that computers will replace humans – I believe that to some extent. I will believe it more when the data field accepts that computers can never be humans because of one key thing – the emotional preference.
What will makes the algorithms of tomorrow so powerful is the embedding of the human emotion into the learning. Great algorithms can predict what “move” comes next, but the BEST algorithms understand WHY the choices are being made. That is the notion of human psychology and understanding the emotion behind the decisions will allow companies to create the optimal “choice architecture” that I feel will over-power any creepy factor and create more of the emotional connection.
Who is a person in tech that inspires you? Why?
From an analytics perspective, I have been following Tom Davenport for years. Not only has he written an array of really impactful books on analytics (my favorite being Competing on Analytics), he has a practicality about him that makes the space a little less overwhelming.
I discovered his words probably 15 years ago when the company I was with was looking for a simple way to talk about the power of data and how to use the information we had in new ways – as to not scare anyone with too much “new”. Tom’s work always embraces the practicality of the conversation, and at that time in my career, it was important to focus on the basics – not the moon-shot.
Even as the field and the technologies have evolved, Tom’s work and words remind me that simple can still be effective…and the summation of all of the mini-steps is what got us all to where we all are today. Data and analytics requires a paradigm shift for many in the way they think and behave in business, it doesn’t happen overnight and Tom’s frameworks allow for that shift to happen but in a way that is sustainable over time. He was also the founder of the IIA (International Institute for Analytics) which is a research-oriented think tank that brings together practitioners in our field to really talk about the issues at the heart of all of our journeys. One can read all of the industry analysis and get schooled on the latest technologies, but providing a forum for us to talk about execution is really magical.
If you asked me about a company that is inspiring me on the use of human psychology and emotional preference in their business, I have to say that I have been following Stitch Fix for a while now. The have really become a leader, in my mind, around creating that emotional connection with their customers and are mastering the art of bringing together scientific algorithms with something as personal as fashion and style. I do not think I am overly stylish and I personally HATE to shop. Stitch Fix as a product has started to change my personal beliefs about those very two things. While I was in need of a wardrobe refresh, I signed up for their service more because I was curious if it could really be done. They have a “chief algorithms officer” who says that “there’s no selling here – only relevancy”. That is such an impactful statement about the belief they have in the power of their algorithms. They are using their customer data, preferences, AND choice history to architect continuously attractive new choice environments that they have proven to be able to influence. They create a personal experience like no other retail concept that I have seen. I look forward to not just continuing to be a customer but also to seeing what they come up with next.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to get into tech?
Aside from just “going for it”, you must be super comfortable with change.
Just when you think you have something working or figured out, something else comes alongside with new and more powerful relevancy. The passion to be nimble is a pre-requisite. One may have the ability to be nimble but it is a passion around it that is what will keep you optimistic when change can be overwhelming.
I also believe that mastering the art of communication and story telling is critical to success in this space. The technology lingo is only understood by a certain community, and many of the business leaders and decision makers are less fluent in that language. If you want to influence change, you better be able to articulate the why’s and the how’s in a way that is compelling and understood.
Just when you think you have something working or figured out, something else comes alongside with new and more powerful relevancy. The passion to be nimble is a pre-requisite.