CDOs Cannot Be Lone Rangers

Chief data officers bear brunt of problems but must share authority to act on changing data management


While chief data officers often become the focus of data management issues, both within their firm and with regulators, to get meaningful achievements, they need support from colleagues

About six weeks ago, Kara Stein, a commissioner at the US Securities and Exchange Commission, raised the possibility of the agency starting its own data strategy department, which could come with a chief data officer (CDO) to lead it. That sparked a question in this column about whether a CDO could be more successful and influential in that agency than in the financial firms themselves.

At the recent North American Financial Information Summit, some CDOs discussed the internal politics of their role within their firms. Chief information officers (CIOs) are reluctant to take the responsibility for data that is now going to CDOs, as John Bottega, former CDO at Bank of America, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Citi, and now a senior advisor at the EDM Council, and Tim Baker, global head of content strategy innovation at Thomson Reuters, related.

Data is a "control function," according to Bottega, and CDOs are the ones who "have to stand in front of the regulators and say that they understand where the data comes from, how it's being used and that it's being used properly throughout their firm." Data is "systemic," however, so Bottega asked why this is only the role of a CDO and not some combination of CDOs, CIOs and/or other chief-level officers in a firm.

If CDOs should be wielding their influence on strategy—items like a firm's data governance planning—rather than day-to-day data operations, as Claire Sprawson, head of global client data management at RBC Capital Markets, said, is that the best way for whoever fills a CDO role to operate?

Possibly, CDOs will be seen as the "people who can fix" issues with data management, as Sprawson called them. Tina Wyer, who became CDO of JPMorgan Chase eight months ago, described her role as whatever she and the rest of the management of the firm think it should be—which is telling. The CDO's role is not just what the CDO thinks they should be doing or thinks their impact should be, but is defined by the CDO working in tandem with executives in charge of various other functions at their firms.

Even though very capable executives like Wyer and Sprawson are taking on the challenge of the CDO role, it's becoming better understood that merely establishing the role is only the beginning of pursuing results like lower operational risk, better data processing efficiency and better client service.

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