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A podcast Series With Chet Kapoor

Season 2 · Episode 5

Data is the New Plutonium: A Conversation with Macquarie’s Chief Digital Officer

Luis Uguina, Chief Digital Officer of Macquarie, shares how his passion for digital technology and delivering the customer experience have shaped his 25-year-long journey in banking. He talks us through his approach to digital transformation and explains why “data is the new plutonium.”

Published April 13th, 2021  |  20:43 Runtime

Episode Guest

Luis Uguina

Luis Uguina

Chief Digital Officer at Macquarie Bank

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Episode Transcript

Narrator: Inspired Execution is a podcast featuring tech leaders from some of the world's largest enterprises and fastest growing startups, hosted by DataStax Chairman and CEO, Chet Kapoor. Each episode follows a leader's journey to scaling a massive business while inspiring their teams. Join us to learn about the experiences that have shaped them, challenges they've overcome, and the advice they'd give to their younger selves.

Narrator: Luis Uguina, Chief Digital Officer of Macquarie Group, has spent the last 25 years spearheading digital innovation in the banking industry. In this episode, Luis discusses how delivering the customer experience is a strong guiding and unifying force for global teams. You'll also learn about the duality of data, what makes it so powerful, why it can be dangerous if used incorrectly, and the importance of transparency.

Chet Kapoor: Luis, thank you very much for joining us. It is really exciting to have you here today.

Luis Uguina: Thanks Chet, happy to be here.

Chet Kapoor: So you've been at Macquarie Group for almost six years and spent many years in the banking industry. Tell us about your journey.

Luis Uguina: Well, I have been in the banking industry for the last 25 years, always trying to change the way the financial industry works, especially because I think that there is nothing more personal than finance. If you see the way you are dealing every single day with your bank, you have many different interactions. Many of them are not something that you are really thinking, "I'm going to be dealing with the bank." It's something that you are using your card, you are making a payment, "I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that."

Luis Uguina: And somehow, over the last, probably 50 years, the banking industry has been always trying to teach the customers how to speak banking, right? And I think that this is a wrong approach. So I think that my personal journey in the banking industry has been, how do we teach the banking industry the customer language? How do we interact with the customers in an easier way? How do we seamlessly integrate everything that we do as an industry in the normal customer life? That has been my journey, a journey with highs and lows. I have learned a lot.

Luis Uguina: The level of transformation and the level of change that the industry is having right now, it's absolutely unbelievable, right? And it's something that is like an exponential curve. So it's right now, it's every single year, and obviously now with the COVID-19 situation it's something that is exponentially higher. But every single year, we are trying to redefine the way we are doing things in this industry. It is quite amazing.

Chet Kapoor: I love the way you talk about this. I've always said, when I was doing education at Google, I used to say that we don't learn the way we live. And I think you're taking a similar take, which is, we should bank the way we live, right? And the banking industry, it'll be good if it learns to do that rather than teaching us how to bank the old way.

Luis Uguina: Exactly. That's so real. So look, if you see my parents or the parents of my parents, so we as an industry have been teaching them how to do things for a long, long time, right? And I think that the new generations are not going to be so keen to learn a new language, to do something that... look, it's something that they will expect to be seamlessly integrated in everything that they do.

Chet Kapoor: You worked for established banks, some are forward-thinking, some weren't. What was hard? What did you have to overcome to actually deliver on this "bank the way we live" vision?

Luis Uguina: There is something quite unique in the banking industry. There is nothing more digital than a bank. All the positions of the customer and the money that you have, and all of those things are in a database, right? They are digital records. The big disconnection is, while we are companies that our core is fully digital, and everything that we are doing is moving bits and bytes every night and crossing the world to make sure that things are happening, we have an extremely analog customer experience, right? So we are still relying on really analog or old-fashioned approaches in the way we deliver our business. And obviously, we are a highly regulated industry and we have different areas that we need to obviously be compliant with that the regulators are expecting from us. But this is usually used as a very good excuse not to be moving forward, right? And it's something that is quite unique, I haven't seen in many other industries.

Luis Uguina: So, one of the most difficult things that I have been dealing with is, how do you remove those myths from the culture of the company? At the end, it's amazing, the amount of really good talent, the amazing engineers, the great ideas that I have seen in every single financial company I've been working with. And those myths that say, "Oh, we shouldn't be doing that because we never did before," or, "We tried that 35 years ago and didn't work." So all those myths, all those parts of the underground company culture are probably the things that are more difficult to deal with.

Luis Uguina: And to be honest, when you are doing transformation, transformation means friction. It's something that, obviously, people are not keen to deal with, especially in well-established companies. So probably, this mix of company myths and market myths, working in a fully digital environment where the culture is more traditional– I think that when you put all those things together, it's a mix that is usually difficult to deal with. But to be honest, I have been lucky to be working with really amazing people and really talented people that were on the same wavelength on, "Hey, this is about transforming the way we are dealing with our customers and about delivering an amazing customer experience."

Chet Kapoor: Macquarie is well down its journey, right? And so if I was embarking on one or I was behind Macquarie, what would be your advice to me from a tips-and-tricks perspective? Things that you learned the hard way that, if you had to go back, you would do them differently?

Luis Uguina: Be more transparent about the things that you really need, and try to push the limits or try to push the boundaries of the way the company works. I will say this point in a different way. I'm from Spain. So my background is quite a European one. And what I mean is Europeans are used to being more direct than in some other cultures. And then somehow, this idea of, look, this is what needs to be done, and here is the data that is going to back everything that you are thinking. 

Luis Uguina: In digital transformation, the examples that we have are usually quite specific or quite unique to some companies in this world. It is difficult to have good analytics on what is working, what is not working. I think that some of the things that I would do differently is back your actions or back your proposals with a lot of data, because there is an amazing amount of data out there. And this data, it's something that usually, as soon as you are digging a little bit, you will start surfacing many different inputs that says, "This is the right way." 

Luis Uguina: And the second one is: once you have the data, and once you have all your ideas aligned with all the analysis that you have done, be really, really strong on sharing all those initiatives, all the data, all your learnings with the rest of the company. So don't try to create a bucket of expertise where you are going to be transforming the world from a small team. Try to have everyone onboard. You are going to have people that will be reluctant to take the journey. But it's something that is happening, not only in an enterprise. It's happening in our life, right. Things are moving very, very fast. And the more people you have onboard, even if they are detractors of your idea, the better. Because don't forget that detractors are going to probably surface the gaps of your ideas and your plans. And usually they are going to give you a better viewpoint of what needs to be done, rather than the people that blindly follow you because you are delivering great ideas.

Chet Kapoor: The key takeaways there are, make sure you're transparent, make sure you're data-focused, make sure you bring everybody along for the journey, even the people who may not look completely agreeable because you may be learning something from them.

Luis Uguina: Success is your worst enemy. I have learned more from the people that were not fully aligned with me. The worst thing that can happen when you are trying to transform the culture of a company is having everyone fully aligned, because then you don't have those areas where someone is telling you, "Have you thought on this?" or "Have you thought on that?" Some people are not going to tell you directly, but they are going to confront your ideas, and this is gold.

Chet Kapoor: I was there when you recently said "Data is the new plutonium. Extremely powerful if used correctly. If used incorrectly, it'll blow up in your face." For our audience, could you give us a little perspective on what you mean?

Luis Uguina: I have been reading for many, many years now that data is the new oil. I think that is a really powerful statement. The reason why I say data is not the new oil, it is the new plutonium is because I have seen many, many different times in many, many different companies how you can transform the raw data in whatever way you want, right? So the data can take whatever story you want to tell. And this is the real danger of the data. So at the end, the companies, especially in the financial industry, we have a massive amount of information that we can use in order to provide a much better customer experience, to deliver better products to our customers. Or we can even make our customer's lives much, much easier because the more we understand how our customers behave and what they need, we will be able to deliver much better or tailor-made products.

Luis Uguina: But the problem is, we are also using the data in order to make business decisions. The data is just data. So it's something that is completely raw. And in the way you create the data, you can have the proper answer or something that is completely wrong, right? And then what I have seen is, as it happened in the year 2000s, where the Internet appeared and suddenly we had a massive explosion on people, experts on the digital space and engineers and specialists in the digital space. And obviously, the biggest challenge that we have is, when you move into the data space and you are going to make decisions that somehow affect the whole company, or huge enterprises are going to start making decisions based on data. So you need to have two really important things.

Luis Uguina: So the first one is a backend system. Technology that is able to provide the data in the proper way and as soon as it happens, right? And dealing with data in terms of the complexity or what is dangerous is, if you don't have the proper access to the data, or you have many people accessing that data and being able to start crunching the data in different ways, obviously it's dangerous because data is one of the biggest assets that we have. But the second one is, when you are curating all the data and you are putting the data on a dashboard, you need to be an expert. You need to know what you are doing and you need to be able to not only deliver beautiful charts, you need to deliver insights.

Luis Uguina: And I have seen that this is one of the biggest weaknesses that we have in the industry. We are really keen to be delivering a massive amount of data, thinking that the customer will be able to understand, and this is not the right approach, or we should be able to deliver insights, not only to the customers, but also to our internal staff, and also to the people that are leading the companies. And I think that, at this point, we have a huge amount of noise in that space. And sometimes, I have seen companies making really, really bad decisions based on beautiful charts that are telling the wrong story.

Chet Kapoor: We're all going through some very interesting times right now. What are some tips and tricks that you're using to inspire and motivate teams?

Luis Uguina: Now more than ever, we need to have the teams really, really understand why we are doing our business, right? And obviously in the way we work in the pure agile approach that we work, we are working all together. Now it is more important than ever just to share with them the proper story. And what I mean by the proper story is why we are here and what is our mission and our vision? Especially because, nowadays, we have moved from working everyone at the same place, physically, into every single person working from home, almost in a week's time, right? So what I have seen is, every single engineer, every single business person, they need to make decisions on a daily basis. And usually when they need to make the decision, they are going to be on a crossroads. It's, do I take the right path, or do I take the left one?

Luis Uguina: So if they have no background of why we are doing things, it's basically a random decision. I'm going to take right or left based on my gut feelings. So what I have found is, when we are able to deliver the background and the vision and the mission and why we are doing the things and what is important and what is not important, the people are super smart. They are usually, 90% of the time, taking the right decision. I was discussing a couple of days with my family, and one of the things that we have transformed in the last six months is, I think that we are losing this 3D view of the world. Everything is flat because everything is happening through a screen. And all those things that we were doing where I'm going to be meeting with my colleagues in a 3D world now is flat. And it's one-to-one almost.

Luis Uguina: When I was going into the supermarket, I'm not going anymore and I'm doing online. So if you think, Chet, how we have flattened the world in terms of, everything is now happening about the glass, from the screen to the outside, things are happening. How do you maintain the team's cohesiveness and doing things in a proper way and are engaged and are happy and are excited? So the first one is information. Sharing the proper information, sharing the proper vision, sharing the proper mission. And the second one is something that I have learned, especially in my last six years at Macquarie is that technology is a massive enabler for team cohesion. Obviously, the engineers want to be working on good technologies that are able to unlock all the ideas and all the potential that they have, but also business.

Luis Uguina: Usually, the traditional conversation in a business technology meeting is, "Oh, I want to do this. And you are telling me that your technology is not prepared," right? So what I have found is, working with the proper technology, especially in the digital stack, what is delivering the customer experience to our customers, is critical. It's critical because it's going to make every single part of the value chain happy. It's going to make the engineers happy, the business people, the ops people that are critical in making sure that we are working in a well-oiled machine, the visionaries in the company. It's like a universal enabler for happiness.

Chet Kapoor: Who inspires you?

Luis Uguina: I don't have one single reference. I love to read and I love to challenge myself every single day. I'm like a Frankenstein of different learnings from many different people. I am in a constant battle about my gut feelings and all the inputs I'm receiving from the outside. So I will say that I am like a collage of super smart people out there where I'm learning every single day. And somehow, I try to apply this way of thinking to everything that I do. As a professional, I cannot tell you, "Oh Chet, look, this is the bank or the financial institution that I want to be like." I love many different things from many, many of them. And I think that a unique proposition should be collecting all the different, great ideas and being able to deliver in that cohesive and similar way to our customers.

Chet Kapoor: What would you share with a younger version of yourself?

Luis Uguina: Follow your gut feels. Be brave. Sometimes, be less polite and deliver and fight for the things that you really believe, right? So it's more like, don't try to sugarcoat reality, even when you are going to be speaking with people, probably with a lot of experience, more experience than you. And with a massive amount of capacity to change the world. Try to challenge everyone if you really believe in what you think. So I will tell young Luis is, be brave and tell what you think always.

Chet Kapoor: The point you make is go with your gut feel, but having a point of view, and having a passionate point of view and communicating it and articulating that clearly is something that I think we can all tell a younger version of ourselves, right? And it requires you to be intellectually honest with yourself. But also, it requires you to be brave, like you said. And it is okay to be wrong, but just because you could be wrong, doesn't mean you shouldn't have a passionate point of view. Is that fair?

Luis Uguina: Very, very fair. And especially nowadays where we have better prepared people, and talent every single day is younger, because access to technology and access to all those capabilities everyday is easier, right? So when you and I were young, having access to those kinds of things, you were a privileged person having access to those capabilities, right? But now you don't need to go to the uni in order to be a super talented engineer. And we have people that know more because they have been working with technology since five years old. With all the hierarchies and all the levels and all the fancy roles, they usually get flattened into, "Oh, I'm not going to be saying that because I'm speaking with someone that is 65 levels above me." So you have a passion and you have a really strong opinion. This is the way we transform companies, to be honest.

Chet Kapoor: Luis, this has been phenomenal. Really, really appreciate the time. This was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for joining the podcast.

Luis Uguina: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Chet Kapoor: All right. Take care.

Narrator: Data is incredibly powerful, but it's also dangerous. So make sure you're intentional about the way you use and share information as you embark on the journey to transformation. Remember Luis's tips: be transparent, be data focused and bring everybody along with you, including those who challenge your perspective. Finally, keep the customer at the center of your mission. Delivering the best user experience is a driving and unifying force during times of change.

Narrator: Thank you so much for tuning in to today's episode of the Inspired Execution Podcast, hosted by Chairman and CEO of DataStax, Chet Kapoor. We have many more guests and amazing stories to come, so stay tuned. If you haven't already done so, subscribe to the series to be notified when a new episode is released. And for Apple podcast listeners, please rate and review the show to help give it a wider reach to listeners such as yourself, and feel free to drop us any questions or feedback at