Building one of the financial services industry’s biggest data lakes is no easy feat. This week I spoke to Chuck Teixeira, the man that’s done it.

I quizzed Chuck on the challenges and opportunities a large firm faces, as well as the trials and tribulations of his 20 year career. I wanted to dig beneath the surface of the world of financial services, and uncover what it takes to succeed in such a competitive industry.

From distributed ledger technology (DLT) to Dragon’s Den, we went deep on HSBC Global Banking and Markets’ (GBM) industry-leading approach to data, machine learning and much more.

Tabitha Goldstaub: What’s the most played song on your iPhone?

Chuck Teixeira: Caribou – Can’t Do Without You. It’s what I wake up to every single morning.

Goldstaub: Can you tell me about what a typical day looks like for you?

Teixeira: I start at 5:45am, get up, go for a run and then clear the emails that I received overnight. I like a clean inbox, clean desk and even a clean house, which allows me to focus.

I’m in by 7:15am, my meetings start at 7:30am and I’m done by 6pm at the latest, but I can be accessible if there’s anything else. It’s about creating that ultimate efficiency – by trying to eliminate meetings that are unnecessary or don’t move a project forward.

Goldstaub: Have you always been this efficient?

Teixeira: I started my career at PwC, where I juggled multiple clients and was always taught “you can’t say no to a partner.” You didn’t always have to do the work yourself, you just had to make sure that it got done. Being able to dive into the details when appropriate, and juggle multiple engagements, was a necessity to survive.

Goldstaub: What does a Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Transformation do?

Teixeira: As Head of Transformation, I run multiple programmes across Global Banking and Markets, looking at infrastructure, people and processes. I’m responsible for innovation too, which includes AI, machine learning, big data and cloud. Along with this, I’m responsible for the Chief Data Office and I’m Chief of Staff for the COO function, which covers over 9,000 people in HSBC GBM. The key thing is being detail-oriented and, at the same time, being able to step back and look at the bigger picture. All these roles fold together to drive both cultural change and actual physical change.

Goldstaub: How have you seen this cultural change happen? What more needs to be done to ensure people are happy with the physical change?

Teixeira: One thing that’s already taking place, but needs to happen more rapidly, is breaking down silos and creating cross-functional collaboration. When I was on the trading floor at Lehman Brothers, you had technologists, quants, traders, COOs, legal and compliance all trying to solve the problems on the floor together.

In a 230,000-person organisation, you need to be able to create that virtually, because all of those components may sit across different countries. At HSBC, creating that collaboration virtually is one of the biggest challenges that we have to solve.

Goldstaub: How do you ensure that culturally people are happy to be part of this environment?

Teixeira: Nobody likes to be told from the top down: “this is how you should be doing this” or “use this tool.” And you don’t start making macro change without empowering the mass organisation, which is what really makes the material change.

The challenge for us was creating new internal ideas, so we created “The Innovation Board”, which is like a Dragon’s Den. We throw ideas out at our most junior populations in operations, IT and business, who collaborate and then come back as a group and pitch to a group of senior management for money. We’ve had numerous successful ideas that started this way which goes to show that you don’t necessarily need a fancy tool, we can create it ourselves.

Goldstaub: What’s different about ways of working when you started your career, versus the experience of millennials today?

Teixeira: I started my career in a very structured and regimented environment. For my first role at PwC, there were 1,600 applications for 40 positions. And the typical trajectory was to rise through the ranks of Associate, Senior Associate, Manager, Director, etc almost like a factory.

At HSBC, we have a bunch of people who come from different departments, working together to solve problems, in a truly meritocratic way. We take grads from different parts of the business, put them in a room together, and say: “go and solve this”. That’s how we’ve been able to build our Big Data environment in less than a year, which is a testament to our internal talent.

Goldstaub: What do you see as the best approach to working with partners?

Teixeira: Part of the challenge has been ensuring we’re looking at things on an end-to-end basis. The moment you’ve outsourced something, you’ve not only devolved your own responsibility for it, but you also devolved the development of the know-how and capability.

For me, the ideal partnership is somebody who’s going to give you the accelerant and show you something new. The key question for me is: “how are you going to ensure that you’re able to pass some of your DNA to us, so we can move from being embryonic to an adult?”

Goldstaub: What excites you most about the opportunities around machine learning and artificial intelligence?

Teixeira: What excites me most, from a senior management perspective, is how to carry out broader transformation, while also providing tools that employees didn’t have before.

Once upon a time, it was exciting to have Excel and to be able to do macros, but now it looks tedious. What’s great is that AI doesn’t mean that we don’t need the individual, we absolutely need them, to interact with customers, to develop new products, to create more productivity. So that we’re not doing harder work, but smarter work.

Goldstaub: As a big organisation, what advantages do you have over smaller companies when it comes to innovation in machine learning and AI?

Teixeira: In order to to utilise data, monetise it and use very advanced tools, you need big data sets. Well, guess what? We have big data sets.

Plus, in a large organisation, you can take some risks. We’ve created lab environments where you can put fast failure into action. You can try something, see if it works. If it doesn’t – fine – you try something else. We can try many more different options than smaller companies usually can. And if you’ve bet the farm on something and it doesn’t work, it can be much riskier.

Goldstaub: I’ve seen a lot of enterprises struggle with the “fail-fast” mentality, where it can become “build, measure and deny the facts“. How do you manage to make sure people genuinely learn from this process?

Teixeira: I am very hands-on and I sit down with the team on a weekly basis. I don’t like PowerPoint – I’m more passionate about asking “What are we trying to achieve? What is the roadblock to achieving this? How do we overcome it?” It’s more about constant feedback, the next experiment and the next approach.

You want to get to the heart of the discussion. The reason I’ve learned so much is the fact I’m meeting with kids and we’re having a meaningful debate. What doesn’t work is meetings where everybody is just waiting for the senior person to provide the answer. We don’t always have that answer and actually, some of the best answers will come from a 20-year-old.

Goldstaub: What’s the next phase of innovation for HSBC GBM? Where’s this all going?

Teixeira: With distributed ledger technologies (DLT), we’re still very much at that embryonic phase from a marketplace point of view. Even the business models are going to change, because it’s not just how banking is going to adopt DLT, it’s about how our customers are going to adopt DLT as new platforms are built.

From an internal perspective, I think the future is to democratise emerging technologies so every individual has access to them. Teenagers can go online, download a bit of script and create a tool. So why can’t we do that with our capable, professional workforce?

Goldstaub: If your 2019 plan is about democratising access to AI tools, where are you going to start?

Teixeira: It starts with the data itself. Part of what we built this year, which we are very proud of, is this big data environment, which has brought disparate data sources together.

It’s the most unsexy thing to talk about but, if you don’t focus on the data quality and cleaning, you can’t do all the analytics and machine learning on it. We’ve used machine learning itself to join up that data and link it all together at the most granular transaction level. Machine learning has become that accelerator, meaning we’re avoiding months, literally months, of work. As the machines become smarter, the more we validate the data and the linkages, the better and more effective it can be.

Goldstaub: It’s amazing and it still seems quite unique that you’ve been able to do this…

Teixeira: Definitely, in terms of the scale and speed. This goes back to doing experiments – this was initially as an experiment in the US. We try it small-scale, and if it’s successful, rather than rolling it out in one country at a time, we just do it en masse.

When you try to do big monolithic deliveries that run for multiple years, the delivery never ends up being quite as you intended when you started it. So being able to deliver things in a way that people can iterate, is crucial.

Goldstaub: How have you thought about the ethical use of that data or the cultural, safety elements of this?

Teixeira: I’ve done several keynote speeches recently around AI, and what I always say is that building up data science and data engineering capabilities is as important as building data-sharing privacy and ethics. That’s why we’ve built a data-sharing privacy and ethics team that works hand-in-hand with the data scientists and the data engineers.

Moving data doesn’t just involve navigating the laws and regulations in the 66 different countries we operate in, it’s also important to ask “why are we using this data?” and to ensure we’re looking after the customer’s best interests.

Goldstaub: How do you make sure that you do have diverse teams across your organisation?

Teixeira: The challenge has been that people often interpret diversity as just gender diversity, especially in financial services. To me, diversity is about gender, sexual orientation, culture, age, and also about diversity of thought. I have learned from 20 year olds and they’ve learned from me.

Having that mix is very important, I don’t want to have a team of “yes men” or “yes women”. I need people who have different experiences and can look at things from a different angle. My goal in terms of breaking down those silos is having that diverse team around who are all there to solve the problem.

I am very conscious about not having a team that’s “mono-cultured”. You can’t create innovation that way. The big challenge we have is creating that on a global virtual level. With 66 different offices, the diversity exists, the challenge is encouraging collaboration internationally.

Goldstaub: Could you tell me about somebody who has inspired you over the last 20 years?

Teixeira: After 12 years at PwC, I finally made the plunge into the world of investment banking, at Lehman Brothers, but on my seventh day my boss quit. The Head of Equities, who was a larger-than-life figure, decided to bring me into the equities executive committee meetings, despite the fact I was literally a kid at the time. I would see what was going on, how the decisions were being made and he would debrief me afterwards.

From a business perspective, he’s one of the people who has influenced my career the most. Ultimately, what ended up happening was he took me for lunch and says, “so I’ve been observing and I think I’m going to give you a chance to do the role.” I went from consulting, to going on a trading floor to becoming the CAO for Equities, an MD and a member of the Equities Executive Committee. This guy was one of those people, who as intimidating as he was, was great because he would deconstruct a scenario and start thinking several steps ahead.

Goldstaub: What advice would you give your younger self?

Teixeira: It sounds very simple and trite, but “when life gives you lemons make lemonade”. Take this scenario where I finally took the plunge and, on the seventh day, my boss quits. No career has a perfectly linear trajectory.

Things happen, whether it’s fair or not. It’s about how you move beyond and pivot to turn it into an advantage. I have found no matter how dire the situation, that everything leads to an opportunity.

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