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‘Converting data into innovative products is the best thing about my job’

Cyprian Smits, head of Data Science at Rabobank

Cyprian Smits is head of the team that digitizes existing services and develops innovative new products for our clients.

Clients are demanding increasingly better services

“Consumers have increasingly higher expectations from the service they receive from companies. When you order a product online, sometimes you can have it delivered to your home the same day. Banks aren’t quite as far along with those instant services. We can only follow that trend if we make full use of our data and our knowledge about our clients. That provides us with insight into processes and shows which services our clients need. Fortunately, the bank has a huge amount of data at its disposal – and that’s a real gold mine.”

As the weakest data…

“That’s the thing I like most about our work: converting raw data into smart, innovative products like new features in the Rabo Banking App. Our data scientists are crucial in that effort. They create the data pipelines from all kinds of legacy systems, as well as the finished models. Of course we love building models, but preparing the data is a vital element of that. A model is only as strong as the weakest data. In other words: in our team you have to focus on both tasks. To do that, you also have to understand the processes within the bank. Only then can you interpret data correctly and use it to create better services.”

Where’s my money going?

“Right now we’re working on rolling out a new product: the ‘household accounts’ in our app. This tool provides clients with insight into their own finances. It’s a typical application we use to improve our services. The tool labels all of the user’s transactions. For example, all of the expenditures at a supermarket are labelled ‘groceries’, and all transactions at a cafe or restaurant are labelled ‘dining out’. As a result, the user can see where their money is going at a single glance. We have to be very precise when creating the models that label those transactions. It has to work perfectly, or else nobody will use it. That gives us an extra motivation to do our very best.”

I wanted to work in a place where there is a lot of data and where very relevant issues play a role. Rabobank is such a place.
Cyprian Smits

Working with relevant issues

“I made a deliberate choice to work at Rabobank. I wanted to work at a place with plenty of data and where people are focused on highly relevant issues. I also think it’s great how working at Rabobank is about more than just earning money. We’re not an exchange-listed company; we’re a cooperative bank. Basically, it comes down to offering value to our members. You can see that in our projects. We’ve been active in the food and agriculture sector for more than 100 years, and we have some wonderful products. What’s better than helping to provide Nicaraguan coffee farmers with credit? Or facilitating micro-financing in Kenya? When local farmers in those countries do better, they reinforce the local economy. I think it’s great to be able to contribute to that.”

Working together

“We have a big team of around 50 people with very different specializations and expertise. We work a lot together, and we make sure that we can re-use one another’s work. When someone cleans up a nice piece of data or writes a handy algorithm, we make sure that somebody else doesn’t have to do it all over again for another project. We have an open culture and we hold regular code reviews. We also enjoy looking over each others’ shoulders: what have you been working on, and what can I add to make it better? Or: what can you do to help make my work better? Working that way is a huge encouragement, and it makes the team function well.”

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