Engineering risk models with the customer at the counter in mind

Natacha Lord – Team Lead Risk Model Engineering

Risk model engineering is a matter of building bridges, says Natacha Lord. By that, she doesn’t just mean the connection between risk models, business, data and IT. “I’m very aware that the work I do here will eventually have an impact on the customer at the counter.”

“You can imagine how important risk management is for a bank. It involves constantly searching for a balance between the growth of the bank and controlling the risks. Not just the risks for the bank itself, which we limit using credit risk analyses and Asset & Liability Management (ALM). But also the bank’s contribution to a sustainable economy, as regulated in the Basel IV norms, IFRS 9 and other guidelines. The risk model engineering team plays a key role in that whole hierarchy of interests.”

Helping customers

“On the one hand, we implement risk calculation engines that support front line employees with customer contacts. When someone comes to the counter to apply for a loan to start their own business, the tool enables our front line colleagues to price that loan in a timely manner, taking into account the estimated credit risk based on the customer profile. Then the employee can recommend a loan to help the customer for an interest rate and term whilst balancing the risk.”

“On the other hand, our team supports the back office. We’re a very large bank, so we have an important responsibility to society. We take that responsibility seriously in my team, just like the rest of the bank. On the back-office side, we ensure models can be used and that relevant key risk metrics are calculated thoroughly, swiftly and with minimum manual intervention, so that the bank is able to manage its risks.”

Heaven on earth

“This work involves different aspects that I really enjoy in life. One of them is mathematics; I became interested in this field at a young age, which later led to a master’s degree. At university, I also got into computer science, which became my other passion. When I did my PhD in Scotland, I was able to combine mathematics and computer science. It was like heaven on earth! I saw how theory and practice came together, how you could combine data with algorithms to gain new insights.”

“After a few years working as a quant-analyst – which is really similar to being a risk model engineer – I moved into a manager position at a bank in Scotland. Manager of exactly one employee, but still… Now, at Rabobank, I lead a team of 30 plus colleagues. I still help build algorithms in my work, but I also help my employees build their knowledge and grow in their field so that we can come up with even better solutions together.”

We ensure that CAS is fed with the right data, meets the business requirements and then correctly identifies insights.
Natacha Lord

More coach than lead

“I also continue to develop myself professionally. That’s part of leadership in my opinion. As a team in a technical environment, you can only help people when you understand what they’re doing. Learning new things every day and being involved in the work myself helps me to build a relationship of trust with my people. I’m not just saying something, I actually understand what my colleagues are working on and going through. I can help them brainstorm. So I don’t see myself as a manager as much as a technical coach and servant leader, enabling the team to unlock its full potential.”

“And there’s so much to learn! As risk engineers, we’re already used to building bridges between modelling and business. And now we’ve added data and IT as well. For example, in the area of platform building. We put all of our models on CAS, Rabobank’s Azure-based cloud platform. Together with our colleagues in data and IT, we ensure that CAS is fed with the right data, meets the business requirements and then correctly identifies insights. It’s a tough job, but I love it!”

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Better world

“Beautiful: that’s actually a good description of my whole job at Rabobank. I have the opportunity here to use both my technical and leadership skills to help my colleagues, and I can even contribute to a better society and a better world. You can see the bank’s cooperative personality reflected in the people who come to work here. The contact with my colleagues is warm and personal, from the moment I walked in the door. People take their time for you.”

“And that brings me to another keyword: human. By that I don’t just mean the charity projects we’ve set up at the bank, like collecting clothes for people in need. I also mean the work itself; the risk models we implement. I’m certain that all the people in my team share the conviction that what we do here – brainstorming, programming, designing, testing – will eventually have an impact on the man or woman who comes to the counter to ask for a loan. That each of us can make a difference for the world.”