Data, data, it’s all about the data, stupid!

Dec 2, 2016

As anyone from scientist to someone waiting for the delayed 07:02 to Waterloo will tell you, it’s all about the data. The details. The nitty-gritty.

Data drives our modern world. Actually, it’s really driven the world for a very long time. Those pioneering scientists, physicians and engineers – some through luck, but mainly through the hours of accurately and meticulously collecting and studying the data.

I was considering this as I apprehensively sat in the front row of a lecture hall at the Royal College of Physicians waiting for my slot to talk to the Pensions Research Accountants Group (PRAG) AGM last Wednesday. I was talking to the assembled delegates about Cyber Security and Data Protection (heaps to consider in this area, and hopefully I shon a bit of a light), and considered the impacts on know-how and patient data.

For Joe Public, data, and more importantly, its presentation and accessibility are part of everyday life – although unlikely considered as such. Especially when I see adverts for Blackpool hotels popping up in my Facebook feed (yes, I’m considering a weekend to Blackpool – hopefully no fisty-cuffs and chipped teeth though like poor old Gorka). I do feel a little invaded…in spite of the helpfulness of knowing that Trip Advisor is at hand to help me with my booking (which it does again, and again and…). Annoyingly though, the data is often wrong…


Data theft, or to use old cold war terms, espionage, has taken interesting twists in the digital age. For fans of Bette Midler, or her 1980’s tearjerker “Beaches”, have a quick listen to “Otto Titsling” for a bit of a bawdy giggle (headline image), this was a humorous take on industrial espionage at its most simple, but relates to theft of knowledge and know-how.

I hear you thinking (if you’ve got this far), what’s Jonny getting at? He’s a pensions and tech dweeb … So, wait for it… my point is that data is accessed and stolen on what seems like an increasingly pedestrian rate. In the old days it involved microfilm cameras, people in raincoats, drops on park benches and pointy poisoned umbrellas. Now it’s a 14 year-old in their sweaty bedroom, or a faceless hacking collective.

Whilst slightly dramatic and possibly seemingly far-removed from the cosy-slippered world of pensions, there are three key messages that all organisations should be sure they know the answers to (including little organisations):

  1. Do we (really) know what data we hold and where (yes, that hidden-away spreadsheet counts as data)?
  2. Are we as protected as we think we are/should be?
  3. What happens in a data crisis?

Of course there are plenty of subordinate questions supporting those three, but in essence it’s about planning.

Oh, and remember, there’s the upcoming General Data Protection Regulations coming into force 2018 … best start having a good old ponder on that well before that kicks in, it’s going to be a doozy.

My advice? Start having a think about whether you are suitably prepped, or you could be the next “Otto Titsling”.


OK – This is more on the plane of understanding of pensions… ITM have been on the case for data accuracy for over 13 years. But would you believe it, there’s still mounds of historic data that inaccurate, poorly stored or just plain missing within the pensions world.

This is going to cause more headaches than a few over coming years, not only are organisations potentially under or over funding themselves, but capital adequacy is likely to be affected for insurers and life co’s with bad data. If actuaries and professionals are relying on this flawed data, whilst broad brush assumptions worked, they are by their very nature inaccurate and in essence a very well educated guess, pin-point accuracy is now even more important. You can witness this very clearly when schemes look at buy ins or buy outs – best price is achieved when the data is full, complete and accurate.

However, what about Mr and Mrs Member? Digitalisation, online servicing and, get this, the Pensions Dashboard project are going to plant a great big hand grenade in the middle of this poor data. It will no longer be acceptable to sweep these under the carpet.

Even HMRC are going fully online with our tax accounts.

Time to catch-up perhaps? 

Get a strategy together and plan your improvements, it’s no good to keep putting it off, otherwise you may find yourself up the proverbial creek…


As seen on LinkedIN by Jonathan Hawkins:


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