HSBC chairman Douglas Flint says we need a 'huge debate' on customer data

Oscar Williams-Grut
HSBC Group Chairman Douglas Flint speaks at the International Fintech Conference in London, Britain April 12, 2017.

REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON — The chairman of HSBC believes there needs to be "a huge public policy debate" on the proper use of data in finance.

HSBC's Douglas Flint this week appeared at the Treasury's International Fintech conference in London, alongside former Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins.

Jenkins, who has set up his own fintech business since leaving Barclays, said he believes that the "the collection and curation of data" could come to be controlled "a few dominant players" in finance. He added: "It's not clear to me that the natural people to dominate that category are financial institutions. They could be but don't have to be."

Flint responded: "I think the big issue here is there is still to be had, I think, a huge public policy debate on who owns data, where data is held, who has the responsibility to maintain that data safely, and who has access what data and for what use."

Imran Gulamhuseinwala, EY's head of fintech, was moderating the panel and told the audience that a venture capitalist once described fintech to him as the point where data meets money.

Smart use of data is central to many fintech businesses, who use it to do everything from quickly deciding whether to lend money to verifying someone's identity. The type of data can be everything from social media data to the way someone browses a website or fills in an online form.

Flint said: "I think that debate is only just beginning and I think it will be fundamental to everyone who participates in financial services because ultimately it's the monetisation of data."

Google chairman Eric Schmidt suggested a possible darker outcome to the increase in public data. In a speech earlier this year, he said: "I think that big data is so powerful that nation-states will fight over how much data matters."

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