COO Magazine Q1 2024

An interview with Andy Nelson, Head of Banking & Financial Markets at NTT Data UK

Andy Nelson is an industry advisor to the International COO Community and was interviewed by Maurice Evlyn-Bufton (CEO, Armstrong Wolfe).

What takes someone from a degree in economics to leading the UK franchise of one of the world’s leading technology companies? We invited Andy Nelson (UK Head of Banking and Financial Markets, NTT DATA UK&I) to take us on this journey.

“I recall in the early 1980s going round to a friend’s house to be shown his new computer game, Horace Goes Skiing. It will be hard for today’s youth to comprehend, having never known a world without advanced technologies and the internet, the impact this introduction to my first computer had on me – it was a window into a whole new world and here my interest and fascination in technology was born; I thank Horace for this introduction!”

In 1983 Tang produced Horace Goes Skiing, in which Horace must cross a dangerous road teeming with traffic, à la Frogger, to rent out a pair of skis, then get back over the road and successfully navigate a ski course. Like Hungry Horace, this title was available on the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Dragon 32. As before, Sinclair distributed the Spectrum version, Melbourne House the Commodore 64 and Dragon 32 versions. In 2017, the game placed on Eurogamer‘s “10 games that defined the ZX Spectrum” list.





“Within months I had my hands on a Sinclair ZX81 computer, and a select group of my friends, I suppose an early nerdy-tech group, were meeting regularly to discuss what we excitedly termed the art of programming. My wristwatch today alone has about four thousand times the capacity and capability of my ZX81.”

This childhood fascination struggled to find favour when it came to Andy choosing a degree course; something more mainstream, steadfast and established was needed. “Economics was acceptable, offering well-trodden paths to well-known jobs. It pleased my parents born in a non-technological age, although I could have equally applied to study law, teacher training or to join the army”.

Andy continued “At university I had one module dedicated to computer and information management systems. This experience quelled, almost killed off my childhood enthusiasm for computing. It was a dull, one-dimensional module involving no programming taught by someone that knew marginally less than the audience before him.”

Unfortunately for Andy, when he graduated he was thrown into a recession. Graduate opportunities were limited and by need rather than choice he took a role in 1994 working for a charity as a finance officer responsible for double-entry bookkeeping and managing payroll. He introduced the computer into the office to help financial management, making himself redundant in the process.

In 1997 he moved to the payroll department of the City of York Council, payrolling all the teachers in the area. By this time Andy was already cognisant of the emerging power and potential of technology, which was frequently in stark comparison to the lack of understanding or appreciation of his managers and seniors. Andy had unknowingly aligned his inquisitiveness about technology and adeptness for applying its potential to resolve real-time business problems at the beginning of a new technological epoch.

At a time when few women worked in IT, Shayne McGuinness was the CIO at the Council  Shayne was a force of nature, leading a predominantly male workforce. “Shayne was an inspiration, and gave me my first real step into technology.  She saw something in me and took a chance when there were probably more technically qualified people available.”

Andy adds there is a direct link from this advocacy to his role as the executive sponsor for NTT DATA’s UK Women’s Business Network (WBN), thanks to Shayne offering him his first technology role against arguably better qualified candidates. Andy reflected on this point: “In an industry where only 30% of computer science graduates are women, I’ve always felt it important to do what Shayne did and look beyond the qualifications and focus on potential.  Capability beats experience in the long-run”

To enhance his value Andy undertook night school to fill the technology skill gaps and by the late 1990s, when there was a huge demand for anybody technologically competent, he decided to step from the public to the private sector, and specifically into Financial Services.

His interest in financial services goes all the way back to the 1987 film Wall Street, starring  Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Daryl Hannah, which he vividly recalls watching in the cinema at the time.  This, admittedly romanticised view of the industry, planted a seed that would continue to grow through as he studied the Big Bang and deregulation of the London Stock Market at university. These and other influences developed his thoughts on joining the financial sector as a dynamic area of commerce that appeared to embrace innovation and change, had capital to invest and rewarded staff well.

Through merger and acquisition, he ended up working for business and consulting services firm CGI and did so for 22 years.  He pursued his career within the engine room, as he described it, progressing from analyst to programme management to functional and departmental head roles.  But it was always the client facing parts of the job that enthused him, and whilst he gained plenty of experience supporting sales from an SME perspective he had never considered himself leading the sale.

Outside his own design, his managers had noted something Andy had not, and migrated him over time from being an SME lead into sales, where his SME knowledge immediately differentiated him from the hardcore sales folk. He had morphed into a business, account management and sales role, with a proven competency in customer management, engagement and solution development.  Perhaps what he had also underestimated, which many of those that work with him told us, was a level of empathy and listening skills that manifested itself in confidence and trust not just with the customer base, but in his team. Humility is an often-underestimated attribute of leadership.

Looking back, Andy was asked what trigger points took his career on a successful journey, to which he replied:

  • A qualified risk moving from the public to the private sector.
  • Investment in self-improvement and advancement.
  • Curiosity, and volunteering myself to do what others wouldn’t.

After a pause Andy added: “Being honest with myself, I could have stayed at CGI. It was less about what was wrong and more about my desire to challenge and re-energise myself. This change was a risk, but the risk itself was part of the motivation to move. This took me to NTT DATA and the challenges I have embraced.”

Looking into 2024, we asked Andy one final question:

“What challenges do you foresee?

“The banking and financial markets industry is as dynamic as ever: Brexit, Ukraine, the mini banking crisis, we are constantly facing change and challenge. As technology leaders we need to design and embed resilience in our organisations, and our people. We must lead with enthusiasm, personality, empathy and commerciality. If you do this, you can retain your best people and they help you hire the best people. Technology, despite the emergence of Al, remains a people business, so keep developing and enthusing your people. This is the collective challenge for technology’s leadership today.”

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