Governing Body Spotlight

Co-Chair of the UK CDAO Community

Niresh Rajah

Group Chief Data Officer

DLA Piper

Give us a brief overview of the path that led to your current role.

I spent 10 years in professional services working for two of the ‘Big Four,’ with a mixture of Financial Services and Oil & Gas/Mining consulting. Within these fields, information was critical for decision making. Next, I moved into working for two large universal banks (Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays Bank), approximately 10 years ago in the regulation space. Here, data was critical to meeting regulations, such as FATCA, Dodd-Frank, EMIR, MIFID II, and Deposit Guarantee Scheme Directive. 

This naturally led me to take on responsibility for establishing and managing the Chief Data Office (CDO) at Grant Thornton, where BCBS 239 and regulators became specifically focused on effective management of data for prudential and systematic risk management in the financial services industry. This experience led me to my current role as the Group Chief Data Officer at Danske Bank.

Learn more about leaders in the UK CDAO community here.

What is one of your guiding leadership principles?

One of my guiding leadership principles is data-driven decision making. As much as possible, data tells a story factually more than instinct or experience ever could. As data professionals, it is important to stay true to this principle in how we lead.

With disruption being a key theme of the past few years, where do you see your role as a CDAO going in the next 1-2 years?

There are two key disruptors in my opinion. The first – industry agnostic – disruptor, is ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and Climate Risk. CDAOs must recognize how data and analytics can power the ESG story of any company, where understanding and integrating multiple data sources – both internal and external – enables a ‘house view’ on ESG and Climate Risk. In this sense, data presents a competitive advantage in the ESG agenda.

The second disruptor – specific to financial services – is Open Finance. The concept of Open Finance was introduced in the FCA’s 2019/2020 business plan. This builds upon Open Banking, but with a far wider impact; affecting consumer banks, mortgage providers, consumer credit firms, investment and pension funds, as well as general insurers and intermediaries. The focus of Open Finance is to improve the way consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) manage their finances.

This ‘sharing of data’ between legacy financial service organizations and FinTech enables additional benefits to consumers through greater choice, and access to products and services. This will revolutionize the value chain. Legacy financial service organisations have a real chance to either embrace this opportunity or face significant losses in customers, market share and revenue.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the role as a CDAO?

The CDAO role seems to have the same tenure as Premier League managers in some organisations. Three pieces of advice from me:

  1. Importantly, CDAOs need to balance their focus (and the team’s focus) on offense (revenue generation and customer service) with defense (regulation and controls). In my experience, too much time is spent on BCBS 239 and data governance. Whilst extremely important, the business will lose patience if this is all the Chief Data Office focuses on.
  2. Business-focused quick wins. Working with the executive teams, try to solve at least the biggest data pain point of each business line – that might be customer data quality to improve customer service, better data prediction models to enable cross-sell/upsell, etc.
  3. Finally, build a forward thinking CDAO team which can execute your vision and operationalize the data strategy into tangible programmes of work. It is important to hire data leaders who have strengths which can mitigate your weaknesses.


Tell us 3 fun facts about yourself.

  1. I have worked on every single continent, except Antarctica and Australasia.
  2. I am learning to play Squash. 
  3. Before COVID, let’s say I could be persuaded to partake in Karaoke (with the right amount of liquid courage).

What is the value of participating in a professional community through Evanta?

I think the Evanta community is fantastic. I am proud to be a Co-Chair because this is one of the very few networks that is aimed at satisfying data practitioners in a safe, collaborative environment. For a while, I stopped going to data conferences, as it became all about vendors chasing you around a conference hall, trying to have a meeting. The Evanta CDAO community has never done that. All the events have the CDAO/Head of Data in mind – a peer group of esteemed colleagues sharing knowledge with each other. The CDAO role, like the premier league manager, can be lonely. Sharing ideas, perspectives and challenges with a peer can be liberating. The face-to-face events over the past year – when personal interaction was so important – was extremely well organized. 



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