Lu Sun is the Head of Data Science for Visa Consulting and Analytics supporting Hong Kong and Macau. She leads a high-performance team to deliver effective data-driven solutions for clients from various industries covering banking, fintech, airlines and retail. Before joining Visa, she lived and worked in London for over a decade, building award-winning credit risk models and optimizing portfolio strategies for credit bureaus and banking clients. Lu is a proud mother to a beautiful 2-year-old boy. Aside from entertaining the energetic toddler, she loves eating sushi, drinking a good cup of coffee, binge watching Grey’s Anatomy and dreaming of the next travel destination after Covid.
What attracted you to work for Visa?
If things can be summarised in one word, then it would be Opportunities. Payment industry is evolving faster than ever with innovations happening on a daily basis. I would like to witness it in the front seat and for that there is no platform better than Visa. The amount of data Visa processes is so huge that it is like a gold mine for data scientists. So when the opportunity came up, I jumped on it straight away.
What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?
What has really helped me throughout my career is continuous learning. As a data scientist, techniques, programming languages and methodologies are fast evolving, so you need to keep learning because that opens up new opportunities. It’s also important not to limit yourself once you have that learning – try everything. I used to be much more hesitant about making decisions and taking opportunities, thinking that maybe I wasn't good enough, whereas it's actually better to just go for it. You have to try before you can say you've failed.
How do you drive a data culture across a business?
For me, data is not the goal, data is the tool that helps you reach your goal. In order for data to be valuable, you have to closely align it with your business, know what you are trying to achieve, and use the data to get you there. You can't just hire the best data scientists for a business to be successful, they have to work in tandem with your business teams to understand your KPIs and processes so that they can use the data effectively. If you put data ahead of business, then it's the wrong way around. There’s a lot of hype about Big Data and AI and everyone wants the latest, cutting-edge solution. But it’s important to remember what you’re trying to do with the data. There’s no point chasing a deep learning solution when the actual outcome might be best served by a simple line chart.
Have you encountered any challenges of inequality in your career? How did you overcome them?
I've been very lucky because the few companies that I've worked with have been really good in terms of male/female representation and I have never personally felt that any opportunity was out of my reach because I'm female. However, in instances where there are barriers or challenges, women need to be more vocal and get their voices heard. It doesn’t matter how senior the other party is, don’t be scared to share your opinion. Typically, I think women can be hesitant to do that or to ask for help if they need it. It’s perfectly okay to take on a challenge and run into difficulties, but women are often reluctant to ask for help, in case it is seen as a sign of weakness, maybe even more so in our culture in Hong Kong. The onus shouldn’t be all on women either. We need men involved in this too. If you want to change the world, you can’t change just half of it! If women are not speaking up, men may see them as just not contributing, rather than the fact that there is a problem with an environment where they may not feel like they can. If men are consciously aware of the issue, then we can all work on creating a better workplace environment.
What are the benefits of having a diverse team or a diverse organisation?
When you have a diverse team, you have exposure to people with different backgrounds and ethnicities who all have different ideas and perspectives. This gives you a fresh angle to approach problems from. Financial Services in general is a very stable environment and if you never challenge what is already in place, then there will never be any innovation, and without innovation, there’s no growth. The second benefit of a diverse team is that you get to understand that everyone has different professional and personal goals, ambitions, and problems. Appreciating this helps you connect on a personal level, which in turn brings a team together and makes it more stable. You will also be more empathetic when you are emotionally connected with a colleague. Having diversity in the team, where you have to take the time to learn and understand other cultures or backgrounds, is an important dynamic.
Do you think the past year has had an impact from a diversity or equality point of view?
Covid has been devastating for many people when remote working is not an option. However, for places where remote working is possible, it can bring some positivity for women in terms of equality. Because every single company has had to shift to a flexible or remote working model, it means that people can work from home as well as manage their family responsibilities. It has also raised awareness among men, who are now at home and can see how much work is involved on the family side that they might not have seen before if they were in more typical roles. If we are to take any positives out of the global pandemic, it could be that businesses have become more accepting of family issues and have become more flexible, which will benefit women. Working from home used to be a luxury only offered by the large international companies, but now I believe that local organisations will see the benefits of a flexible workforce too.
What advice would you give to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
My advice would be don’t treat it as a slogan to shout about, just because it’s a hot topic right now. Do the simple things well instead. So, step one would be to understand your employees and their needs. By listening to them, you create an inclusive culture where people can grow and thrive together. You can’t fake it, or simply create that environment without taking those first steps, so start small and do it properly and you will get the inclusive culture you want.
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