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Debra Walton: Thomson Reuters is one of the world’s oldest fintechs

Debra Walton

October 20 2016

“Understanding the ecosystems, economies, political landscapes, and global supply chains in which they operate is the only way for corporations to survive and thrive – to find sustainability for themselves and the resources they use. Data is the cornerstone of that effort.”

How do you utilize big data and technology to drive sustainable change? Debra Walton, Chief Product and Content Officer, Financial & Risk at Thomson Reuters shares her expertise on big data in this interview.

As the first female partner at Cantor Fitzgerald and a founding board member of the Cantor Financial Futures Exchange, the first electronic platform for trading U.S. Treasury futures contracts, Ms. Walton answers these questions through a gender-specific lens, telling us how leaders from every sector can adopt data-driven technologies to overcome barriers to make real change. [6 minute read]

Thomson Reuters Sustainability: Could you tell us a bit about your journey and your role as Thomson Reuters chief product and content officer?

Debra Walton: I grew up in a small town in Australia. My mother was my first brand manager. She instilled in me the importance of my reputation (or brand) and the notion that I could achieve anything I wanted. After finishing school, I imagined I would find “a good job for a girl” and settle down somewhere near home. But things turned out differently. A move to Sydney, then an opportunistic stretch assignment in New York, led to an immensely satisfying career in financial services. I’m in Switzerland now. What’s next? Who knows?

As chief product and content officer at Thomson Reuters, I oversee a global team working on some of the most cutting-edge products in the financial services industry. We help clients manage big data and global regulatory challenges, and stay ahead of the disruption happening in all corners of the business landscape.

I see Thomson Reuters as one of the world’s oldest fintechs. Our platform and open-data strategies are very much in sync with the way today’s top tech companies operate – and I find that very exciting.

TRS: How does your current work help contribute to global sustainability?

DW: The fact that Thomson Reuters operates on a global scale means that almost everything we do touches on sustainability in some way. Emerging economies are growing rapidly and expanding their consumer base, creating greater demand for the world’s limited resources. Many of our financial services clients deal with commodities on a daily basis, whether through trading or the financing of companies – from energy to automobiles, pharmaceuticals to technology – that rely to varying degrees on natural resources.

So the real measure of how we foster sustainability comes from the influence we have on the banks, corporations, and researchers that rely on Thomson Reuters products – particularly our data and analytics offerings.

Our solutions provide them with one of the most important tools for success: information.

Every business sector faces a range of unique challenges, including regulations that dictate how they must operate. In an interconnected world in which a scarcity of raw materials, climate change, economic instability, political tumult, terrorism, and population growth pose problems, information can be the differentiator.

Understanding the ecosystems, economies, political landscapes, and global supply chains in which they operate is the only way for corporations to survive and thrive – to find sustainability for themselves and the resources they use. Data is the cornerstone of that effort.

TRS: Why does empowering women help make the planet more sustainable? And is economic empowerment the most crucial aspect?

DW: Women are increasingly moving into top executive roles and corporate board positions as well as starting their own fintech companies – and that’s good news for everybody.

Diversity at all levels of the organization makes for a more effective workplace.

Various studies present conclusive evidence that firms with women in executive positions perform better than those with male-dominated executive suites. According to a recent McKinsey study, if women – who account for half the world’s working-age population – don’t achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer to the tune of $12 trillion.

TRS: Looking forward, what are some of the opportunities for Thomson Reuters to contribute to sustainable development? 

DW: As I mentioned above, information is at the heart of everything we do, and I believe it’s at the center of sustainable development. Thomson Reuters provides a wide range of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data that provide transparency on how companies are performing on hundreds of specific data points, such CO2 emissions, recycled waste, and water usage. Through the Insight360 app, we provide a real-time view of sustainability data, insights, and ESG ratings for over 8,000 publicly traded companies across global markets.

Diversity and inclusion are also important factors for building a truly sustainable future, which is just one reason we recently released our Thomson Reuters D&I indices. These enable investors to quickly analyze companies that are leaders or laggards in this very important area.

Finally, our risk information helps organizations identify and avoid any potential links to corruption, money laundering, human trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime, all of which play a role in undermining sustainable development.

TRS: How can men in particular lead on the empowerment of women?

DW: Let me say at the outset that empowering women doesn’t mean taking anything away from men – it’s about ensuring that both genders are represented at all levels of the firm. It’s imperative that women support each other. But we can’t get to the top without the support of those who currently occupy the C-suite, and right now that’s mostly men!

We need our male colleagues to be coaches, mentors, and – most importantly – sponsors. We need them to serve as powerful role models and as activists to tackle the still-pervasive issue of unconscious bias. I’m privileged to work with male colleagues who “get it,” and I see how that makes a difference.

TRS: What would you tell young people looking at the problems faced by our world?

DW: Today’s young people are essentially disrupters – they aren’t beholden to the approaches most of us took when building our careers. They’re Internet natives who think and act quickly, and they don’t seem to waste much time dwelling on mistakes. They’re brave and not afraid to change gears when they have to.

These qualities are just what we need to address the world’s pressing challenges. I would tell young people to be curious, courageous, and confident – because their generation is well positioned to enhance our world with fresh thinking and innovative ideas.

TRS: What gives you hope?

DW: So many things, I can’t mention them all. Technology is improving just about every facet of our lives, from the way we communicate to the way we deal with healthcare and longevity. Most importantly, it’s powering an increasingly connected world that I hope will help people develop a mutual understanding, see each other as more united than divided, and, in so doing, overcome the differences that breed conflict and unrest.

I see how engaged millennials are in improving society. They’re interested in philanthropy, pursuing their passions, and forging careers that satisfy them and make society better. There’s no reason not to expect great things from today’s youth.

I also think older people can learn from the way they see the world – I firmly believe millennialism is a mindset and not just an age group!

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