Innovator: Threading the needle
Kevin Moossa CA tells Nick Scott how a lifelong pursuit of learning led him to become Head of Finance, Analytics and Insights at the Bank of England.
The phrase “perfect storm”, referring in a literal sense to a freakish combination of adverse meteorological factors, was popularised by Sebastian Junger’s 1997 non-fiction book of that name. With Covid, Brexit and the climate crisis all posing threats to economic stability in the years – possibly decades – to come, the decision makers behind the neoclassical facade on Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England, may be feeling plenty of empathy right now with the human subjects of Junger’s book – the six-man crew of a commercial fishing vessel lost in the North Atlantic near Massachusetts in 1991.
Among those instrumental in deciding how the bank should steer through the tempestuous waters ahead, in a manner that complements government fiscal policy, is Kevin Moossa CA, Head of Finance, Analytics and Insights at the UK’s central bank since October 2020. The basis of Moossa’s approach, he says, is the aggregation of disparate skills he’s acquired over the 13 years since qualifying as a CA. “I’ve changed jobs a lot,” says Moossa, “and the roles have all been very different, and involved learning very different, incredible skills. Somehow they’ve all come together to make me good at insights and analytics.”
Exposure to seniority, while a graduate trainee at EY, meant his career hit the ground running. “When you start in audit, you get thrown in front of high-up finance people and interact with them on an almost daily basis to develop their audits,” he says. Having moved into EY’s corporate restructuring team three years later – “It was all about how to turn around companies in distress,” he explains – he experienced something of an epiphany: “This was a turning point in my career – the point where I got really excited about questions like ‘How do we start using the data a business has to help it sort out its potential?’ And I realised that the people best positioned to answer that question have done strategy consulting.”
His varied education – a BSc in econometrics and mathematical economics at the LSE preceded EY; an MBA from prestigious business school Insead followed – voracious autodidacticism and tireless appetite for new challenges have all been major forces in his career, but Moossa has, by his own admission, enjoyed a degree of serendipity: one instance being the next watershed moment, which occurred while he was working for Munich-based management consultancy Roland Berger: “One of the clients I was working with, out of the blue said, ‘I’m moving to Barclays to run their in-house strategy practice.’ I applied for a job in that division, started in investment banking strategy, then got offered the chance to head finance strategy for Barclays in the UK.
“This was where all the digital analytics really started to kick in – this was when Barclays began modernising its banks and developing technology such as [mobile money transfer system] Pingit.” Another promotion – this time into the investor relations team – followed: “That involved going to your shareholders and showing them the bank’s strategy – ‘This is what we’re doing, this is what it’s generating, this is what we’re expected to bring in the future.’”
A stint at Firefly Capital, a consultancy with a solid fintech arm, was cut short to just six months by the firm’s decision to leave the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote, before another big break came his way: “I became Group Head of Underwriting Insights at insurance group Hiscox,” he says. “It was a data, data, data job – constantly crunching data. How far away is that building from the lake in relation to overflow? How far is it from the usual track of hurricanes? How frequent are earthquakes? You have to find these pockets of areas that help you properly balance the risk-reward trade-off.”
Policy in practice
It was after two years in this role that an opportunity at the Bank Of England crossed Moossa’s radar. “I went to the interview with an open mind, and was totally impressed by the people I met,” he says. “Everyone just had a common purpose, shared goals. It was not about what people could deliver individually. It wasn’t even just about money. It was more about the mission of the Bank of England to promote the good of the people of the UK.”
What have been the challenges of the first six months? “I’m not going to say it’s been easy – joining ‘virtually’, and running a team during such a difficult time for the UK economy is probably the hardest thing I’ve done so far, but I think I’m quite lucky in the sense that I’ve got experience in both investment and retail banking. My ICAS training has probably been the most important thing of all. It’s created that versatility, but also it’s given me the skill to make numbers talk and actually think about the commerciality in the bigger picture.
“I help top-of-the-house managers make decisions, and for that they need good data points. But data doesn’t make itself available that easily. To make data talk and bring it to life, we need to understand the underlying drivers about data: with every single piece of the puzzle, the devil is in the detail. You need to know where to look for it and you need to know how you can structure it in a way that you can actually use it. This is the hardest, but also the most exciting, part of my job. What you see is the willingness of people to drive change and the vision is actually as good, if not better, than what I’ve seen in the private sector because there is the whole notion that what we do is for the people. There’s a whole notion of legacy [dictating practice].”
This emphasis on the power of money to do societal good, says Moossa, dictates the Bank of England’s entire working culture. “Almost everything we do at the Bank, every penny we spend, is dominated by the whole notion of value for money. It’s a very, very tight organisation in terms of every penny being heavily scrutinised. Another thing that differentiates it from other institutions is there’s less lip service, less smoke and mirrors. A private organisation will be claiming to do all kinds of things which, when you look deep down, it might not be.”
Democracy and unanimity, Moossa says, rule the roost – “Everyone needs to agree with a policy and be aligned to it to make sure that it actually fits the bigger purpose” – which, he says, boosts motivation when it comes to executing said policy. “Once it’s agreed, it’s 100% commitment. We all have two ears, two eyes and one mouth. People speak half as much but listen twice as much. There’s a lot of respect for other people’s thoughts. Everyone’s voice matters. I think that’s fantastic.”
Moossa is unable to discuss policy specifics (such as whether the Bank should push interest rates negative for the first time), but says the key to modernising its approach to analytics is constantly surveying the commercial landscape from the parapet. “In order to drive value for money, [organisations] need to have a better view of how the best companies – your Amazons, Googles and so on – are performing against you and what you can do to close the gap,” he says. “You constantly need to reinvent yourself. Also, what you see in an organisation like the Bank of England, because of its age, is data that is not the tidiest, and you potentially have years of underinvestment in systems and tools. To get up to speed you have to structure data to make it user friendly – and there’s no sitting target because it’s about constant change: over the coming years, over the coming centuries, over time.”
When it comes to which trends on the horizon will affect the Bank of England and the financial world more broadly, Moossa cites artificial intelligence (“notably the use of language processing”) as a major gamechanger, and also asserts that remote working may slow the rate of change in data. Another looming adverse meteorological factor in the aforementioned brewing storm concerns human psychology. “Looking at the data, I foresee mental wellbeing becoming a big issue when we come out of lockdown,” he says. “We’re social animals – we’re not meant to be stuck at home and deprived of human interaction. There’s definitely going to be to an impact from it.”
It is typical of Moossa’s approach to his career that he’s already undertaken a course that will help him coach colleagues through such issues. A zeal for education will, he believes, be the strongest wind in any CA’s sails as we progress through the rest of this century. “Keep learning, not just in terms of work experience, but also in terms of personal self-development,” he says. “A lot of accountants I’ve worked with work very long hours, and therefore don’t read enough, don’t talk enough to people, don’t listen enough to other people. Curiosity is probably the most important skill for the job.”